In inner-city Lima, Peru, ‘Urban Hope’ opens its doors

LIMA, Peru (BP)--Amid the exhaust fumes and bustle of inner-city Lima, Peru, an elderly woman sits hunched on the steps of a shop, her hands begging for help. Gina Roberts, an International Mission Board missionary, places a single coin in the woman’s hand.

Gina and her husband Quentin are the first Southern Baptist missionaries to target drug addicts, prostitutes and the poor in the Lima’s inner city.

With the help of a volunteer team including students from Kentucky State University in Frankfort, the Robertses prayerwalk the city’s streets and distribute hundreds of invitations to a new missions outreach center that opened its doors in August. Named “Esperanza Urbana” (Urban Hope), the center sits among prostitution houses and discotheques (local dance clubs). Quentin and Gina hold Bible studies and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at the center.

“I think, for me, the main stronghold on the inner city is it’s a city that has no lights, and the [missing light] is the light of Christ,” Gina said. “But also [Lima is] a city where the population lives in hopelessness.”

Hopelessness and despair are common terms the Kentucky volunteer team uses to describe Lima.

“There are just all these dark places,” said L’Tonya Johnson, a 25-year-old Kentucky State student. “Everything is very grim –- the people are so numb.”

Surrounded by the physical darkness cast by the pollution-stained buildings that tower over the bustling metropolis, Quentin and Gina face the challenge of pushing back the spiritual darkness.

“This can only happen through prayer and volunteers, national and international, committing to fervently plead before the Lord for this darkness to be removed from Lima,” Gina said.

“The lost are searching and seeking,” Quentin said. “[But] they’re trying to find answers in all the wrong places.”

The Robertses hope many volunteer groups will follow the Kentucky volunteers to help with their ministry in Lima.

“We need people who have a passion for people, who have a boldness for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Gina said. “We need people who are not intimidated by a crowd ... [and who will] come and demonstrate Christ’s love to the people of the inner city.”

The collegians helped meet that need. Not only did they prayerwalk and participate in street evangelism, they also performed a series of dramas and songs in three local parks. The dramas focused on a message of sexual abstinence as well as the dangers of premarital sex, drug abuse and prostitution.

“It’s so encouraging to know we have brothers and sisters of like faith who can come and devote their talents and gifts to the ministry of Jesus Christ and join hearts and hands with us in walking the streets of Lima,” Quentin said. “I was impressed by [the volunteers’] sense of enthusiasm and zeal.”

Most of the women and young girls who work as prostitutes average three to five customers a day. For a day’s work, they make only about 12 soles -– or $3.70.

“There is no political, social, legal or medical intervention for these women,” Gina said. “Not only do they have a high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other venereal diseases, but prostitution is traveling through the generations.”

She explained that a 40-year-old mother will stay a prostitute all her life in order to feed her family. The real tragedy is that her daughter will follow suit –- she doesn’t know any other life.

Gina and Quentin’s goal is to provide alternatives outside of sex, drugs and discos for these women.

“We need to answer God’s call to those who need to find their way,” Gina said. “Jesus is the way, truth and life. We have an obligation as servants of Christ, as missionaries and as believers to go share the Gospel -– to share that truth with others.”

Todd Quire, a 24-year-old Kentucky State student, hopes the dramas planted seeds of the Gospel that will change people’s lives. The spiritual seeds will be harvested, he said, because they were sown in the Holy Spirit.

“We are messengers for Christ,” Quire said. “He can transform your life.”

“Some plant, some water and others see the increase,” Johnson added. “There is such an overwhelming need for food and work,” she said, “but the greatest need is God. He will meet all needs.”

The Robertses want their ministry to bring hope to those who come to the mission outreach center -- that’s why they named it Urban Hope. “It will truly be a place to develop a growing relationship with Jesus Christ,” Gina said.

But she also wants it to be a place where prostitutes can find refuge and begin a new life -– both physically and spiritually.

“I want to let ladies know they are made in God’s image,” Gina said. “That alone makes them very special and beautiful.”

As a result of the Kentucky team’s dramas, two local believers -- a psychologist and an attorney -- want to work with the Robertses to organize a program designed specifically for both male and female prostitutes.

“It’s just amazing what God did when the KSU team came, as well as what God will continue to do,” Quentin said.

“Everything comes with prayer and through prayer,” Gina added.

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