Peruvian villagers responsive to Gospel
EDITOR'S NOTE: This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions, Nov. 30-Dec. 7, focuses on missionaries who serve in South America as well as churches partnering with them, exemplifying the global outreach supported by Southern Baptists' gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. This year's theme is "GO TELL the story of Jesus"; the national offering goal is $170 million.
SAN JOSE DE QUERO, Peru (BP)--Just outside the door of a local tienda (store) in San Jose de Quero, Peru, 64-year-old missionary Larry Jackson stands in the sunlight, shaking hands with an influential community leader.
"We want to welcome you here, and we want to hear about your religion," the Wanka Quechua man tells Jackson.
Jackson later explains that the man is the family's patriarch, and generally what he says is what everybody else does.
The Jacksons, from Pleasant Garden (N.C.) Baptist Church, serve in the International Mission Board's Masters Program. Masters missionaries are individuals 50 or older who commit to at least two or three years of overseas service.
The Jacksons, in their third Masters term, have been in South America for eight years, first as church planters in Bolivia, then as prayer coordinators and trainers for the Xtreme Team, young people who take the Gospel to difficult-access areas in South America.
Now the Jacksons recruit churches to adopt people groups in northern and central Peru where few know the true meaning of Jesus' name.
While leading a team of Baptist volunteers from Virginia through Wanka Quechua villages deep in the Andes Mountains of central Peru, Jackson says the openness of the Wanka people reminds him of the "Macedonian call" the Apostle Paul received in the New Testament.
After a six-hour drive over 16,000-foot passes in the Andes, members of Grace Community Baptist Church and Cambridge Baptist Church, both in Richmond, stepped out of three four-wheel-drive vehicles in Huancayo, Peru.
It was late in the afternoon when the vehicles pulled into the parking lot of a local hotel, but the nine team members knew this was merely a stopping point on their journey. The next day they would continue their trek toward the Wanka Quechua villages tucked away in the mountainous horizon.
A Wanka Quechua boy sits sideways at his desk facing the front of the kindergarten classroom where Guy Holloway, pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church, uses his fingers to teach the children to count to 10 in English. With an elbow propped against his wooden desk and a hand in the air trying to keep up with Guy's counting, the youngster struggles to remember the words.
But Holloway came to San Jose de Quero to do far more than teach numbers to children. When he first began preparing for a vision trip to Peru, he had no idea he would stand before a crowd of Wanka Quechua children, sharing the Gospel in a public school.
The crowd of children quiets as Holloway starts telling them how he came to faith in Christ at a young age.
"I was really humbled that God was there, repeatedly, before we were, and gave us a tremendous wide-open door," Holloway recounts. "I even wrote in my journal, 'These are not open doors; they're wide-open doors.'"
Jackson, who regularly guides volunteer teams on vision trips through Peru and Bolivia, describes the opportunity as an anomaly.
"On a vision trip, it's highly unusual to get into the schools because the first trip is generally investigation," he says. "It's really about making a decision, making a commitment."
The two Virginia congregations intended to share the Gospel on the vision trip, but their primary goal was to research the area and the people group to discern whether the Lord was calling them to become strategy coordinator churches for the Wanka Quechua.
Strategy coordinator churches mobilize efforts to plant indigenous, self-sufficient bodies of believers among specific people groups.
"The strategy coordinator church concept gives the local church the opportunity of doing what, in the past, was relegated just to missionaries," Jackson says.
"The missionaries play a very vital role now, but what they're really doing is being the coach and getting believers to be the players on the field."
FILLING IN THE GAP
Through the IMB's Rapid Entry Advance Plan (REAP), Baptist churches or associations like the two Virginia congregations can adopt people groups in South America, filling the void where there is little access to the Gospel or no ongoing Christian witness.
Of the 699 known people groups in the South America region today, only 48 have full-time International Mission Board missionaries serving among them.
By adopting a people group, churches commit to send volunteer teams on a regular basis -- usually three to five 10-day trips per year -- while developing a strategy to reach those who've never heard the Gospel.
"There is one IMB missionary for every 1.6 million people," Jackson says. "So we need the churches in America to come forward and fill in the gap."
Following their initial vision trip through the Peruvian Andes, the team members returned to their churches to share their experiences.
After months of prayer, both churches accepted the invitation and the challenge to serve as strategy coordinator churches among the Wanka Quechua of Peru. Trips they have made this year to show the "JESUS" film among the Wanka Quechua have yielded dozens of new believers in Christ.
In November, two Richmond dentists spearheaded a dental clinic team, which prayed with more than 55 people who wanted know more about how they could have a personal relationship with Jesus. That week, six people that the churches and national believers have been discipling throughout the year were baptized in a mountain stream, including the community leader who greeted them with curiosity about their religion. Also baptized was his wife and grown daughter.
"To stay at home, that's what requires a call," Jackson says. "In the Great Commission, God has already told us to go, and if I'm going to do other than that or less than that, I think that really demands a call.
"I think real often, we get that backward."
Kristen Hiller is a former overseas correspondent with the International Mission Board. To learn more about becoming a strategy coordinator church in South America, go to www.takingit2the edge.org/SCCP.htm. For other areas of the world, contact the International Mission Board at 1-800-999-3113 or go to imb.org and inquire about a particular world region. Gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering can be made at www.imb.org/offering to support the International Mission Board's more than 5,300 missionaries worldwide, including Larry and Nancy Jackson in Peru.