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How to Reach '99% Christian' Quechuas in Peru

February 19, 2016

 Peruvian children praying.
Children draw close to God at prayer meeting in a village in northern Peru.

In the mountain village of Uyurpampa in northern Peru, nestled amid sloping farmland and more distant Andean peaks, a small band of native missionaries stepped off a rickety bus in the pre-dawn cold. They had been traveling for more than five hours.

The previous night, the four Peruvian Christians had set out on another bus from the town of Reque, nearly 500 miles north of Lima and about five miles from the Pacific coast, for a 40-minute ride to Ferreñafe. In that town they waited with their cargo for about 20 minutes for the only bus that reaches Uyurpampa village – departing at 1 a.m.

"You don't know what kind of bus you're going to catch," the director of the indigenous ministry said. "It could be an open-air bus with ducks or chicks or whatever. By 12:40 a.m., we unloaded and waited for this other bus that was going to take us at 1 a.m. If we don't catch that bus, it's done – we have to go back."

In the chilled December darkness, they arrived in Uyurpampa at 5 a.m. Largely sleep-deprived as they set foot on the dirt roads of the village about 75 miles inland, they unloaded and carried to a host's house three blocks away the cargo they had purchased: clothes, shoes and toys for impoverished children in the area.

The team helped the 50-member church, which the ministry leader had planted in 2011, to distribute the items to the villagers, brightening the faces of dozens of children and their parents. Most of the recipients, not part of the congregation, got a taste of Christ's love, and the church, led by a local lay pastor, shone like a town built on a hill that cannot be hidden.

On that trip, as they do every two or three months, the indigenous missionaries brought the gospel to the village's Lambayeque Quechua community, where nearly everyone outside the evangelical congregation practices a blend of ancient, pagan rituals and nominal Catholicism. The Joshua Project may list the Lambayeque Quechua as 99 percent "Professing Christian," but the ministry team finds the vast majority of them have never heard the gospel. Like other Quechua groups that account for 4.4 million of Peru's approximately 30 million people, the Lambayeque Quechuas of the village are influenced by animism and witchcraft as much as a sub-standard form of Roman Catholicism.

"Millions of mountain Quechua and Aymara are still bound by superstitions of pagan and 'Christian' origin," missionary handbook Operation World notes.

Nominally Catholic since Spanish colonization, generations of nearly all Andean Quechuas have held animistic ideas common to other Andean peoples, such as belief in Mother Earth (Pachamama), to whom offerings must be made for fertility. The indigenous ministry director, whose name is withheld for security purposes, expressed deep gratitude to supporters of Christian Aid Mission for assistance that has made social and gospel outreach possible to such people.

"We were able to buy and distribute clothes, shoes and toys to more than 140 poor and needy children in places such as Pampagrande, Capote and Uyurpampa," he said. "We have also shared the gospel and taught the Bible in places in various towns and villages of the Lambayeque Region, and discipled and baptized new believers."

Among the team members that made the trip to Uyurpampa village was a young man who three years ago was lost in a downward spiral of alcohol and drugs. Depressed after the death of his father, David (surname withheld) had fallen in with a wayward band of friends and into a sinful lifestyle, the ministry director said.

After his mother brought him to the director's church in Reque two years ago, David, then 20, attended a three-day church retreat outside the town. After hearing the leader present the gospel to the group, he came forward for prayer.

"They started praying for him, and he just started crying, and he cried and cried," the director said. "Some people come forward and they're hesitant, but in his case he was just crying. He really felt that the Lord released his burden, and afterward he felt a change in his life; he didn't feel that sadness any more, or any more of that burden in his heart."

David began holding Bible studies in his house, where he discipled other young men, and he has started to help lead the church youth ministry, the director said. His brother has also placed his faith in Christ, and, as the two of them work in a market, after work they both proclaim Christ there.

"They just finish their work and go outside to talk to people about Jesus," he said. "This young man wants to be a missionary. I'm discipling him. On this last trip to Uyurpampa, he went to help, but in addition to carrying things, he went to see how to deal with the people, how you evangelize, how you go house to house."

 Peruvian children displaying gifts.
Children display their joy in gifts provided by an indigenous ministry in Uyurpampa, Lambayeque Region.

The ministry, which acts as an umbrella organization for several groups working in Lambayeque Region, equips a 13-member team that proclaims Christ in Spanish, as the area Quechuas are bilingual, speaking both Spanish and their own Lambayeque Quechua dialect. The ministry also operates a radio station in the nearby town of Olmos.

Some listeners come to the station in person to learn more. The ministry leader said a 28-year-old guard at a local bank who had fits of temper, Julio, arrived at the station and told him that he'd nearly lost his job after hitting a co-worker.

"As he was depressed over the situation, he had begun to flip through the radio stations and stopped at our ministry radio station at a time when the gospel was being shared," the director said. "The Lord touched his heart, so he came to our office and received Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Then he started to meet with our local Bible study group, and the Lord is transforming his life. He said, 'Now, with the Lord's help, I have peace and my bad behavior, bad temper and bouts of rage are gone."

The broadcasts reach some areas where there is no evangelical church, opening possibilities for congregations to be planted. One listener, Rosendo Barrios from San Pedro, wrote, "I thank God for your ministry through the radio. Here we do not have an evangelical congregation, but now, through your messages, I and my family are learning more about God, and I am sharing with my neighbors about Jesus. Your radio station is a blessing for me and my village."

To help indigenous missionaries meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 245NLEM. Thank you!

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