Tuesday, April 17, 2007

God is Great, God is Good...(Or, Sovereign Providence)

Every once in a while God lets you get a glimpse of His sovereignty and providence at work. Spring break was one of those times for me, my son Christopher, and three other young men from our church. Our church has partnered with the IMB missionaries in southern Peru to participate in REAP South. This is a strategy led by IMB missionaries, Mike and Kathy Weaver, to allow stateside SBC churches to become “the missionary” to unreached segments of indigenous groups in Peru. On April 7, I headed to Cusco with Christopher Sills, Jeff Breeding, Justin Mantonya, and Ben Weldon to explore the district towns in Anta province and discern the Lord’s will for where and how to begin a church planting effort.

I have to admit that I was a more nervous than I let the others know to be going on a mission trip with ZERO plans. We only knew that we wanted to research the Anta area and find a community that might be willing to have some gringo evangelicals working among them -- and hopefully a person who would help keep it going in our absence. We went without anyone to receive us at the airport, no hotel reservations, no transportation arrangements, and without anyone even knowing we were coming.

We flew from Louisville to Newark, NJ on Saturday April 7, 2007. After several hours of layover there, we flew to Lima and arrived at about 11:00 PM. We spent the night in the Lima airport to save on hotel accommodations and flew out on LAN Peru the next morning for Cusco. We arrived in Cusco about 7:30 AM, caught a taxi to the Plaza de Armas, and walked to the Hostal Santa Maria where I had stayed in November during our vision trip to Anta. The hostal had room for us, so after registering and throwing our bags in the room, we walked the couple of miles to the Primera Iglesia Bautista of Cusco. Although the congregation received us warmly, the pastor was very guarded, suspicious, and a bit territorial.

The church people were just the opposite. They introduced us to a young man among them named Walter who lives in Ancahuasi. That is one of “our” district towns where we had prayed about starting a church and discipling effort. It is near to some Inca ruins called Quillarumiyoq where our vision team hiked to on the first trip.

After Sunday morning church, Walter walked us back to our hostal to see where we were staying so that he could meet us there the next day. On our walk to the hostal, I learned that he was single, twenty-five years old, and had graduated from a four-year Baptist seminary in Urubamba. He met us at the hostal right on time the next morning and went with us on the bus to Anta and then the combi van to Ancahuasi. He took us all through the back roads all around the district. We stopped first at his Mom’s house and enjoyed tea and bread there. Then, during the course of our long trek, we stopped at his grandmother’s house for habas and corn. Later, we went back and ate a lunch of chicken and corn on the cob at his Mom’s house.

After lunch and a long walk through a lot of mud (it had just rained heavily the night before), we went to the little house of José and Rosalía. They live in an adobe wall house with their three young sons in a village that is a smaller part of Ancahuasi. In their small, humble home, a small church of several families meets on Sundays. They had tried to get a Baptist church going years before but sadly the pastor’s wife decided that the demands of the pastorate were more than she signed up for and left. She took the kids and ran off with another man.

The brokenhearted pastor stepped down and resigned. He has continued to help in leading the service but not as pastor. José and Rosalía are very eager for our church to return and help strengthen them, do Backyard Bible Clubs, train leaders, help evangelize the village, and lead them to start other churches.

We returned to Cusco with Walter that night absolutely amazed. We had planned to spend the entire week doing what God accomplished in one day. In fact, we never dreamed that we would be able to accomplish in a week what God had done in that one day. It was what could only come about through months of on-the-ground effort

We went back to the same area on two more days without Walter as he had responsibilities in Urubamba. The little part of the village where the church is located consists of about one thousand Quechua people who struggle to survive on small farms. The village has a Catholic church but no priest. They say that they can get the priest from a neighboring town to come when they need him. The school (grades 1-12) for the entire district is (providentially) located in this same village where God has opened a door for us to work and has over 800 kids. The director of the school received us gladly and seemed very willing to work with us—especially if we can bring a medical team to do hearing and vision check-ups for the kids. She said that one of the kids (13 years old) was going deaf and they were concerned.

The mayor’s office was also very polite and gave us a warm welcome. They offered to send us information and a map with all the demographics of the district. They also offered us a venue in the town center for us to conduct medical clinics or any other events.

One of our days in the district was (providentially) the 45th anniversary of our village. They saw us (the gringo strangers) and invited us to sit as VIPs at the head table in the plaza. At this epicenter of the celebration, we could watch the indigenous dances and be fed chicken, choclo, potatoes, and salad. They were a little unhappy at first about our polite refusal of their fermented chicha and Cusqueña beers. However, since we had been invited to sit at the head of the festivities and had been recognized as honored guests, the anger was quelled.

The man sitting next to me was the director of the Puesto de Salud (health dept.) for that district. He said he would be glad to coordinate medical clinics in the area and said that this was a great need. Seated next to him was one of the three governors of the district. He was so eager to talk to me that I suspected that something was wrong. I suggested that we slip out and talk before the meal. It turned out that he is an evangelical who lives in another area of the Ancahuasi district. He shared with me that he would like help starting an evangelical work in his town. He wants us to come do at the very least a couple of days and nights of evangelistic work in his town in June. He also said that he knows all the key people in Ancahuasi district’s towns. Since he is one of the governors, he said that he could get us invitations to work in any of the towns where we want to work. He also made sure I understood the value of this offer by stating that one may not just go in and begin to work in these villages without an invitation.

As all of these introductions and invitations came along, we told everyone that we would be back in mid-June. They were very glad to hear this. The kids in the school were especially excited about the possibilities. We plan to take a team back to the area in June. This team will be busy doing ministry projects like backyard Bible clubs, medical clinics, making some pews for the little church that meets in José and Rosalía’s home, street evangelism, showing the Jesus film, and proclaiming the gospel in evening evangelistic meetings. No doubt we will also be busy seeing more of God’s sovereign providence at work.

We used to sing a hymn that exhorted us to count our many blessings and name them one by one. As I was counting up all the amazing blessings that God had given in that one week, I was humbled to my toenails.

1. We loaded up and flew to another country where no one was waiting for us, with no plans, no reservations, and no contacts. Once there, we found a van to get us from the airport to town, found the hostal to have enough room for us, and had beautiful weather for walking in time to get to church.

2. Instead of spending all week looking for a Peruvian helper who just might be an evangelical, we met a ready, willing, able, and seminary-trained Peruvian co-worker from one of our district towns within 2 hours of landing in Cusco!

3. Instead of trying to find a place where we could meet to start a church, and talking the owners into letting us use it, we found a couple who had already set up a room in their home for a church and were eager for us to come help.

4. Instead of being chased out of town by angry mobs in a nominal, syncretistic Catholic culture, we were warmly received by many of the people.

5. Instead of being turned out of the school, the director warmly received us in from a downpour outside and sat inside with us glad for our offer of help (with a life-size poster of the Pope himself smiling down on us!)

6. Instead of being warned by the mayor not to enter their town, we were offered a location on the town square and their best demographic data.

7. Instead of being warned about bringing in medical teams that might not agree with the protocol of the local health department, we were offered coordination by the local health department director.

8. Instead of not finding any other hope beyond a small corner of the province, one of the governors turned out to be an evangelical who pleaded for help starting a church in his town and offered his “rolodex” of contacts throughout “our” province.

Having served as a missionary in the Andes, I know first hand that this just does not happen on a regular basis. I told our team that if a new missionary had this many solid contacts (about six from key people in the province), invitations, and open doors, it would be overwhelming. If he had this many after one week in the country, no one would believe it.

We had “more on our plate that we could say grace over,” as the saying goes. How in the world had this happened? We went with no plan, no contacts, and no idea of what would happen. God had orchestrated it all. Every time we turned around it seemed that someone was asking our help, or inviting us, or warmly receiving us, or feeding us. The work there has not really even begun, but with the clear leading and providential work of God being so evident, we are able to rest in the sure knowledge that this is His work and He will use our witness and build His church. What peace there is in this fact!

Our job is to be faithful—to go, to witness, to help, to share of our blessings, to pray, and to watch Him work. Join with us in praying for Awakening in Ancahuasi. God be praised. He is great and He is good.


JoshuaKWhit said...

Man, that sounds like it was a great trip. I turned my application to go on the trip in June. I am counting the days. That is so awesome the God revealed Himself through all of those great blessings. Sounds like a trip that I will most definitely want to hear even more about.

Cara Bebee said...

Sounds like our PNG trip this year! We tried to make plans but they kept falling through until we got to Chambri Island and God revealed His plan!! It was great! 15 people were saved and the gospel was preached on 3 islands inhabiting unreached people!! Praise God for His sovereignty!! Wish I could turn in an application for June!!...Cara