Nestled in the Andes Mountains of Peru, most of the people in Santiago de Chocorvos hadn't had the chance to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
But that changed in the small village with the arrival of three Southern Baptist summer missionaries.
Kathryn Oder, Lindy Moser, and Elliot Jeffries came to Santiago as part of the REAP South program (Rapid Entry Advance Plan). The International Mission Board-related program steers missionaries into rural areas in the mountains and jungles of Peru and Bolivia where they can interact with unreached people groups.
And Oder, Moser, and Jeffries did plenty of interacting.
Waking up at seven in the morning and not getting home until after dark was common for the summer missionaries. Their days consisted of telling others about Christ, praying with people, holding regular church services, and visiting surrounding villages — but it was their ministry to children that had the greatest impact.
Every day around 3 p.m. they headed to the basketball court to play "futbol" (soccer) and jacks with the children. Through these activities, the missionaries were able to share Christ with the children's parents, family members, and friends.
"I really like to work with adults," said Moser, 21, from Woodland Baptist Church in Peoria, Illinois, "but God is really working through the kids…for the adults."
Every Friday evening the missionaries held a service in the village plaza. With mostly children in attendance, they taught Bible verses and songs. Oder, who plays the guitar, led the music, and Jeffries preached while Moser translated.
In addition to their regular activities, the three young people found themselves involved in a number of unusual ministries over the summer.
"The first month we were in Santiago we went to the river and were able to help more than fifty people sift rocks and dirt to make bricks for the mayor's new house," recounted Oder, 20, from CrossRoads Church in Norfolk, Virginia. "We called this ministry 'river evangelism.' We were able to tell them about Jesus as we worked with them."
Many of the locals were surprised the missionaries helped with the labor. "It was a good witness," said Jeffries, 21, from Kirby Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee.
Because there were no washing machines — and little running water — the missionaries began washing their clothes at the river, fed by clear, glacier water from the mountains. This also turned into a ministry time.
"We went down [to the river] most Fridays," Oder said. "There were always people to talk to. We called this 'rinse-and-repeat ministries,'" Oder said of witnessing to those by the water.
At the beginning of July, a volunteer team of mostly students from Kirby Woods came to Santiago to help the summer missionaries. The church had adopted the Ayacucho Quechua people group in the Santiago area of Peru the previous summer.
After arriving in Santiago, the volunteers hiked the seven-hour, uphill trek to Santa Rosa, one of the unreached villages REAP South and the summer missionaries wanted to evangelize.
"[In Santa Rosa] we prayerwalked different areas of the mountains and had evening services with families," said Theresa Canon, one of the Kirby Woods volunteers. "We [also] helped move bricks for a woman who was building a new house."
Added Emily Davis, another Kirby Woods volunteer, "[During one of the services] we were all crammed in this tiny room on the top floor of a lady's house, singing and praising the Lord as boldly and as loudly as we could, so the men down the road getting drunk could hear us worshiping. It was so amazing and so Spirit-filled; we all just started crying tears of praise."
Despite the picturesque scenery of the rolling Andes Mountains, clear water, and the blue skies, life was not always easy for the summer missionaries.
"There were a lot of hard days," Oder said. "Some days you just wanted to talk to the outside world or you wanted to be alone, but you couldn't."
In Santiago there are no private phone lines or private Internet hookups. There is one phone and two computers, one of which only occasionally connects to the Internet.
"We only had three days of Internet before the Kirby Woods team came. There was complete isolation. We didn't have electricity for a month and a half," Oder said. "The electricity came back on the day Kirby Woods got here and went off the day they left."
Many of the people in Santiago became like family to the summer missionaries. Zenon and his wife, Neli, who cooked for the missionaries while they lived in the village, were two of the very few believers in the village.
"Zenon went with us [when we witnessed] to make sure everything was OK," Jeffries said. "It's like the watchman's duty that is talked about in Ezekiel 33.
"Sometimes Zenon tells others about Christ," Jeffries said. "But he is scared to tell many for fear of losing his job."
A policeman told Zenon he would make sure no one shopped at his store if he witnessed to people. Despite Zenon's fear of losing his job, the missionaries pray that he will get over the fear — and trust in the Lord to provide for his needs.
"[As Christians] the overall goal [is that] everyone will have an opportunity to trust Christ," Jeffries said. "We have to teach others to go out and tell others about Christ no matter what the situation."
To learn about getting involved in the REAP South program in Peru, visit reapsouth.org. To learn more about other volunteer mission work, visit imb.org and thetask.org.