EDITOR'S NOTE: The Penningtons are serving in Peru through Southern Baptists' gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program, which fund the presence and missions outreach of nearly 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries internationally. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at imb.org/offering. (*Name changed)
PERU (BP) -- Brian and Jennifer Pennington knew God was calling them to be missionaries -- and that was pretty much the extent of their plan.
So when the couple from Fort Worth, Texas, and their two young sons arrived at International Mission Board's candidate conference for new missionaries, they didn't have much to go on.
"We were in Richmond, and everyone there already had their assignment before they got there," Brian recalled. "We were the only ones there who didn't know where we were going. Everybody's researching their people groups, and we're still trying to figure out, 'OK, God, where do you want us to work?'"
Brian first felt called to full-time missions in Peru while on a short-term missions trip in the Peruvian jungle, so he felt sure he would be heading back there.
"Our starting point was Peru," he said. "All I had ever been to was the jungle. But when we found out more about the position, it just wasn't a good fit for our family. So we looked at the positions that were left."
The only other position available in Peru was a church-planting position in the Andes Mountains.
"We weren't thinking mountains," Brian said. "But God showed us Isaiah 52:7, which says, 'How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news.'"
With a long-term plan in place, the Penningtons moved to San Jose, Costa Rica, for a year of language training. But the curveballs didn't stop.
"We thought we were going to Huaraz, a city of 50,000," Brian said. "And we're from a city.... We thought, ‘Well, we can do 50,000 people. That's still city-ish.’"
Just one week before moving from Costa Rica to Peru, the Penningtons were surprised again. Their future supervisor, who had originally written the job request, lived in Huaraz. But the Penningtons would actually be working three hours outside the city in a rural town of less than 3,000. They also were told they would be changing supervisors.
Although nothing seemed to be going according to plan, the Penningtons still felt confident in their call. Not knowing what to expect, they switched gears and moved to the tiny mountain town of Chavin de Huantar. They were ready to be Christ's heart, hands and voice to the people of the Peruvian Andes.
Two weeks after arriving in Chavin, they met Patricia de Loarte, a Chavin native who had been living in the Peruvian capital of Lima. Patricia, a Baptist believer, had recently moved back to Chavin and had been looking for a church.
"We had been praying to find somebody to start an outreach group with," Jennifer said. "And she had just moved into town and had been praying for a community of Baptist believers. To her, we were an answer to prayer. And it was an answer to prayer for us because here was someone that God had placed in our path who said, 'Come to my house. I want to start a Bible study group.'"
"God knew exactly what we needed, and exactly what Patricia needed, and He just put us together," Brian said.
With Patricia's help, the Penningtons began a small Bible study where Peruvian believers study Scripture and learn to share the Gospel with others in their community.
"The presence of [the Pennington family] is something that attracts attention of the people here, because they are foreigners," Patricia said. "It is a blessing to have brothers here where we live, to be able to talk with them, to discuss the Word. The people here accept them, but they are curious as to why they are here. When we go out with them to small communities everyone exclaims, 'Gringos! Look, gringos!'"
As the group grew, Brian began teaching oral Bible storying as a way of sharing the Gospel with those who can't read. Many Peruvians living in rural areas outside Chavin only speak Quechua -- a difficult, indigenous language. Teaching bilingual believers in Chavin to tell Bible stories helps spread the Gospel to other Peruvian villages where Quechua would be a major obstacle for most North American missionaries.
Patricia, a passionate evangelist and promoter of Bible storying, has also invited members of her former church in Lima to make missions trips to villages around Chavin. She encourages them to use storying as a primary method of evangelism.
"My prayer request is to reach the whole community," she said. "I offer this community to the Lord, so that we can see souls come to the Lord and know the Word, and meet with us."
"I think she realizes storying is a way she can tell others [about Jesus]," Jennifer said. "She sees this can be beneficial to so many people."
Despite the initial challenges and uncertainties, the couple believes that moving to Chavin and meeting Patricia was part of God's larger plan for reaching the lost in the Peruvian mountains. The Penningtons' involvement in that plan was made possible by Southern Baptists' support through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program.
"In the end, we definitely could see that it was God's plan all along," Jennifer said of their ministry in Chavin. "Maybe we wouldn't have picked that job request if we had known it was a city of only 3,000 people. But that was the way that God got us there."
"Nothing actually turned out like it was supposed to be," Brian said, "but we've always taken comfort in the fact that God knew the whole time how it was going to be. It wasn't a surprise to Him, and we learned to trust Him in that."
UPDATE: Recently, God surprised the Penningtons once again. After three-and-a-half years of service in Chavin de Huantar, they felt the Lord leading them to a new missions assignment. Working with local Peruvian believers and U.S. "partner" churches, the couple now helps with training, logistical support and strategy in an effort to plant churches in more than 100 communities across Peru.
In other Pennington family news, missionary kids Jordan and Trevor Pennington are featured in the 2013 International Mission Study on Peru, published by Woman's Mission Union. To learn more about the study, go to wmu.com/peru.
Emily Pearson served as an IMB writer in the Americas. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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