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…