1000 Words: Acting Out The Gospel

Teens from Hershey Free Church in Pennsylvania bring the gospel to life through a skit during a two-hour evangelism program in a Shipibo village located in the Peruvian Amazon. In August, nine youth from Hershey partnered with 16 Peruvian youth to share the gospel of Christ in nine villages along the Rio Mazaray.

Photo credit: Joan M., EFCA ReachGlobal missionary to Peru

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1000 Words is a column dedicated to photos from the field — photos that capture more than words can say alone. See archives.

The First of Many

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.

From evangelism to spiritual growth

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.

Changing culture

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.

Upriver to Reach the Unreached

Photos and story by Dick R., Wisconsin

Nueva Italia resembles nothing so much as a classic frontier town from a B-grade Western movie. It lies on a wide spot in the Ucayali River, three days by slow boat upriver from the city of Pucallpa, Peru. There is no other way to get here. When you arrive, you feel that, if you have not reached the end of the earth, at least you have come to its jumping-off point.

Pulling into port – a muddy riverbank, really – your senses are assaulted by the bright heat of the sun in this Amazonia community, by the shouts of stevedores (dockworkers) and the rumble of diesel tractors loading giant hardwood logs onto barges. The barges are attended by tramp trawlers waiting to carry the precious cargo of wood downstream, where it will be transformed into exotic polished woods for distant expensive markets. Smaller logs are simply pushed into the water, tied together to make rafts on which the workers live for a week or more as the river carries them to Pucallpa.

Young girls walk down the dusty streets in their gray-skirt-and-white-blouse school uniforms, giggling and whispering. As they pass, they greet you politely, “buenos días” (good morning). But there is little else that seems polite about this community.

The main business in Nueva Italia is logging the jungle, clearing enormous tracts of land far into the forest’s interior, and somehow, without discernible roads, transporting the big logs to massive muddy yards of wood. Houses are tin and thatched-roof ramshackle, a thin veneer of civilization in the chaos.

A bodega on the corner will sell you almost anything for three times the price of Pucallpa’s stores. One telephone services the entire town; a few moto-taxis ply the streets; occasionally a small motorbike will pass carrying a family – father, mother and small children pressed tightly together.

On a mission

We walk slowly, our small band of five – Rosa, a businesswoman from Lima, Peru; Jairo, a pastor and farmer from another village; Abelardo, a Shipibo pastor and orality teacher; Cecilio, a Shipibo church leader and student; and myself. The mid-morning heat is oppressive. The only church in town is abandoned and derelict, its paint peeling and wood rotting. Vegetation chokes the walls and fast-growing saplings push through the rotted roof.

We ask for the house of Maria Paola (name changed). Her father had brought the 16-year-old girl to our boat, the Evangelista II – with its mixed team of medical practitioners from the U.S., church leaders and volunteers from Pucallpa and Lima, and the Shipibo Bible students who live in villages on the river – for medical attention the day before.

Both Rosa and my wife, Ruth, discern in conversation that, while Maria Paola may have some physical and emotional afflictions, she seems to be spiritually oppressed as well. In talking with her father, he admitted taking her to the brujos – practicing witches – when medical help seemed to make no difference in her behavior.

We decide to make our way back to Nueva Italia, seek out Maria Paola, and pray for her deliverance from the demons that seem to hold sway in her life.

We had read the relevant Bible passages. From Ephesians, we read how Christ, raised from death and seated on the throne of heaven, defeated the principalities and powers and had them placed under His feet. We, as followers of Jesus, are also raised to new life in Christ and seated at his right hand. This morning, we fasted and prayed through breakfast.

Confronting the darkness

Finally, as we walk around the village, we are told that the family lives just next door. Her father is a shopkeeper; the house is small, dominated by a small store selling Coke, Inka Cola and Guarana. He recognizes Rosa at once and welcomes us into his home.

Maria Paola is just inside, on her bed. There is no door, only a curtain. The room is tiny. Her mother ushers us in, and we crowd single-file against the bed. She is frightened at first, anxious, reluctant to talk; but she recognizes Rosa and allows us to stay.

She looks like a wild-child, emaciated and sitting forlornly cross-legged on her make-shift bed, her long black hair unkempt, dark darting eyes wild, words almost inaudible, and both hands in constant motion, snapping her fingers as if to push away any conversation directed her way.

Rosa introduces our team, and engages Maria Paola simply, asking her name, and whether she knows Jesus. She says “sí” (yes). But her behavior belies her answer. Rosa asks for permission to pray with her; Maria Paola is uncertain. But we begin to pray, Rosa and Jairo in Spanish; I in English; Abelardo and Cecilio in Shipibo.

We invoke the powerful name of Jesus. We pray for the healing presence of the Holy Spirit. We command the spirits who are present to flee. Maria Paola squirms anxiously. She snaps her fingers when Jesus’ name and power are invoked, as if to push Him away from her.

Claiming victory

The heat in the tiny room is oppressive, and sweat pours down my hands and fingers onto the open pages of my New Testament.

I take Maria Paola’s hands in mine so she cannot deflect our prayers. She struggles for a moment, but then relents. When I relax my grip, she begins again to snap her fingers. I bend down, my forehead pressed against my hand which holds hers on top of my New Testament. I pray fervently for God’s mercy and Jesus’ healing touch. Maria Paola begins to relax, and her head finally sags against my shoulder.

We pray for what seems an eternity; perhaps it is only minutes or maybe it is an hour. Maria Paola is quiet. Rosa asks her if she can say “Jesús es el Señor” (Jesus is Lord) in her life. Maria Paola agrees.

She smiles at us, her eyes are clear, her demeanor calm. We leave her with a Bible, highlighting the passages that will remind her that Christ has defeated the spiritual forces of evil and rescued her from the power of darkness.

As we leave, her father thanks us, presenting us with the only gift he has, a bottle of warm soda for each. Maria Paola emerges from her room, gives Jairo a shy kiss of thanks. For a moment, the light has shined in the darkness.

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  • For Maria Paola and her family — that they would continue to see transformation and freedom in Christ.
  • For continued opportunities to reach the unreached along the Ucayali River.