Friday, December 01, 2006

Just one more thing...

We thought that the following might serve as a fitting conclusion to our Peru blog. I was asked to write a short article about our time with Baptist Missions staff in Peru for Irish Baptist Life magazine, and it serves as a pencil sketch of our wonderful time with these folks in the summer. Now this is definitely the last post...

Trying to get a good picture can be a tricky business in Peru. Its not that the light is bad, or that there aren’t plenty of photogenic people and places. It is simply difficult to get a snapshot of the essence of the country, of what makes the culture and the people tick. There are endless options and opportunities: whether the almost lunar landscape of the sierra, the enchantment of condors circling effortlessly on early morning currents at Colca Canyon, the wildness of the mountains around Macchu Picchu yielding to man made terrace and uniformity, or the bright shock of traditional colours and costumes worn by the people themselves. All of these pictures reveal a country steeped in history and open for tourism - but they also conceal other less pleasant scenes. The picture of a man in Arequipa salvaging breakfast from bin bags before the dogs come for their share; the picture of children on the streets of Lima selling goods and performing music or juggling for money at traffic lights; the image of affluence and destitution living as uneasy neighbours in the same city and district. All of these are images we have carried away from our six week sabbatical trip in Peru, each equally vivid and moving in their own way.

Similarly it is difficult to present one picture of God’s work as it is carried on by and among Peruvian people. There are bright spiritual landscapes verdant with the blessing of God, and there are hard and barren places where faithfulness and visible fruit are in no way proportionate. So how can we sum up our time in Peru, what can we use as a snapshot of what we saw and what we learned during our time away? Three pictures will provide a small ‘album’ of our experience, and hopefully stimulate prayer among God’s people for their Peruvian brothers and sisters, and our own missionaries serving among them.

The first image is of people weeping. These are not tears of joy, nor of personal sorrow, but of a community of God’s people gripped by the reality of the faith they profess. The location is Peschay in Tacna, and it is Sunday morning. There has been a full programme in place on this particular day. The assistant Pastor Ramon has preached a stirring message on baptism, following which we have witnessed married couple Pedro and Rosanna publicly testify to their faith in Christ through baptism, in the outdoor tank. Now we stand in a circle outside the church building. We are about to break bread together, and Pedro and Rosanna are going to be welcomed into membership. But before these happy events there must be tears - it is time to reflect on the importance of remembering the Lord. John and Lourdes Brew live among these people, loving them deeply, and serving God faithfully. They explain that this time is known as the ‘general pardon’ where each believer speaks to his or her brother or sister and seeks forgiveness for any offence they may have caused to them. The process takes about forty five minutes, the believers moving around the circle systematically, some with smiles, many with tears – preparing their hearts to remember the Lord, making sure that their worship isn’t mingled with the poison of spite. This is a good image for us to hold in our minds, because it portrays for us something of the simplicity and sincerity of many Peruvians’ faith. These are weak and vulnerable believers just like you and I, subject to the same pitfalls and temptations as we are – but their earnestness and devotion is simultaneously thrilling and heartbreaking.

The second image is of a building site. Compared to the sweeping grandeur of Macchu Picchu or the sun-baked colonial buildings of ‘old’ Lima, it may not look picturesque. But this is a landscape charged with importance and potential. We are now standing on the soil of the Ite Camp and Conference Centre, as Trevor Morrow guides us around the site, showing us the features that are nearing completion, and the areas which are awaiting construction. Whether it is the hard-court games area, the fronton wall (a form of outdoor squash), the well finished accommodation blocks, or the amphitheatre with its seashell ground covering, the visitor can almost hear the clamour of children’s voices which will soon fill this place. Trevor’s excitement is palpable as he explains the vision behind the centre, the aspirations that the board of Trustees have for its use among children’s and disabled groups in coming days, as well as for church retreats. Just over the hill is the village of Ite where Baptist Missions are labouring to spread the gospel. It is not an easy area to work into, with discouragements as well as encouragements, but Trevor and Christine, along with Milagros Tipiani (one of the Peruvian national workers, much prayed for in Ireland) have won respect by the way in which they have conducted their evangelism. Milagros has moved away from family to live in the village among the people, and the residents of Ite can have no doubts that the mission staff care about them and are interested in investing time in the village. One of the evidences they can cite is the aerial picture they get of the camp and conference centre each time they travel down the mountain to the sea. It is Trevor and Christine’s prayer that God will breathe life into this site nestled in the valley, and use it for the glory of His name and extension of His kingdom.

The third picture is of a vacant space on a rooftop. It is not the kind of picture that you would enlarge and place on your wall as a central feature, but this picture is deceptive in its simplicity. If you look at the image for a long enough period you can trace the outline of where a radio transmitter will rest in the near future. You can look beyond this rooftop and make out in faint relief the many other roofs of homes across Tacna where Christ isn’t known. This vacant space will soon be of vital importance to the people of the town – even if they don’t know about it yet. We are, of course, standing on the roof of the radio station, located in Cono Sur, Tacna. Ken Scott is sharing about some of the victories and disappointments they have faced as they labour to secure a license and get Christian programming onto the airwaves. The radio station building is well furnished and, at the moment, sparsely populated, but again its influence will spread far and wide in God’s time. Christian music is being bought up, as are the rights to a varied audio ministry schedule, and Ken and Jeannie Scott along with national worker Blanca Valenzuela are waiting and working for the day when its sound spreads out across the locality.

These are simply snapshots, and only make up a tiny proportion of the images our minds have captured during our six week trip to Peru. We could show you other pictures which are bold and bright with the blessing of God, and still others which are poorly lit showing the difficulties and weaknesses of the Peruvian church. But through all of these individual pictures one overwhelming image emerges – God is at work, using His people in His way for His glory. In the month before we left for Peru the Association assembly meetings carried the theme of ‘A Work in Progress’. This is the label which we place on the front of our album of images and impressions from Peru. Only eternity will show us the full picture of what God has done through His workers in this generation, the generation which has passed, and those which may yet come before Christ returns.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Home safe...

...and no, it didn't take us three months to travel back to Northern Ireland!! Sorry for the long delay in finishing off our Peru blog. We thought we had left it so late to update the site that things were beyond the point of no return - but some friends have been asking us recently 'when are you going to finish your blog?', so here goes!

Peru was an incredible experience, one which we are still trying to assimilate in many ways. Both of us think about our time in Peru everyday, and still get a quickening of the pulse when we look through our photos. We feel that we learned a great deal about ourselves, the work of mission, and also our ministry back here at home. Our last few days in Lima were occupied chiefly with travelling through the city, and absorbing something of the intriguing atmosphere of the sprawling capital. Andrew preached twice in the seminary church, and the next day we boarded our flights for home. In the providence of God all of our return flights went smoothly and on time. All the more remarkable considering that Heathrow went into a terror alert meltdown the next day. We want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who prayed us through our Peru '06 experience. God answered your prayers abundantly.

Would we go back again? Absolutely, and we'd recommend the experience to anyone.

Well, that wraps things up for the blog. If you've followed our journey, and have faithfully checked this site since our return in the hope that we might make good on our promise and do a final update, then please leave a comment and let us know.

In case anyone is wondering, the food in the picture above is guinea pig.

Hasta luego, hermanos!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Everyday Peruvian Life

One of the real benefits and privileges of our time in Tacna is that it has given us a tremendous insight into the everyday realities of people's lives in Peru. The touristic element of our trip was wonderful, allowing us to scale some of the heights and plumb some of the depths of the beauty of this country. There was, however, a certain feeling of detachment from the lives of those with whom we came into contact.

Spending two weeks in Tacna has allowed us to be present at important moments in the life of the Peschay church, as well as ordinary humdrum days for the believers here.

Sunday past was a day packed with privilege. The believers in Peschay were holding a baptismal service, as well as a Lord's Supper service. This was an important day for Pedro and Rosanna, a husband and wife who were both baptised. The baptism took place in an outdoor tank around which members of the church stood and sang hymns. The two men performing the baptisms were Juan (the main Pastor of the church) and Ramon (the assistant Pastor).

Following the baptisms we all returned to the church building for communion, at which Pedro and his wife were officially welcomed into membership, and presented with certificates.

On Monday we travelled down to Boca Del Rio, the main seaside resort associated with Tacna. Although it is wintertime in Peru and the shops and cafes were deserted, the sun shone brightly and we enjoyed lovely walks along the beach.

Today (Wednesday) we were able to spend some time with Ramon (the assistant Pastor of Peschay church). He works in a full time job as a carpenter, and serves God with his free time. His workshop is an amazing hive of activity, but he gladly took some time out to show a couple of uninitiated gringos the beautiful art of wood turning. He was very patient and forgiving of our ineptitude, and helped make our messes into recognisable pieces of work. It was brilliant to visit Ramon in his place of work, and to see his industry and endeavour to support his family in what are difficult circumstances. What is true of Ramon is true of Juan (the main Pastor) and of the other believers in the church. They work hard with their hands to facilitate their service for the Lord.

Tomorrow (Thursday) we fly to Lima in the evening. We can't believe that we are now entering the last leg of our journey - the time has simply flown in. We're looking forward to spending more time with SIM missionaries in the capital city. Andrew will be preaching on Sunday morning in a Lima church, and then we reach for the skies again on Monday, and head for home.

This may be the last blog entry on this side of the Atlantic (depending on the availability of internet access in Lima), and so we want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have so faithfully visited our site and prayed for us. Don't give up on checking back with us just yet, as we may post again in Lima, and will add more materials and reflections following our return home next week(DV).We're looking forward to seeing many of you when we get back and until then - hasta luego!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Ilo, La Pampa, and Ite

This week we're in Ilo staying with Trevor and Christine Morrow. It has meant so much to see them again, along with Andrew and Rebecca, and Jenny McKay who's staying with them at the moment. It hardly seems like six years since we were here, and its great to see both Trevor and Christine in good health.

On Saturday Trevor took us down to see the Ite Camp and Conference Centre for the first time. It is difficult to describe how it feels to suddenly be physically present at a place for which you've been praying, and which you've seen so much of in photos. The camp is well under way in construction terms, is in a beautiful location, and is bursting with potential for youth and children's work in South Peru. Last weekend the site had a little bit of a trial run when a team who were visiting from Carrick hosted a weekend for some local young people. It was a real success, and has given Trevor and Christine a little foretaste of how the facility will be used in coming years, God willing. Our photo does no justice to either the scale of the complex, or the sense of latent potential that the site possesses. Managing workers and making plans is a massive workload, but God is lending grace and His name is already being glorified through the project.

Yesterday (Sunday) we worshipped in the La Pampa Church. On our last visit this was a building site, but is now a fully functional facility, with a warm hearted people worshipping within its walls. Thanks to all who prayed for Andrew preaching - the Lord undertook, and we were both made to feel tremendously welcome among God's people. The Pastor of the La Pampa Church is Mario who, along with his wife Herlinda, has been serving here for five years. He is a lovely man, of quiet disposition, who is serving faithfully and showing a challenging degree of pastoral care for God's people here.

Obviously Trevor and Christine's ministry extends beyond the construction of the Camp and Conference Centre. The greater percentage of the rest of their time is invested in the evangelism and church planting work in the village of Ite. Carolyn travelled across with Jenny and Christine to witness the children's meeting. She was so encouraged by the attention which the children displayed, their keenness to be involved and the pleasure they obviously took in the activities.

In the evening we returned to Ite for a gospel service. This was well attended, and again Andrew was encouraged to sense people's prayers as he preached. It is simply amazing to see a work which is pioneering the gospel in this village. It is not an easy area to work into, with discouragements as well as encouragements, but Trevor, Christine and Milagros (one of the Peruvian national workers, much prayed for at home) have won respect by the way in which they have conducted their evangelism. Milagros has moved away from family to live in the village among the people, and the people of Ite can have no doubts that the folks from the mission care about them and are interested in investing their time in the village.

It has been great to witness all of this within the past few days. We're looking forward to the Prayer Meeting and Bible study in Ite tomorrow night, and then will God willing return to Tacna on Wednesday or Thursday.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Our Week in Tacna

Sorry for the lack of posts once again, but here are a few highlights of our time in Tacna. We've had a really good week, in spite of Andrew not feeling 100%. We've enjoyed a good variety of experiences, met some lovely people, and been enriched by our fellowship with the Peschay and Cono Sur churches. The picture to the left is of the two Pastors from Peschay, Ramon and Juan - two lovely servants of God. In 2000 we came to know Ramon particularly well and have kept in contact in the intervening period - so it was wonderful to see him in person again.

On Sunday morning we worshipped in the Peschay Church. Andrew preached and many of the believers participated with 'especials' (special singing items). After the church service we shared some food which the brothers and sisters had prepared. These are exciting times for the Peschay Church with the construction of their new church building well under way. They continue to meet in their old building, the rear of which has been cut away to make room for construction work. It was a blessing to walk around inside the site, and imagine what it will be like for them to worship there in the future.

In the evening we attended the Manantial de Vida Church in Cono Sur, at which the director of the Bible Institute brought a challenging message from Matthew 7. The church are looking forward to a baptismal service on Sunday(23rd), as well as a combined youth rally with the other Cono Sur churches on Saturday 29th.

On Monday evening we went along to the Bible Hour at the Bible Institute. It was great to renew fellowship with Ken and Jeannie Scott, and to meet Graham Williamson for the first time. Another highlight was our reunion with Blanca Valenzuela, who was with us in Armagh at the beginning of the year. We were also blessed to meet Luz Maria who will be working at the Ite Camp and Conference Centre in coming days. The Bible Hour 'does exactly what it says on the tin', in that it is an hour's Bible study which draws folks from all around Tacna. It was really well attended, and it was particularly encouraging to see so many young people coming along.

On Tuesday, Carolyn and Yury had opportunity to see the work of a local school in Cono Sur. This was a welcome opportunity for Carolyn to see teaching in a different culture and environment, as well as to get some classroom ideas!!

Football Fever also hit Tacna this week! Many of you showed real kindness in donating football shirts which we have been able to give to brothers and sisters here in Tacna. The sizes ranged from adult to child, and everyone was delighted to recieve their top. We have a clutch of photos to show of the tops with their happy new owners when we return! Tomorrow we hope to travel down to Ilo to spend five days with Trevor and Christine. It will be great to renew fellowship with them as a family, to see the work in La Pampa again, and to be introduced to the work in Ite - particularly the camp and conference centre. We'd value your prayers as it will be quite a busy time with two speaking engagements on Sunday, and one on Tuesday night. Thanks again for all of your support and contact. We're upholding you all at home in prayer as well.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Good Times in Tacna Town

On Thursday we travelled for 5.5 hours on a hot bus from Arequipa to Tacna. Having enjoyed a tremendous time with Steve and Rachel Peat, and some wonderful sightseeing in Colca and Cusco, we were looking forward to seeing John and Lourdes Brew again. On our last visit to Peru in the year 2000 the greater proportion of our time was spent in Tacna, especially with the church in Pecchay - the area in which John and Lourdes minister.

It was great to arrive at their home, and we were greeted with warmth, friendship and fellowship which made the past six years seem like merely a couple of days. Friday was an opportunity to prepare for a busy weekend and to find our bearings in our new location.

Today (Saturday) was a really busy day with an all day conference/event with the Pecchay church. John and Lourdes daughter Jury and her husband David are in Tacna at the moment also, and we shared with them in the teaching at the event. David opened the day with a challenging message from Philippians 1 on the need to love one aonther and support each other in prayer. Andrew preached twice on the topic of 'Bible Reading and Prayer', while Carolyn and Jury shared with another group on the subject of sharing the gospel with children.

The day was broken up by a most welcome lunch, consisting of traditional Peruvian food cooked in traditional Peruvian ovens. To say that it was delicious would be a disservice.

Tomorrow (Sunday) is another busy day, as Andrew will preach in the morning. Thanks for all of your prayers, and comments. We're glad to now be in the 'swing' of the work, and have once again been blessed and humbled to meet with brothers and sisters with whom we have maintained contact over the past six years. The Pecchay church has a wonderful family environment, and we're delighted to be back here again.

We'll be praying for the services in Armagh tomorrow, as well as for our families and friends.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Four Thousand Words on Macchu Picchu

They say that a picture paints a thousand words. So here goes...