The river carried them upstream. Past the fishermen reeling in the daily catch, past the women scrubbing yesterday’s laundry, past the girls gathering the day’s water supply. As everyone went about their daily routine, they continued along the Ucayali River to the village of Ahuaypa, Peru, for something new and exciting.
In Ahuaypa, the Shipibo church members prepared for their new arrivals. They cut poles from the jungle forests and brought a blue tarp to construct a temporary kitchen outside the church. Men gathered wood for the fire. They transformed the village school into sleeping quarters. The Shipibos, a native Amazonian tribe in Peru, were ready and anxiously watched as their guests trickled in on colectivas (taxi boats) or peci-peci (motored canoes) from the river.
Fifty-five young people, ages 15-20, arrived from 10 different villages for the first ever Shipibo Christian Youth Camp in February 2011. The entire event was created, planned, and executed by the Shipibos for their own people.
This camp was just one outcome of the partnership between the Evangelical Missionary Church of Pucallpa and Hershey Free Church (PA) that began in 2002. The members of both churches have worked together in the Amazon jungle visiting villages along a 200 mile stretch of river. They present evangelism programs, provide medical care, construct water filters, and offer training to village church leaders. New churches emerged in areas that were previously unreached by the truth of Jesus Christ, including the Ahuaypa church which did not even exist seven years ago.
Fun and learning
EFCA ReachGlobal missionaries, Blair and Joan, were privileged to take part in this first youth camp. “It was nice for us to be involved in the camp without leading it,” said Blair. “I specifically declined the invitation to teach sessions so that [the Shipibo church leaders] could take charge of the program.” They did just that, exceeding everyone’s expectations.
The camp was four full days filled with an immense amount of growth and fun for the youth. The intent of the leaders was to have discipleship-style teaching and study to strengthen the campers in their faith, focusing on Isaiah 40:31 as the theme verse:
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (NIV)
Each day of camp they discussed a relevant area of life for these kids: Bible Study, Spiritual Growth, Marriage & Sexuality, and Alcohol & Drugs. Then they took a deep look at what God says in His Word about these things.
Blair sat on a Question & Answer panel at the end of the sessions. He said that one of the most impacting sessions for the youth was on marriage. “To be able to ask and get answers was wonderful for them,” Blair said.
It’s not surprising that marriage was a hot topic for these youth. In the Shipibo society, many girls are married by age 15. Their view of marriage is more like the idea of “living together” in the North American culture. Separations are common, and some men have multiple wives at the same time. The abuse level is high as men get drunk on fermented yucca plant. It was freeing for the young people to hear the vastly different approach that God intended for marriage.
The work of God’s servants and Christ’s love is penetrating through a society plagued by unfaithful abusive marriages, practicing witch doctors and an animistic religion. Where many tried to combine their knowledge of Christianity and their old animistic religion, churches with sound doctrine have risen and are shining brightly among the people.
The church in Ahuaypa, born out of the first evangelistic visit in 2005, now has the strongest congregation in the region. There are 40 regular attendees from a village of about 500 people – almost 10 percent of the village population desires to learn from the Bible. The members are actively involved in the church and have created a women’s and youth ministry also.
Amidst the Bible studies and teaching at the camp in February, there was plenty of recreation, too. Broken into four groups named Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, and Amos, the kids challenged each other in soccer, volleyball, and various relay races.
The camp climaxed with the obstacle course which stretched into the banana grove on the edge of the soccer field. As the teams began the course, torrential rains fell from the sky. The fun continued as the resulting mud made the obstacles even more challenging.
The first Shipibo Christian Youth Camp was one example of the wonderful success of the outreach along the Ucayali River. “Judging by the reaction of the youth, their leaders, and the host village, it will not be the last!” agreed Blair and Joan. Already, youth leaders from other villages expressed a desire to hold more youth camps in their villages.
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- For the Ayuaypa village church, as well as the other villages along the Ucayali River, that God’s truth would continue to penetrate the culture, changing the lives of the people.
- That God would bless the desire for additional youth camps, providing the leadership and resources to duplicate the event in other villages.