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Missionary seeks best & brightest to finish work in Peru

EDITORS’ NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions, Dec. 4-11, focuses on eight strategy coordinator missionaries and a church serving as a strategy coordinator, exemplifying the global outreach supported by Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The third of the stories features Boots Holder in Peru. Strategy-coordinator missionaries play a key role in reaching the whole world with the Gospel, focusing on people groups and cities by studying cultures, learning languages and developing master plans for reaching every individual with the Gospel.

LIMA, Peru (BP)–About 50 missions volunteers scatter around a hotel lobby high in the mountains of Canta, Peru. As they prepare to jump in trucks and ride into villages, Boots Holder is where he likes to be — out of the way, flipping pancakes in the kitchen.

On this day, volunteers from First Baptist Church of Pickens, S.C., and Crow Hill Bible Church in Bailey, Colo., finish breakfast before heading out to distribute Bibles at a local school. A soccer team plans to board a bus later in the morning to compete in games and share their faith. Meanwhile, Holder scrubs plates and silverware, making sure everyone heads out on a full stomach.

Holder is the strategy coordinator for REAP (Rapid Entry Advance Plan) North Peru. He has lived in Lima for three years with his wife, Katie, and their three children. The rest of his team is comprised of a journeyman and two other missionary couples. They recruit, train and provide resources for volunteers from both Peru and the United States. After that, they let the volunteers go to work in the mountains and jungles of the area.

Working in an area half the size of California, Holder says, he needs all of the help he can get. Whether volunteers work with a medical team or help distribute Bibles, the REAP North team finds a place for willing volunteers to plug into God’s work.

“A lot of people might be afraid to use volunteers,” Holder says. “But if someone has a gift, we want to let them use it. We’ve had people come in here and cut hair.”

Holder and his team rent an entire hotel — kitchen and all — to run their operation. His team helps with logistics and transportation, and they buy groceries and prepare meals for volunteers.

Volunteers distribute hundreds of Bibles and school supplies, teach English, perform dramas and share the Gospel whenever and however possible. Before the week ends, dozens of villagers accept Christ as their Savior, and more than 30 make that decision during one evening service.

Volunteers come in with the Gospel, and then rely on the villagers to start their own church, Holder says. This empowers the locals to control their own plans rather than develop a dependency on outsiders to do the work.

“If you’re the type of person who has to be in control of everything, then this probably isn’t for you,” he says.

First Baptist, Pickens, heads up the work in the Canta region, a mountainous area which spans about 100 miles. As a strategy-coordinator church, FBC sends three or four volunteer teams to Peru each year — just one of about a dozen churches in the United States that works with Holder’s team throughout northern Peru.

“(The Pickens team) is at the point where they don’t need me anymore,” Holder says. “They are flying solo with me in the co-pilot seat. We just make sure everything goes smoothly and give advice.”

With the goal of starting a church in every village in northern Peru, Holder says more Southern Baptist churches are needed to join the effort. In the past two years, it has attracted more than 500 volunteers from the United States and has allowed thousands of Peruvians to hear the Gospel. But thousands more still need Christ in their lives.

After most of the Pickens team heads home, Jim Gilstrap is the sole volunteer who remains. Since May, Gilstrap, a retired schoolteacher, has been Holder’s “point man” on the work in the Canta region. Without him, Holders says, he’d be in trouble.

With some churches sending in volunteers for months at a time, the work requires an ongoing dedication.

“This has to be their thing,” he says. “You have to have a deep commitment. We have way more work than we can keep up with.”

Members of Crow Hill Bible Church have worked alongside the Pickens volunteers for two years. In the mountains of Peru, where vomiting, headaches and nausea have sent several volunteers from the mountain hooked to oxygen, the Colorado group —- familiar with high altitudes -— has found their niche.

But flexibility is the key, Gilstrap says.

“Nothing happens fast,” Gilstrap says one evening, while waiting for a group of summer missionaries to wrap up their work and head to another part of the mountain. “As long as you can accept that nothing is on time, and it is constant chaos, then it is OK.”

Lisa Hiott, another member of the Pickens team, traveled to Peru with her 11-year-old daughter, Salley. They took suitcases full of Bibles and a full itinerary. She admits few things on the itinerary went as planned. But by the end of the week, all of the Bibles were gone and old friendships with the locals were rekindled.

“You prepare,” she says. “But you never do exactly what you think you are going to do.”

The salvation of many souls is well worth the effort to drag in piles of luggage and flip dozens of pancakes, Holder says. He’s seen too many lives transformed by the Gospel to switch the outreach plan at this point.

“(Peruvian) people would have tears in their eyes,” he says. “They couldn’t believe someone would walk in here to bring them a Bible.”

For more information on REAP, go to www.reapwsar.org. To learn how you can give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, visit http://imb.org.

— Pray more Southern Baptist churches in the United States will partner with the REAP North Peru team.

— Pray volunteer teams continue to have access to communities where Catholicism is often the only accepted religion.

— Pray for Peruvian Christians as they live out their faith in the villages.

— Pray for missionaries and their families, and for Southern Baptist churches in the United States that commit to send teams to North Peru to help start churches.

— Pray Southern Baptists will give generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering to support international missions.

    About the Author

  • Shawn Hendricks