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Southern student helps prepares path for gospel witness in Peru

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A mixture of dust, feathers, exhaust and a few oinks flew in the wake of the speeding bus. Each new curve on the high-mountain dirt road seemed to take the vehicle ever closer to the rail-less road edge.
Nearing its destination of San Marcos, Peru, the rickety bus transported many Peruvians, a few roof-clinging farm animals and eight short-term missionaries. All were terrified.
With each flirtation with a precipitous plunge, one of the missionaries — Bryan Fritsch — was quickly dispelling his preconceived picture of glamorous missionary experiences.
“I always had visions of mission trips,” said Fritsch, a master of divinity student from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “There you are on a boat looking afar. The tribesmen are on the shore just waiting to hear the gospel. You boldly proclaim Jesus. And in 15 minutes the whole town gets saved.”
One look at San Marcos completely obliterated his grandiose notions. Perched nearly 10,000 feet above Peru’s coastal capital of Lima, the city of 1,500 people possessed few comforts and even less cleanliness. And the missionaries or “short-termers” would not even minister in the town. Instead, they would help International Mission Board missionary Mike Weaver scout villages belonging to some 200,000 Conchucos Quechuans in the remote elevations surrounding San Marcos.
Yet the work the team would accomplish with this unreached people group would “till the land for the regular missionaries to plant the seed,” said Fritsch, a native of Madison, Pa.
Hiking for four days with the team from the First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Ala., Fritsch visited seven villages — not to evangelize as he had envisioned, but to prepare the way for sharing the gospel.
“Our mission seemed really small, but it was the beginning stages of evangelism,” Fritsch said.
In each location he and the others passed out tracts and prayer-walked through the thatched huts and dirt paths. But the excursion’s main goal was to make initial contacts with the people — to acclimate them to the sight of “Gringos” or light-skinned non-South Americans.
“In every village there were people who had never seen white people,” Fritsch said. Not only was unfamiliarity a problem, but also fear — the Quechuans’ fear of the “Pishtaco.” The “Pishtaco” legend among the villagers says that when the white man came to South America, they came to kill the Quechuans and boil them down for use in machines.
“We walked into a school, and half the kids ran away,” Fritsch said. “It turned out they were afraid of the Pishtaco.”
The team faced other obstacles in their mission. As both the Conchucos Quechuan language and customs remain relatively unstudied, the cultural barriers were steep.
“Everything that the missionaries do up there is ground-breaking,” Fritsch said. “They basically have zero demographic information on the people. No one has ever really been up in those hills to survey and see what they speak.”
Physically, the missionaries found the terrain difficult, and the villages — only accessible by burro or by foot — were hard to find. Wild dogs even attacked two of the team members on the trail.
But in nearly every village, the group achieved its goal of establishing face-to-face connections which hopefully will bear future fruit for Christ, Fritsch said.
This relationship-building often occurred in the one-room schoolhouses. One village visit proved especially successful.
“When we arrived in the village, the teachers shut down school for the day so that the Quechuans could hang out with us,” Fritsch said. “We received a warm welcome. All 100 or so of the children were enamored with the ‘big white men.’”
The children sang the missionaries a song in Quechuan, and the team sang two songs to wide-eyed kids in English — “Jesus Loves Me” and “How Great Thou Art.” To the delight of all, the teachers then challenged the curious travelers to a game of volleyball.
“There we were at 12,000 feet and a day’s walk from the nearest road, and we are playing volleyball with this ancient soccer ball,” Fritsch said.
“That visit might be the most exciting thing that will happen to those children all year. It was one of the best relations we had with any of the villages. In the future, the warm welcome we received may create an awesome avenue for a church plant or Bible study.”
But according to Fritsch, the Quechuans were not the only ones who benefited from the interaction — the “short-termers” were touched as well.
“I was challenged to realize that the gospel is not an American gospel, and it’s not a Western gospel,” Fritsch said. “But it truly is a gospel for all people groups.
“Getting my hands dirty for only a short time in Peru will hopefully keep me from drying up while in school. While my primary job right now is to study, short-term trips like this one will give me something to chew on as I study and will prevent me from allowing ‘sacred’ learning to become dry facts,” Fritsch said.

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  • Bryan Cribb