Arequipa is a city situated in the south of Peru. With its surrounding provinces, its population numbers over one million. It was founded in 1540 by the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro.
Arequipa has been called ‘the second Rome’, since for centuries it has been dominated by Spanish culture and Roman Catholicism. It is also called ‘the white city’ because of the conspicuous white stone which adorns both its old colonial buildings and its more modern offices and apartments.
Arequipa is surrounded by three imposing volcanos. One, called Misti, is still active. Although there has not been a major eruption for over a century, the city’s population reaches to Misti’s skirts, and we hope that the volcano remains just an imposing sight!
Failure of missionary strategy
Gospel work in Arequipa began in about 1904 with the Bible Society selling Bibles and Christian books. Opposition was intense, especially in the early days. Believers were often assaulted and stoned by the local population. Later, national believers took up the work.
From the beginning, the missionaries’ aim in Peru was to establish indigenous churches. While it must be acknowledged that such churches began, they were nevertheless marked by serious defects. I remember visiting the mountain areas of Puno four years ago, where one pastor told me that many pastors there did not understand the doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ.
The present chaos in many African nations can be traced to the reluctance of the former colonial powers to train future African leaders. In the same way, the immaturity of the Peruvian churches goes back to a failure of the pioneers to bring systematic teaching from the Word of God, and train up a generation of future Bible teachers, preachers and evangelists. In the majority of cases, the missionaries left too early to see such a strategy through.
Today it is not surprising that national believers are a prey to every wind of doctrine, and that cults abound. Few indigenous pastors are able to support themselves in full-time Christian ministry and there are divisions within the church leadership.
Many churches have failed to maintain their missionary vision. This is one reason why some of the foreign missions presently working in Peru are planting churches in areas where no churches exist.
During the last ten to fifteen years the vision for church planting in Peru has increased. Some missions are zealously preaching the gospel with a view to establishing pioneer churches, and are having some success in this.
Our own mission (Grace Baptist Mission) is working in two areas of Arequipa. This work is in its early stages but the Lord has richly blessed. Some have been converted, and other Christians have joined us. We pray that the Lord will be pleased to convert and call Peruvians to be future leaders of the churches.
Our team is made up of five workers, including a Peruvian couple. We covet your prayers that the Lord will call national pastors and evangelists to join us. Children’s work is an integral part of our missionary strategy — such work is fertile ground for the sowing of the Word of God, and has hitherto been neglected in Peru. Only 25% of churches within the Peruvian Evangelical church have a Sunday school; in some areas only 5%.
Missionary work in Peru needs more than financial support for expatriate missionaries. Money is also required for vital projects well beyond the economic reach of ordinary Peruvian believers. This is not to encourage a culture of dependence upon missions, but rather to help to consolidate the early stages of church-planting.
One American mission, for example, has made great strides forward through investing resources both in theological training and Christian education for children. This kind of zeal is motivating many Peruvians to the task of evangelism.
Hopefully, it will spread and will wake up those churches who, at present, are as dormant as the volcanos that surround our city!
The current economic crisis in Peru requires from Western believers a commitment to Peru, not only in words but in works. The apostle Paul in his day expressed his solidarity with the materially impoverished Christians in Jerusalem by reminding Gentile believers about the Jewish Christians’ pressing material needs.
He personally took to Jerusalem money collected from the churches in Europe. Today, Christians in richer countries have much scope for helping their poorer brothers and sisters in Christ overseas.
Please pray that the Lord will give us wisdom as the work develops. What the Peruvian church needs is role models, godly men with experience in the Christian ministry, dedicated to training others.
The prophet Jonah could not escape the missionary call of God and live within his own limited view of the purposes of God. Pray that the Lord will be pleased to unsettle and stir up those, both at home and abroad, whom he has ordained and chosen to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ to this nation.