Missions News & Stories

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Bringing Grace and Health to Tribal People of Peru

December 8, 2016

Ashaninka children eating a meal.
Ethnic Ashaninka children are provided a meal by indigenous missionaries in eastern Peru.

In the rainforests of the Andes in eastern Peru, the tribal Ashaninka live in fear of spirits that they believe can control or attack them.

For the Ashaninka, long ago a mythical hero figure transformed some humans into mountains, rivers and other aspects of creation, according to the World Culture Encyclopedia. Hence the spirits of animals, trees and other figures of nature can be pernicious, as many of these things are said to have been misbehaving humans in a previous existence.

The long-oppressed, impoverished Ashaninka also believe that when people die, deserving souls can join the ranks of the good spirits, but that usually the dead become evil ghosts. These malevolent beings are said to visit harm on the settlements where they had lived as humans, so as a precautionary measure the Ashaninka have been known to leave a settlement after someone has died.

An indigenous ministry that works among the Ashaninka, who number about 45,000 including several hundred on the Brazilian side of the border, has helped to free the remote dwellers of the Amazon from lives of fear and dread.

The message of the salvific death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is taking root among an increasing number of Ashaninka, and more disciples are growing in the Lord and are beginning to disciple young adults and children, an indigenous missionary for Segadores (Harvesters) said.

"The Ashaninka adolescents and young adults are learning the Book of Acts," the indigenous missionary said. "There are young people that already believe in Christ, and we have seen some changes in their lives."

"At this time, I'm focusing on teaching about new life in Christ and how to pray," he said. "Some told me, 'We are idolatrous because we put our faith in many things from our tribal customs.'"

The indigenous missionary developed enough trust with the Ashaninka that they have shared many of their ancestral beliefs with him. He in turn has been able to share the Bible with them.

"Our congregation had a spiritual party in which Bible lessons were taught," he said. "The main passage was Galatians 5:16-26, with emphasis on verses 19 and 22, the choice between guiding our life by our passions or by the Spirit of God. It was very hot because the roof was made of zinc, but most of the people participated and were alert all day."

The Ashaninka are considered a "superficially reached" people because they are 35 percent animist, 65 percent nominal Catholic (often blended with animism) and less than 1.5 percent evangelical, according to the Joshua Project.

Working in the jungles of Junin Department some 200 miles northeast of Lima, indigenous teams trained by the ministry have planted dozens of churches in unevangelized areas, including several among the Ashaninka. They have developed trusting relationships by teaching income-generating skills like sewing and vegetable gardening to impoverished people; helping to build homes sturdy enough to withstand fierce rains; running feeding programs for malnourished children; and taking teams of dentists and doctors to remote villages that never had access to medical care.

Central to the ministry's efforts is equipping near-culture natives to effectively approach unreached peoples. The ministry began in 1963, but since 1995 it has trained indigenous missionaries, sending out small teams to live among tribal groups for two weeks. Students gather at the end of the experience to discuss what they have learned, and the process is repeated for four years until graduation.

The ministry offers training in Lima and in a jungle village. Both groups learn practical skills that will enable them to financially support their ministries. A junior program has even been established for children who want to become missionaries.

For graduates called to long-term missionary service, the ministry provides a program in which students spend six months living among various tribes. Every year, the ministry also operates a two-week training for Christians from the Ashaninka, Yanesha and Quechua peoples.

Native missionary preaching to Ashaninka.
Indigenous missionaries teach the Bible to poor villagers in the rainforest of the Andes.

At one Ashaninka church, the local indigenous missionary has been encouraged by the progress among young people.

"The Ashaninka adolescents and young adults are learning the Book of Acts, and I'm also teaching them about baptism with emphasis on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ," he said. "There are young people that already believe in Christ, and we have seen some changes in their lives. Many of them lead the prayer and worship in Sunday school."

In another Ashaninka village, the ministry purchased books and other school supplies for impoverished children abandoned by their parents. The indigenous missionary utilized his relationship with the head of the community to identify the neediest children.

Local authorities joined his team in the distribution of the school supplies, clothes and shoes.

"The head of the school thanked us, saying, "Thanks to this missionary group for bringing these things without any political interest - these gifts truly come from heaven, given that these children did not have one book,'" he said. "They then invited us to the village school to teach the Word of God."

In another Ashaninka village, the ministry provided lunch to adolescents and younger children abandoned by their parents. The effort benefits about 20 children as part of an after-school outreach Monday through Friday.

"We have seen the need to care for these children," the indigenous missionary said. "It's urgent that they have a meal, because these are small children, and they are the one that suffer most. We began this ministry by faith, as there are no funds for it."

To help indigenous missionaries to 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: 245SEG. Thank you!

Help spread the gospel among Ashaninka people
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