IQUITOS, Peru (BP) — Just three days after his wife died, 72-year-old Edison Romero climbed into a cramped wooden boat for a journey down the Amazon. He could have stayed home to mourn. Instead he took a 12-hour trip from his village to Iquitos, Peru, to attend missions training.
“I just couldn’t miss it,” he said of the training.
Romero attends Escuela de Misiones Transculturales (School of Cross-Cultural Missions) near Iquitos in the Amazon Basin. It’s one of three missions training centers begun in Peru by Perú a las Naciones (Peru to the Nations), a Peruvian Baptist organization.
Every two months, Romero and about 30 other participants and their family members — ranging from toddlers to elderly adults — convene outside Bethany Evangelical Baptist Church in Iquitos. There they pile into two crude metal buses with their luggage and half a dozen live chickens for a jarring, hour-long ride over a muddy road full of potholes.
When the road ends, the travelers — loaded down with young children and luggage — hike barefooted through swampy mud. At the bank of the Nanay River, which flows into the Amazon, they cram into a narrow wooden boat. There’s barely breathing room; the jungle air is stifling.
After a 45-minute trip downriver to the jungle camp, they haul their belongings down a dirt path to wooden cabins. The cabins, covered with dried banana leaves and mosquito netting, will be home for three days. There’s no electricity or hot water. And since there’s no refrigeration, the live chickens will provide fresh meat each day.
But no one complains.
The leaders of the group are Tommy and Beth Larner, IMB missionaries in Peru. Tommy Larner works with Perú a las Naciones and helped start the school in 2010. At the school’s training camp, he and his wife lead a team that teaches Bible storying, evangelism techniques, church planting methods and other missions principles.
Training national believers in missions is crucial to reaching Peru with the Gospel, he said.
“We can’t [reach the world] by ourselves,” Larner said. “There’s just too much to be done. We could go to an unreached people group. But if I can send a bunch more Peruvians and invest my life in them, I can be more effective sending than I can going.”
“Cross-cultural missions” often implies taking the Gospel to other countries. But this school teaches believers in the Amazon how to effectively share Christ in the many jungle villages throughout Peru.
“These [believers] live in cross-cultural missions,” the International Mission Board missionary added. “Their passion is to go deeper and farther into the jungle where the Gospel has not been preached.”
Carlos Peñaherrera, pastor of Bethany Evangelical Baptist, shares that passion. He met Larner at a missions conference in another Peruvian city and helped him begin the school. Peñaherrera now travels to Amazon villages already reached with the Gospel, promoting the school and challenging believers to live out the Great Commission. He also participates in the school’s training sessions.
“There is a lot of need in our own villages, in our own country and particularly in the Amazon,” Peñaherrera said. “There are places that haven’t been touched by the Gospel yet. Some are small. Some are large. There are many cultures, languages, ethnicities. Some may be similar but they’re still different peoples.”
Going where Gospel hasn’t
On the boat from Iquitos to the school’s training camp, passengers are crowded and uncomfortable, but Sergio Soria naps sitting with one hand clinging to the edge of the boat’s thatched roof, snoring softly. He’s had lots of practice.
Like many of his fellow students, Soria lives in a jungle community. The boat ride from his village to Iquitos takes 12 to 18 hours, depending on the condition of the Amazon. And that’s before the group trip from Iquitos to the training camp. Still he makes the journey every two months to get the training he believes will help him fulfill God’s purpose for his life.
“I’ve been [to] villages along the river and seen the needs of the people,” Soria said. “And God just put in my heart the desire to work as a missionary. I want to use what I’ve learned at this school to better understand the people so I can go into places where the Gospel has never been taken.”
The boat ride to Iquitos costs Soria about $30. That’s hard to come by for Soria, an artisan who sells inexpensive crafts at a local market, and fellow student Rafael Ijuma, who repairs and sells used shoes to support his family. Every three weeks, Ijuma leaves his family to go share the Gospel in communities up and down the Amazon.
But sharing Christ is worth the struggle, Ijuma said.
“I have seen the need of the people,” he said. “I put myself in their place, and I see them as I was before Christ. The need that I had before, they have now. And all my effort is so that they can understand what I was before and what I am now.
“But money is a real issue,” he added. “I want to work full time as a missionary, but it’s a question of finances. So I pray that God will provide a way for me to give more time to missions.”
Both Soria and Ijuma have identified new places where they want to take the Gospel, but they need their own boats to get there. They are praying for God to provide.
“Pray that they will use their training to be better witnesses for Christ in Peru,” Larner said. “Pray also that God will provide them the transportation and finances needed to spread the Gospel throughout the Amazon jungle.”
*Name changed. Emily Pearson recently concluded a two-year journeyman term with the International Mission Board covering the Americas from her base in Lima, Peru. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).