After dropping the kids off at school, and my morning swim, I started digging through the paperwork that piled up on my desk in the week I was in the USA. I had Skype conferences with a nurse in Florida, who will be coming in June for a medical campaign, and with the SIM International Personnel director, (former Peru missionary Helen Heron) about a Swiss couple applying to come to Peru. E***, a Peruvian planning to return to ministry in Asia, came for a meeting to discuss how SIM can help her logistically, and stayed for lunch. The afternoon included orthodontist appointments, buying school uniforms (We love school uniforms! No arguments about what to wear), and helping with German homework.
Friday, while I was in the States, Dámaris, our secretary, had gone to the bus station to pick up a package. In it were the passports and official Peruvian ID cards for one of our families that is going on home assignment soon. In a rough part of town, 4 young men reached into the taxi and grabbed the parcel. "Oh no! The passports!" she thought, and got out of the taxi and chased after them yelling, "Please! In the name of God, give me back the passports!" She followed them around a city block enclosing a market full of stalls, which they ducked into. Another woman started running after them as well, and they gave her back the package, including Dámaris' camera, about $150 in cash and the passports! She only lost her coin purse that contained about $10. If she hadn't gotten the passports back, the missionaries would probably have missed their flight getting their paperwork all in order. We agreed that she will always keep passports in a special case hidden under her clothes from now on, and not chase down thugs!
For Carlos, a taxi driver who recently accepted Christ. He gave me a ride home yesterday and asked about baptism, but more out of curiosity than a desire to do it himself. He seemed interested when I offered to study what the Bible says about baptism with him, but didn't give me a definite date to do so.
Actually, this is true. Don Wunderink was our mission bookkeeper, but he and his family are going to the States for home-assignment next month, so Amy has graciously agreed to take on his duties until he returns in January. It has been a challenge to learn a new system, and to use a Windows-based computer, but it has been a good challenge for her, as it is the first big project she's tackled where she has had to learn a lot of new things since her brain tumor in 2004.
There is currently a huge need in Peru. Peru, as with many other South American countries, has had times of political instability. In 1983 a Maoist group called the Shining Path attempted to take over the country and establish a communist state. There were numerous masacres and public killings. What this meant was the people lived in fear! God still used this time and in the ten years that the Shining Path operated, thousands, actually over a million people joined the Evangelical church.
So the evangelical church doubled in size going from 7% to almost 14% of population. As a result of this explosive growth there is a great need for training and discipleship, especially of young people. There are hundreds of young pastors that have only been a Christian for a short time themselves and have had no chance to do any training.
photo by Lisa Fitzgerald
Though the country is 85% Roman Catholic, the beliefs of people are often interwined with old animistic religions. At times it is very ritualistic and given that Spanish Conquerers brought this religion by force - it's sometimes just a thin veneer over what people have always believed.
After spending two months on a short-term mission in Peru we saw the huge needs and felt that God could really use us in Peru.
When we got married we decided to do a short-term mission? Christine was happy to go anywhere. I immediately suggested Bolivia in South America. I had been to Bolivia on holiday twice before. I felt a connection with the people and thought that this was one of the most beautiful countries in the world with the Amazon jungles and the Andes mountains. I had also sponsored a child named Junior in Bolivia through Compassion.
We approached the mission organisation SIM (Serving in Mission) with our plans for spending a couple of months in Bolivia on a short-term mission. Most of the contacts that SIM Australia had were in Peru and we were asked if we'd be happy to go to Peru instead. Peru borders Bolivia and is similar in many ways. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and Peru comes next. We said we were happy to go to Peru.
While in Peru, we stayed with missionaries in a small village called Cotahuasi (pronounced coat-ah-wah-see). It is here that we saw the huge needs in Peru. We felt that working in a University ministry would address some of these needs. Peru is also a country of great opportunity for the good news of Jesus. There is now an incredible openess to the gospel and the church in Peru seeks to make a difference in their community. It is a time of political stability. The village where we spent two months during our short-term mission was just fifteen years ago out of bounds for foreigners because of the Shining Path who operated in the area.
These are a few of the reasons we've decided to head to Peru. We are also glad that Spanish is a relatively easy language for English speakers to pick up. I have some basic Spanish having spent about five months in South America over three trips. Christine has had about two months of exposure to Spanish. We are looking forward to when our children can correct our Spanish.
It has been great that some of our long time friends have been missionaries to Peru. Phillip and Diane Marshall were sent from Blakehurst Baptist which was my home church for about 20 years. In the last few years we've learnt much from them personally and also in lectures. Phillip is a lecturer at Morling Bible College and has great cultural insights. Christine's Sunday School teacher also ended up being a missionary in Peru and she too has been the source of much wisdom (and laughter). Recently we've got to know Edwin and Diane Porter who have given us our most up to date information on Peru along with lots of very practical tips. Their love for the Peruvian people has inspired us.
Michael and Mary Foster were Australian missionaries to Peru who have worked with University students for many years. We have learnt a lot from their ministry and they have been an inspiration to us. Here they reflect on a time of persecution and a time of growth.
In the mid-eighties, a radical university student group known as the Shining Path started a movement on a campus in the highlands of Peru, targeting universities throughout the country. Their leftist teachings and demands for change caused a reign of terror and bloody revolution, which resulted in 63,000* deaths, including many university students.(* this statistic only released after a commission of Truth in 2003)
Christian Students on campus at the time when the Shining Path took over the university said that despite the difficult circumstances and persecution, the desire to share the gospel and proclaim its truth burned within her.
In fact this persecution was a major factor in the growth of a Christian groups on campuses throughout Peru. This student movement was started by Samuel Escobar in 1963. Samuel went on to be a well know Latin theologian and the group became known as the Association of Peruvian Evangelical University Students (AGEUP), a national student movement related to IFES.
Australian missionaries Michael and Mary Foster began SIM’s partnership with AGEUP in 1992 when they were accepted as staff workers. At the time they said, “It is an honour to be officially accepted as staff workers with these militant Christians who have counted the cost and strive to share the gospel in the light of Peruvian reality”.
In 1991 there were 12 AGEUP groups throughout the universities of Peru and by 2004 there were 64. Not only did God use persecution to grow the groups, but also the universities strategy of diversification. As satellite campuses were set up throughout the country, there were many more centres in which to plant Christian groups!
Dealing with Rapid Growth
As the movement grew rapidly, Michael, Mary and the four Peruvian staff workers couldn’t provide the training and pastoral care needed for leaders of all the groups and there were no finances available to employ more staff. They trained a team of 25 graduates who were committed to ministry and willing to work on a voluntary basis. This has been a vital key to facilitating growth and pastoral care on campuses throughout Peru.
The AGEUP groups are effective because they are based on student leadership and initiatives and are relevant to society. Social action and justice flow from evangelism empowered by bible teaching. They seek to have a prophetic voice in society in the Latin American context.
The incredible diversity of culture throughout the universities of Peru provides equally diverse challenges and opportunities. The prestigious private universities were virtually impenetrable to Christian work before 2001 when God miraculously opened a door for AGEUP to set up groups. By 2004 there were 5 groups in the prestiguious private universities, reaching out to students, many of whom will become future leaders within Peru and beyond. Students have even managed to maintain and evangelical witness on the large Catholic university campus in Lima!
AGEUP groups have already had a huge impact on the church and evangelical scene in Peru. The director of World Vision, director of Compassion and leaders of the Evangelical Alliance and other denominational leaders have all been part of the student movement.
Michael and Mary Foster and their son Camden returned to Australia for health reasons. They are still in regular contact with the students and staff who have been so much a part of their life and ministry for over thirteen years.
AGEUP is growing at an amazing rate and regional workers are working to capacity but finances continue to be a hindrance. A US-based foundation has helped AGEUP establish two Internet cafes in Lima, with the vision to raise funds to support much needed staff workers.
This is a strategic work, impacting generations of university students with the gospel and training young people for leadership. Jaime , a Peruvian-born Chinese architectural student, helps us bring sweeping statements of growth down to the level of strong personal testimony. Some years ago Jaime’s pastor came to the AGEUP office to discuss the change he had seen in Jamie’s life since his involvement with AGEUP. He was eager to know more about the student ministry because he had been impressed with Jamie’s maturity in the Word, zeal for the gospel and keenness to share his faith.
Before leaving Peru, Michael and Mary challenged Jamie to become a staff worker, even though they knew this would mean great personal cost for him. His honest response was that he couldn’t leave his career behind.
Recently Jamie wrote to say that God had been speaking to him and he could no longer say “No”. He is now working with AGEUP and is in charge of projects. This multi-talented young man is a tremendous asset to the student movement in Peru.
The Shining Path movement sought to bring change through revolution and a reign of terror. AGEUP seeks to bring change through the grace of God.
Quick Success Stories
Tanya is an amazing success story from a Compassion project in an inner city slum of Peru. She was studying law. One day she heard another law student crying in the university toilets. Tanya cared for her and introduced her to Jesus. Tanya is now totally convinced that the Word of God is applicable and helpful to all sorts of people in any circumstances. What a wonderful lesson to take with her into her career.
Joel’s involvement with AGEUP has helped him not only in his spiritual growth but also in many practical ways. He has learnt organisational skills and leadership qualities by training as a student group leader that have helped him establish his own computer business – abilities that his course didn’t provide. He is so grateful to the AGEUP leadership for this practical input.
Missionaries who have worked for many years with University Students talk about about why they feel this ministry is important. Michael and Mary Foster spent over ten years working with University students in Peru. According to Mary, University ministry is "strategic, dynamic and very rewarding". Here are more of her insights into the needs in Student ministry.
Mary Foster teaching students
- Peru has many large universities with over 5000 students
- 6 Paid staff at over 66 Universities throughout the country (statistic from 2005)
- Missionaries work well with IFES related university organisations. This is unlike in the 70s and 80s when foreign partnership meant imperialism and was rejected in most universities
- Student ministries currently produce a large percentage of Christian leaders in Peru. For example the leader of World Vision , Compassion and the Evangelical Alliance are all graduates of the student movement.
More information about the University Ministry
- Student ministry in Peru is linked with IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students). The ministry in Peru is called AGEUP which is a Spanish anacronym.
- University Groups are mostly student run
- Student movements in Peru have a national leadership which we will work under.
- Students in Latin America speak about out about political issues and justice is high on their agenda
- They are passionate about understanding the whole gospel in terms of evangelism and social action as well as teaching the Bible clearly at meetings.
We asked Edwin and Diane Porter, who have been missionaries in Peru for many years, what they felt were the greatest needs in Peru. This is what they said...
"It is true to say that tomorrow’s leadership of Peru is attending University today which highlights the enormous need for a strong Christian presence on campus. Attending University brings the student under the pressure of diverse social and academic influences, it is therefore important that there is a group of Christians on campus who are active in their faith and able to encourage one another. The impact on the lives of students in reinforcing the importance of living for Christ and reaching out with the Gospel message during their university life has far reaching and long term effects for not only does it encourage the students to follow Christ during those formative university years it also aids them in their formation for the future and how they live their lives in the home, at work and in the church. The evangelical church in Peru and those missions including SIM who are working in Peru are seizing the opportunity to encourage Christian students by giving them the tools they need to grow in their faith and to reach out to their families, friends and colleagues.
With the help of missionaries like David and Christine working in the Universities in Lima, Arequipa and across Peru, many Christians have been and will be strengthened in their faith and given the tools they need to face the challenges of their future lives and ministry".
The gospel is being taken to the ends of the earth. I had heard of the gospel being taken to ‘deepest darkest Africa’. Well this was the other extreme. High in the South American Andes, at 4700m there is a little village called Culipampa which I had the privilege of visiting.
This place on the Peruvian altiplano (Spanish for ‘high plain’) is almost like a different planet. At this altitude there are no trees. It is a dry, barren, hostile and strikingly beautiful place. It is as remote a place as I could imagine.
What makes it even more incredible is that almost the entire village, of about fifty people, are practicing Christians. One member of this community, a man named Policarpio, had worked in one of the larger cities and had come to know the Lord through a missionary. He returned to his village to tell them of the good news and … there was an incredible revival – basically the whole village turned to Jesus.
Policarpio who lead his village to Jesus
Brad Shaw, the missionary we are staying with, knows the missionary that led this one person to the Lord. He said that this is the kind of story that keeps missionaries going for a long time. Often it is years of hard work just faithfully sharing the gospel to see someone come to know Jesus. The purpose of coming to Culipampa was to facilitate a leadership-training program.
Tiny village of Culipampa
The program was intense. It began with a prayer meeting at 6am. There were three sessions through the day, each session went for about three and a half hours. There were no toilet breaks, no breaks to get a cup of tea and perhaps some biscuits. Each session began with singing followed by a sermon, more singing, another sermon, more singing, a testimony, more singing. The people’s desire to hear God’s word was incredible. I was exhausted! Even during the breaks I would see people crowding around someone who was explaining the Bible. I asked Brad ‘How do they do it? How can they keep going for hour after hour?’ Brad gave me two reasons. Firstly they really love Jesus and they are hungry for His Word. Secondly, we are used to receiving Bible teaching at least weekly. These people get this kind of thing only once every two months so they are eager to learn as much as possible in the short time they have. The whole program was in Quechua, the local language and I understood nothing. I tried to follow the talks by looking up the passages in my English Bible. The speakers were often quite animated when giving illustrations and during the break I would ask someone to describe what was happening. The description would be in Spanish and I could understand that a little. We had about forty people during the morning and afternoon sessions and over seventy at the evening session.
The food was great. We got alpaca steaks for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The alpaca is a South American animal that is very similar to the llama. Alpaca wool is softer and much more sought after than llama wool. The meat was very tasty. I wish I could describe it – it was nothing like chicken. After a day of eating meat morning, noon and night I realized my body was not going to be able to handle this and I had to go vegetarian for a few meals. Vegetables don’t grow at this altitude so have to be trucked in. They are more expensive but we had plenty.
Alpacas on the road
If you weren’t in direct sunlight, it was cold. It was constantly ridiculously cold. I had packed for South America expecting to do an ice-climb so I had good warm clothing – thermals and three jackets. When the sun went down I wore all of them. It was ridiculously cold. During prayer, head wear was removed as a sign of reverence to God. Sometimes I hoped the prayer would end quickly so I could put my beanie back on. I never thought I’d say this but I’ve seen it snowing inside a church, yes inside the church. It was obviously snowing outside and the roof must have had gaps for ventilation and it was quite surreal to have snow gently gliding down from the ceiling. A few flakes landed on my open Bible, immediately melting. In one of the evening sessions they called me up to the front and introduced me as a brother from Australia. I sent greetings from my church in Australia and, as is customary here, the people responded vocally to send their greeting back. So friends in Australia - greeting from your brothers and sisters in the Lord at Culipampa, Peru. Fortunately I was warned before hand that they would expect me to give a talk or share a favourite Bible passage. I shared from the passage Mark 2:1-12. It was translated into Spanish and then into Quechua. There was no Quechua speaker who knew English hence it had to go via Spanish.
Ice crystals on the inside of the car
Saying the nights at Culipampa were freezing would be an understatement. The temperature never got as high as zero. I slept on the floor of the four-wheel drive, the seat folded back. My sleeping bag was rated to –10 degrees Celsius. I’ve slept in a tent on a glacier at 5500m on two previous occasions with this sleeping bag and had been quite cosy. I could not figure out why I was so cold here. I lost feeling in my feet pretty promptly after getting into bed. I had two layers of socks on. I took my socks off and massaged my feet, hoping to get the circulation back but to no avail. I just had to go to sleep. It was a long night! Annoyingly I had to wake up about four times through the night visit to the toilet – I got out of my sleeping bag, put on a second jacket (I wore one in my sleeping bag), boots and then ventured into the cold. I was glad when the sun came up. Inside the cabin of the four-wheel drive, after the sun came up the thermometer read –10 degrees. I would hate to guess how cold it was in the middle of the night. On the final evening we showed the Jesus movie, heard a talk followed by several testimonies. I found out later about one of the testimonies. A lady who had come to know the Lord was married to a violent, alcoholic man. She prayed much for him and later he too gave his life to the Lord. The Lord has transformed their lives and their marriage. Her husband was there listening to the testimony. Straight after the testimony another sermon began. It was 11:30pm and I was exhausted. I knew this could go on for hours. I had planned to stay to the end but I was really struggling. I quietly snuck out and soon after I was asleep in my sleeping bag. I woke up at about 2am feeling very cold. I could hear them singing in church - they were still going. For a few minutes I seriously considered getting up, getting dressed and going to church again. At least I’d be warmer. I couldn’t feel my feet again but tonight I could not be bothered trying to massage them. I was just too tired and I figured they’d be fine once the sun came up. I fell asleep.
Village in the Canyon
We headed back home to Cotahuasi the next morning. Ten of us were packed into one four-wheel drive and seven in another. We snaked along narrow windy roads and I just soaked in the incredible scenery. Brad often pointed out a series of specks, a isolated village on a small outcrop of flat land, perched on the side of a steep mountain. He would name the village and describe what God was doing there. Many of these villages had no vehicular access. Along with several local missionaries, Santiago, Freddie and David, Brad had trekked into most villages in this area.
Amazing scenery in the Cotahuasi Canyon
Often they used donkeys to carry in a projector and generator and showed the Jesus movie on a hanging white bedsheet. The movie had been dubbed into the local Quechua language and they would then share the gospel. They would visit regularly when possible. In some villages a strong church had formed and while in other villages there was very little response. Brad pointed out a few villages that still needed to be visited for the first time.
Missionaries Brad, Santiago and Freddie on the right visiting some local people along the way
The trip was a great opportunity to see how God was working in this village. It was exciting and encouraging to see people who were passionate about God and His Word. Still there is so much to be done. God has a plan…