Easter Reflections From Tarma

It’s not Jesus plus anything. Not Jesus plus good works. Not Jesus plus confirmation in the Catholic Church. It’s Jesus alone who saves. As a missionary in Latin America, though, I’m frequently reminded that the gospel is often muddled in a stew of biblical and unbiblical practices – and sometimes it’s really hard to tell which is which.

Catholic traditions

Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Latin America is characterized by a mix of religious ceremony, processions and traditions combined with spring break-style travel and partying. Tarma, Peru, has become one of the hottest travel destinations for Peruvians and foreign travelers during Semana Santa, mainly due to the elaborate floral carpets created on the streets in the main plaza.

Everything starts on Palm Sunday, a week before Easter, with an evening procession. Several hundred people wave palm branches and stop at different stations around the plaza. They participate in liturgical readings, recite the Lord’s Prayer and pray to the Virgin Mary.

Then, every night that week, a different shrine to a “lord” or “virgin” is paraded through the streets, carried on the shoulders of those faithful to him or her. Lord of the Garden. Lord of the Nazarene.

Good Friday is the main event. The floral carpets are prepared on the streets around the plaza. The streets are roped off in advance, and different communities and groups are assigned a spot for their carpet. In the afternoon, starting with chalk, each group marks out their design. Designs tend to be scenes of the countryside, hummingbirds (the symbol of Tarma) or geometric shapes.

After outlining the edges with wet coffee grounds, the groups use buckets of flower petals, separated by color, to fill in the designs. The carpets are beautiful but soon are crushed by the procession, which starts as the sun goes down over the mountains around 6:30 pm.

After the procession passes, many people scramble to collect the trampled flowers, considered to be good luck. Street cleaners have the final work of leaving the plaza in its normal state.

At midnight before the dawn of Easter morning, a second round of carpets is prepared for the resurrection procession at 6:00 am. At dawn, a woman portraying Mary comes out of the cathedral and takes off her black veil of mourning – Jesus is alive!

What’s true?

As missionaries from other cultural backgrounds, we can appreciate the shared belief in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The other traditions awaken curiosity, and sometimes confusion, as we wonder “Where did that come from?”

Peruvian evangelicals tend to consider the entire celebration pagan, avoiding involvement and rejecting the drinking and partying that follow most processions and can last for several days. And for many (Christian or not), even if they don’t consciously realize it, syncretism (in this case, the mixing of biblical truth and pagan practices) results in confusion. It seems like Jesus alone is not enough.

This year, the Easter processions and traditions weren’t the only reminders for me that syncretism confuses the hearts and minds of the Peruvians. I also saw the confusion surface amongst the youth in Tarma as they interacted with some visitors from Lima.

Testimonies, questions and clarity

Before moving to Tarma in 2009, I served in Lima, Peru, at Los Pilares EFC for six years as the youth leader. Now, many of my former students are in college and working, and four of them came to visit me in Tarma during the Easter weekend. While they were visiting, I asked if they could spend some time with the youth in Tarma.

Now strong Christian leaders at Los Pilares EFC, each of my former students has a powerful testimony to share. Testimonies of difficult pasts, periods of spiritual uncertainty or rebellion, and breaks with the prevailing Catholic tradition. Testimonies declaring Jesus as the one and only way to salvation and reconciliation to God.

As these passionate twenty-somethings from Lima shared their faith stories with the teenagers in Tarma, we could hear the Tarma students’ confusion about what it means to believe in Christ. What about being a good person? What about church tradition? We clarified the significance of baptism and confirmation, but we emphasized the truth that only Jesus saves.

In spending just two afternoons with the Lima group, the Tarma youth opened up to their new friends, inviting them back to Tarma to spend more time with them.

For these teenagers, in the middle of Semana Santa – a week where the beauty of the resurrection can often be muddied – they received a clear, beautiful picture of hope and the power of the cross. We drew the best from Easter tradition, national vacation and the Scriptures to celebrate what Easter really means – Jesus is alive.

Story by Meredith, EFCA ReachGlobal missionary in Tarma, Peru

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CONNECT

latinamerica@efca.org

PRAY
  • For the youth (and the community) in Tarma to clearly see, understand and accept the gospel.
  • For Meredith and her teammates in Tarma — that they would persist in their ministry and make headway, gaining ground for Christ in a difficult field of ministry.
GIVE

Make an online donation to the Peru Church Planting Fund.

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Second Chance to Share the Gospel

A recent short-term team to Tarma, Peru, saw firsthand the power of the gospel word combined with living life in a gospel-driven community of believers. Read team leader Mark’s story below:

Surprise encounter

“Mark! Mark!”

Standing outside the town coliseum in Tarma, Peru, on our first day of ministry in June, I heard someone calling my name from down the street. From the sound of the voice, I knew it wasn’t one of my short-term team members, but who in Tarma knew my name?

“Mark!”

I turned my head, surprised but thrilled to see two young Peruvian men, César and Gerson, hurrying towards me!

Three months prior

Back in March, I had accompanied a team to Tarma for a short vision trip. I had met César and Gerson on my final night in Peru, at a good-bye party. Both college students, César was studying to be a tour guide, and Gerson was studying to be a nurse. After hearing the gospel, both had lots of questions. César’s father had recently passed away, and he was struggling to understand how God could be good and why He would let this happen. Gerson was the quieter of the two, following César’s lead.

Neither was ready to trust Christ that night, but I answered every question that I could and committed to praying for them both… and I did. But I didn’t expect to see them again.

Divine appointment

Yet, here I was, standing outside the Tarma coliseum three months later, watching these two young men approach! I quietly thanked God for this reunion – and invited César and Gerson to join me for the Tarma high school basketball championship game in the coliseum. They sat with our team and met everyone.

While we cheered from the stands, I thought about our team’s packed schedule. I wanted César and Gerson to hear the gospel again, and I wanted to sit with César and answer more of his questions, but I wasn’t sure where I would find that time. We were mainly ministering to high school students that week… so I invited them to help our team as we presented at their former high school the next morning.

Following the presentation, they joined us for lunch. Although I thought that was it, God desired something different. César and Gerson respectfully invited themselves to join us the next day… and then the next day… and then the next. We gladly allowed them to join us, but we did more than that, too – we welcomed them into our community, and we continued sharing the gospel with them. But this time it was different.

Hearing, sharing, living, loving

César and Gerson had heard the gospel in March, but now, through their help in translating for our team, they were actually helping to share the good news with their fellow countrymen. They heard the message again and again throughout our week in Tarma. And by spending time in our community, they also saw the gospel lived out amongst a group of believers. César and Gerson saw us love each other and the people of Peru in the context of a community. In the midst of the ministry activities on our schedule, we also just hung out together.

On Thursday evening, we returned to the coliseum, and one of our students shared his testimony. Gerson (the quiet follower) trusted Christ – Praise the Lord! But César was still not ready. He had more questions about faith and God. However, at the end of the evening, when one of the national Peruvian missionaries shared the gospel again, César also put his faith in Christ.

The ministry continues…

Although our short-term team had to return to the U.S., we know our friends are in good hands. Due to our partnership with ReachGlobal and the national missionaries in Tarma, César and Gerson have ongoing discipleship and encouragement right there in Tarma – strong believers to come alongside them in their journey with Christ.

It was a privilege to go to Peru and share the love of Christ with the people there – and to see the gospel transform the lives of two young men!

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CONNECT

latinamerica@efca.org

PRAY

For ongoing life transformation as Gerson & César continue pursuing the Lord.

GIVE

Make an online donation to the Peru Church Planting Fund.

SHARE