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Church embraces strategy to reach Peruvian people groups

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles to be released in advance of this year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions, Nov. 30-Dec. 7. Missionaries who serve in South America as well as churches partnering with them are the week’s focus, exemplifying the global outreach supported by Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The 2008 theme is “Go Tell the Story of Jesus.”

ICA, Peru (BP)–The answer to a 10-year pursuit was revealed in a moment for Spanish teacher Rachel Colonna.

She knew God was calling her to do mission work in southern Peru -— her husband Luis’ native country — but she didn’t know how to begin. But when she and Luis began attending Life Church in Mandeville, La., in 2002, it became evident that God was showing her the way.

Since 2003, the nine-year-old Life Church has been part of the International Mission Board’s Rapid Entry Advance Plan (REAP) in southern Peru. REAP encourages stateside partners — known as strategy coordinator churches — to plant indigenous, self-sufficient bodies of believers among specific people groups. As a strategy coordinator church for the Candarave segment of southern Aymara, Life Church has helped plant more than 20 churches and mobilized them to start others in the South American country.

“When we launched our international missions project in Peru,” lead pastor Paul Smith said, “we unfurled a Peruvian flag in our morning service, and our missions pastor announced that we were going to offer Spanish classes.”

Colonna wasted no time heading down front to tell Smith she had been waiting for such an opportunity. She could teach Spanish classes and lead mission trips.

“If we better understand and love the Hispanic community, then we will be more effective when we go to other countries,” Colonna said.

She and Luis now lead trips to Peru twice a year and offer translation services when needed. Yet, they are only two of the members who have helped Life Church rise to the challenge of being a strategy coordinator church.

When the congregation learned that an 8.0-magnitude earthquake had hit near some of their church plants last year, three members went to Ica, Peru, to be among the first stateside volunteers to help missionaries and national believers bring food and relief to the quake victims.

Standing in a pile of rubble that was once someone’s home in a village near Ica brought back memories for Smith and fellow church members Mickey Rayborn and Bobby Guillory. The Louisiana congregation had experienced the wrath of Hurricane Katrina firsthand. This time, it was their turn to comfort Peruvian families who had lost their homes.

“We lost everything in Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” Smith said, “but we were helped first and foremost by churches across the United States. We wanted to be first responders in Peru and help mobilize the local pastors here to do the same.”

National pastors and volunteers from church plants throughout southern Peru collected agricultural supplies, blankets and plastic tarps for quake victims.

Javier Banda, pastor of La Iglesia de Vida el Victorioso — one of Life Church’s plants in Peru’s second-largest city of Arequipa — and two other nationals teamed with Life Church volunteers to help IMB missionaries with relief efforts. They distributed rice, beans, pasta and milk, along with blankets and other necessities to outlying villages.

“As Christians, it is in our hearts to give and to help,” Banda said. “It is very important to come here and be sensitive to the things of God and help in every little way we can.”

Elizabeth Barriales, a children’s leader in the Arequipa church, led children in games and songs about Jesus Christ while Smith and Banda offered encouraging words as they unloaded supplies from pickup trucks.

“These items you’re receiving are not from us but from God,” Smith said. “We’re just blessed to be the hands that bring them to you.”

Several people in the villages asked them to return to teach Bible studies, missionary Wayne Brinkley noted.

“It’s not about just giving them physical help,” Brinkley said. “It’s about talking with them and connecting with them — pat their back and love on them. Let them see God’s love through you.”

Seeing Peruvian pastors and young churches mobilizing to reach their own people is rewarding because it exemplifies the success of national churches, Smith said.

“The self-sufficiency of these bodies of believers is exactly what you hope for out of a church plant,” he said.

Life Church not only is partnering with Hispanics in ministry in Peru, but also in Panama -– and they are bringing that principle home to Louisiana, where Life Church began its own Hispanic congregation on Easter in 2006.

The Hispanic congregation of Life Church has services on Sunday evenings led by pastor Carlos Romero. He and Smith, who met in a coffee shop, worked together to form the church. Spanish translation also is offered for Life’s Church’s morning worship service.

“We had people who I didn’t even know could speak Spanish begin to volunteer for things,” Smith said. “Members of the praise team are learning songs in the language and even help the [Spanish] congregation with their music.”

Life Church holds English as a Second Language classes on Sunday afternoons as well as an evangelistic class that teaches the basics of how to share the Gospel in Spanish. This has been a useful tool for Life’s mission trips to its church plants in Peru and Panama.

“It’s all working out very well,” Smith said. “I’m amazed at how God brings people from all over to work together to fulfill His purposes.”
Lydia DeGozo is a writer for the International Mission Board. To find out more about the Rapid Entry Advance Plan (REAP) in southern Peru, go to reapsouth.org or e-mail the IMB’s South America region at [email protected]. Visit going.imb.org for general volunteer opportunities. Gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering provide vital support to the International Mission Board’s more than 5,300 missionaries worldwide. The national goal for this year’s offering is $170 million. To give to the offering year-round, go to imb.org/main/give.

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  • Lydia DeGozo