LIMA, Peru (BP)–Lima was called the “City of Kings” in the late 1500s when Spanish conquistadors shipped home their plundered Inca gold from the city’s natural port. In the 1940s and ’50s, the Peruvian city was known as the “playground of the world” — a getaway for Hollywood royalty such as John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Ernest Hemingway.
Today’s Lima, teeming with nearly 10 million people, is a city of contrasts. The 80-mile-long and 35-mile-wide sprawling metropolis is made up of approximately 45 districts, each with its own mayor and city council.
Brightly lit restaurants and storefronts near the city’s affluent core beckon the middle class. Smog-stained apartment buildings and late-night discos sit a comfortable distance from the city’s fringes where the rural poor search for jobs and try to eke out a living. Squatters slap together wooden pallets to make shacks that have no electricity or access to water.
“I believe it’s important when you hear about cities in Latin America to realize that the majority of people are moving to the major cities,” Southern Baptist missionary Kevin Shearer notes. “There’s a steady migration,” underscoring the reality “that we’ve got to reach the major urban centers if we’re going to reach Latin America.”
Kevin and his wife Pam focus on mobilizing Peruvians to answer the call to God and to missions. The task is made more difficult by the mixture of Catholicism with animism, evidenced by displays of altars next to statues of the Virgin Mary. Fewer than 10 percent of the people have a relationship with Jesus Christ, according to missions estimates.
The Shearers, from West Laurel Baptist Church in Laurel, Miss., estimate that 5,000 churches are needed if one is to be located within a bus ride of every resident, but there are fewer than 40 congregations so far. Kevin is helping Peruvians catch a vision for expanded missions efforts by teaching at the Lima Baptist Convention’s local seminary and participating in the newly formed National Missions Congress.
“The thing that breaks my heart about Lima is there are people of faith, but their faith is misplaced,” Pam Shearer says. “It’s easy to get people to talk about spiritual things. It’s very difficult to get them to make a commitment to Jesus Christ being the only way for us to be reconciled with God.”
Dea Davidson covered this story as an overseas correspondent with the International Mission Board. Kevin and Pam Shearer are among more than 5,500 Southern Baptist international missionaries supported by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (www. imb.org/offering) and the Cooperative Program (www.cpmissions.net).