What is it about Ester and I that we ALWAYS have cell groups in the strangest places?
One of the most popular markets in Arequipa.
A tienda where people interrupt discipleship class to buy toilet paper.
And now, a "chicha bar" and a corn field!
Not even exaggerating, because, we have already started a cell group in Lamay with three adults. This family sells chicha de jora, which is the liquor of the Incas, and the first class took place in the room where they sell the chicha. This is the equivalent of having church in a bar. And that is just what we are doing!
Then this past Saturday, we went and no one was there; Felipa was out in one of her friend's fields watering it. Now without sprinklers, this means she has to watch to make sure the water flows where it is supposed to, and if it breaks or something, to fix it so that all of the crops get water.
So we ended up walking with the other woman from the group, Eufemia, to the corn field to find Felipa. I'm pretty sure that Eufemia did not think we would actually go to the field. But about ten minutes down the road, we found Felipa, and decided to chat a little bit.
So we went out to the middle of the field which hadn't been watered yet, which involved jumping over a ditch and walking through rows and rows of corn.
Then, we didn't exactly have your typical discipleship lesson, but we read the Bible and talked about the person of Jesus, and at the end, Eufemia and Felipa both gave their lives to Christ!
Another interesting fact about this cell group is that Felipa asked us to teach her how to read and write. So we made a notebook for her with the letters and pictures, so she is learning. At our very first cell group, we handed her the paper and a Bible, and she told us she couldn't read, but would like us to teach her. We then visited someone in a completely different district who was an elementary school teacher. She told us how to go about teaching a mother of three to read. I think Felipa has not just a hunger to learn, but a hunger for God's word.
But in these two towns in the Sacred Valley, the people truly do have a hunger for God's Word, and a hunger for truth. There is not a single church (apart from the one Catholic church, which is central to every town but usually not central to life) in either Lamay or Coya.
No baptist church,
no Morman church,
no Jehovah's Witness temple,
no Methodist church,
We will have the very first! And that gets me excited!
And you know what else gets me excited? The fact that we've had fifteen new people come to Christ in these two places! They are ready to receive his Word!
Remember what I said about pounding the dirt roads?
Yeah the hard work has definitely begun. We are doing a ton of visits, but only about 30% of them even work out.
But this week, we went to visit Zefarina at her house/store. We talked and she began to tell us about how she lost her baby a few years ago. Ester was trying to comfort her, but there is still so much brokenness there.
I wondered, "What do I have to say to a woman who knows so much pain from losing a child."
I have nothing to say, but I can bring here to a God who lost his Son for love. He knows the exact same pain. And he felt it for her.
That is what we shared, and she invited Christ into her heart and life.
This week, we also visited the San Jeronimo's Municipaldad (City Hall) to get a map and to learn a little more about this district. We found out that although domestic violence exists here, their main problem is psychological abuse, and these are also the cases that remain largely unresolved. I'm not sure what we are going to do with that information yet, but be in prayer. God is the only one who makes all things new, and we are clinging to him.
I got really into Jeremiah today. I mean, I was already passed the initial fall of Jerusalem and captivity, but I kept reading today and it just hit me how completely stupid the Israelites are. Seriously, they have just seen everything Jeremiah prophesied come true, everyone they ever knew either killed or carried off to exile.
And they're like, "We're thinking of going to Egypt, but we want you to ask God what he thinks first" (Jeremiah 42:2-3). Well, Jeremiah does, but since they don't like God's answer, they say he's lying, and a false prophet!
Seriously? Everything he prophesied just came true! They have NO REASON to doubt his word.
But they decide it is better to go back to Egypt, despite their pending destruction there, and decide that things were better when they were worshipping idols, so they're going to go back to that too.
They are trading in beauty and glory and wholeness and truth for ashes and ugliness and brokenness and destruction and CRAP.
(Sorry, I just totally lost any eloquence I may have had.)
And God is sad and grieved (Jeremiah 42:10) and broken and hurt that he had to pour out his justice in the first place. All he wants is their love and faithfulness.
But they are so stupid.
(Now in Spanish, the word stupid is really strong, so I have been really trying to replace it with a less-strong word, but in this case, they really are STUPID in the fullest sense of the word in Spanish or English. Just read Jeremiah 42-44 if you don't believe me.)
No wonder Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. If everyone I ever knew, not to mention the people I was called to minister to, was stupid, refused to listen, would not learn, and refused to turn to God, I'd cry all the time too!
But we are not any different from the Israelites. Our whoring hearts (Ezekiel 6:9) go after every shiny thing that captures our fancy. We aren't any more faithful than they are; we just have seen the greatest act of love in history: that God became man and died on our cross. And we haven't faced the punishment yet, as they did in the last resort of love.
When will we ever learn? God is still giving us a choice: life and prosperity or death and destruction (Deut. 30, Jer. 21)? His marvelous grace will justify us so that we can enter into his presence and spend eternity with him as our reward and our inheritance (Joshua 13:33). He still just wants our love, and therefore our obedience (1 John 5:3).
When will we stop playing the harlot in our marriage to Christ? When will we take our wedding vows seriously?
I, sinner, take Thee, Jesus, to be my Saviour. . . And I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be Thy loving and faithful Bride; in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, for time and for eternity.
Follow these blogs to stay up to date on these areas. Because I'm pretty excited, not just about having new blogs to write (because I'm pretty much a blogging freak), but also about what God is doing already in these areas, and what he will continue to do.
But here's the thing:
some stories just don't fit into those blogs.
That's why I'll still be keeping up with this one.
Like this story...
Ester and I have been working hard to follow up on contacts that were made during many short-term trips before we got here. There are so many medical campaign forms, and we are working on visiting all of these people, or at least the ones who will let us.
Well we called up a woman who attended a medical campaign at the church several months ago, and made an appointment to visit her. When we confirmed her address, we found out that she actually lives in Huasao, which is a town in the middle of two of Alex and Jorge's church plant sites. So we decided to go with the boys to visit her.
Well, we eventually found the house (most houses here don't have numbers! Very annoying, not to mention difficult!), and she was incredibly sweet. She made us tea, and we chatted with her, and with her father-in-law. He apparently has some nerve damage in his leg, so he can barely walk anymore, and is in a lot of pain. So we shared with them about Jesus' healing of many people, and also prayed for them. Well, they both accepted Christ while we were there, and so we left them with Bibles, and they wanted to start reading right then and there!
Now the interesting thing about visiting people in their homes is that you never know what you are going to find.
Will they offer you tea?
Will their be so many flies that the ground actually looks like it is moving, like at this house?
Will they treat you like the queen?
Will they end up slamming the door in your face?
Will the Holy Spirit put words in your mouth?
Will the presence of God enter the house with you?
You never know, but it sure is amazing to find out.
The title of this post is “To infinity and beyond.”
Why, you ask?
Well, not only did the Cusco family watch Toy Story 3 this past week (and I cried!), but this is our favorite quote for our work.
That’s right, we have finished our first week as full-time missionaries planting churches.
And we have gone to infinity and beyond.
The hard work has begun. Pounding the pavement. Except in this case it is more like pounding the dirt and gravel roads.
It is hard, but it is amazing.
Like we visited the pueblos of Lamay and Coya on Wednesday and walked miles on dirt roads by a river in the middle of nowhere, checking out Lamay and its surrounding communities. We stumbled upon an NGO-run orphanage where we want to do a kid’s festival, and found out a little more about these two pueblos that are almost completely lacking any Christian presence.
On our second trip to Lamay, we were praying for God to guide our steps, and I believe he did. We met a woman in the small community that is about a twenty minute walk from the center of town, and began to talk to her about the gospel. She told us that in the small community, they do have a Christian church meeting in a house, and that she attends. She started crying when she told us about how she and her husband have fought because he doesn’t want her to go to the church. The people in her town treat her like an outcast for going to the Christian church.
Modern-day persecution in one of our church plant sites.
But we were able to pray with her and give her encouragement.
So from there we went to a different community in Lamay, and the first house we went to we started to share the gospel again after a bit of conversation, and the man started asking us about the Trinity, if God was a monster with three heads or what? He really just wanted to distract us, but he said we could come back and share more. Later on we were told that there is one Jehovah’s Witness family in the community, presumably this man and his family, and they don’t have a very good reputation in the community.
In this same community, most of the people make Chicha de Jora, which is the alcohol of the Incas. They say it isn’t very strong, and that it isn’t for getting drunk, but at the quantities that they drink it, alcoholism is definitely a problem. But we found some open doors in the VERY Catholic community. And we will continue visiting the families we have made contact with.
Now these first few weeks, or possibly the whole month of November, is set aside for getting familiar with the communities and planning what we will do to plant three churches during our eighteen months in Cusco. So that’s what we did last week.
In San Jeronimo, which is where we live, we have explored and followed up on contacts. Back in June during the Love Extreme project, we had a medical clinic in the church, and have dozens of contacts from that. So we have been calling them, setting up dates to come see them, and visiting their houses. We have had the opportunity to go to several houses already, and pray with people and share about Christ’s love.
One family we visited was really nice, and the visit was going really well. We prayed and shared about Jesus, and asked if we could come back and visit. They were hesitant, and asked us to please not be offended. Then they began to share with us their “religious history,” if you will: how they have been Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adventists, Catholics, and they are currently attending a Mormon church. They were afraid to tell us that! But we just gave them an invitation to come visit the church sometime, and they were very kind.
Keep praying for our visits, that we will have open doors to begin cell groups to disciple new believers.
Our final church plant site is the very large area of San Sebastian and Wanchaq. Just to give you a little history, several decades ago, there was a Nazarene church in Wanchaq, but for some reason, it died out. So we have combined the district of Wanchaq with the district of San Sebastian.
However, we weren’t really familiar with Wanchaq, so we went to check it out on Thursday of last week. There was something going on in the Plaza, and scores of people had gathered to celebrate something. We later found out that it was the anniversary of Tupac Amaru’s death, the last Incan emperor before the fall of the empire to the Spanish. Ester gave me a little history lesson!
And so we had a perfect opportunity to just hang out in the Plaza and talk to people. We met a woman who works in the tourist industry (just about everyone does), and she wants us to call her and come visit her some time.
One step at a time. That’s kind of the theme for us right now. One bus ride at a time. One phone call at a time. One contact at a time. One open door at a time. One convert at a time. One cell group at a time. Onediscipleship lesson at a time. And finally, one new church at a time.
I’m studying Jeremiah these days, and read something the other day that I can’t get out of my head, especially since moving to Cusco.
1 Hear what the LORD says to you, people of Israel. 2 This is what the LORD says:
“Do not learn the ways of the nations
or be terrified by signs in the heavens,
though the nations are terrified by them. 3 For the practices of the peoples are worthless;
they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. 4 They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter. 5 Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field,
their idols cannot speak;
they must be carried
because they cannot walk.
Do not fear them;
they can do no harm
nor can they do any good.”
6 No one is like you, LORD;
you are great,
and your name is mighty in power. 7 Who should not fear you,
King of the nations?
This is your due.
Among all the wise leaders of the nations
and in all their kingdoms,
there is no one like you.
8 They are all senseless and foolish;
they are taught by worthless wooden idols. 9 Hammered silver is brought from Tarshish
and gold from Uphaz.
What the craftsman and goldsmith have made
is then dressed in blue and purple—
all made by skilled workers. 10 But the LORD is the true God;
he is the living God, the eternal King.
When he is angry, the earth trembles;
the nations cannot endure his wrath.
11 “Tell them this: ‘These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.’”[a]
12 But God made the earth by his power;
he founded the world by his wisdom
and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. 13 When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar;
he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth.
He sends lightning with the rain
and brings out the wind from his storehouses.
14 Everyone is senseless and without knowledge;
every goldsmith is shamed by his idols.
The images he makes are a fraud;
they have no breath in them. 15 They are worthless, the objects of mockery;
when their judgment comes, they will perish. 16 He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these,
for he is the Maker of all things,
including Israel, the people of his inheritance—
the LORD Almighty is his name.
Now idols, in the typical sense, have not every been something I’ve ever needed to think about in my comfortable life in the United States. But since moving to Peru, I have thought about idolatry. I have seen idolatry. And I have seen that the line is very thin, easy to cross, and that there are reasons why religions avoid any images.
In Arequipa, Catholicism is HUGE. For example, this month is the month of “Señor de los Milagros” or “Cristo Morado.” Purple Jesus. And some women will wear a purple dress with a white rope around their waste for the entire month. It’s actually a really common site in Arequipa. And I can’t tell you how many religious processionals I have seen.
But I have learned that there is a huge difference between religiosity and Christianity.
Here in Cusco, there is a different type of idolatry as the ancient Incan religion and gods have blended in with Catholicism.
This is the view from my front door:
And in three places on this house, they have this mini shrine that is supposed to be for protection.
But here’s the thing: these Incan gods, these Saints and shrines, cannot speak. They cannot walk. They can do no harm, nor can they do any good.
But our God is mighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, Creator, Cosmic God of the universe! He’s the one we will fall to our knees worshipping. There is no substitute.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010 is our official first day of church planting work.
Now you may be asking, where do we start?
Well, Ester and I asked the same question. Where do we start in our three/four church plant areas (San Jeronimo, San Sebastian, Wanchaq, and Pisaq)?
And since we were completely unfamiliar with Pisaq, we went and visited on Friday.
Pisaq is a town in the Sacred Valley, which is located about and hour and a half from where we live.
Now let me just tell you, it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life. Alex said it best when he said, “It kind of takes my breath away.”
And on the way there, we missed our stop, and went to the last town in the Sacred Valley, Calca, which would have been a church plant site too. And there are three or four other towns in between.
We checked out the town of Pisaq, which is a major tourist attraction. There are Incan ruins in the mountains above Pisaq, and I’ve heard that it is the site where one of the Incan emperors retired. The Plaza is a tourist market, and pretty much the whole town caters to tourists. But like my cluster mom Amy says, “Everyone needs Jesus, tourists too.”
So in our walking around and chatting with people, we found out that there are a few Christian churches in Pisaq, and we found the home of the leader of a nondenominational church called La Vid. His name is Mario, and he has been a missionary in Columbia and Brazil before God brought him back to do ministry in his hometown, Pisaq.
He has a vision for reaching the whole town, and then the whole valley with the saving message of Jesus Christ. And he is really open to working with us. We spent about forty-five minutes talking to him at his house. It was amazing, a God-ordained appointment for sure.
Hermano Mario also told us that two of the other towns in the valley (which we had “accidentally” driven through) do not have ANY Christian churches. So Ester and I feel like we will focus our ministry throughout the valley, especially in the areas that don’t have any access to the gospel.
Because one of my life verses is Romans 15:20-21, which says, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”
Paul wrote those words about 2000 years ago, and yet there are sill places where Christ is not known. So that is our vision for Cusco and it’s surrounding areas, that “those who have not heard will understand.”