It started one unassuming morning when my Senior Pastor stuck his head in my office and asked, “I just realized…you have a degree in theology don’t you?” Of course he knew this…but it had just occurred to him in a new light. He realized that he didn’t have to look any farther than the office around the corner to find a teacher for a seminary class he was putting together for pastors and church leaders in Peru. The course would be a survey of Christian Doctrine and had to be taught by someone with a theology degree…and there I was.
I love teaching and have been doing some classes for the Continuing Education Ministry of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board since 2014, both in Warner Robins & Cordele. Little did I know this experience would prepare me (and pay for) for a mission trip to Peru.
After some prayer, and convincing Misty to let me be gone for 10 days, I agreed to take on the challenge. It would be a first in many ways for me (not the least of which being I had never traveled outside the country by myself).
The first hurdle was finding a textbook that was theologically sound, affordable and available in English as well as Spanish. Fortunately a college friend, Dennis Rivera, is the head of the Intercultural Church Planting and Missions Ministry of the GBMB. I sent him an email and he recommended Wayne Grudem’s “Bible Doctrine.” I got a copy and was set.
The next task was to write lectures and student outlines, working to cover the 500+ page book in class sessions that would only total 20 hours (and also allowing for time for my translator, as well as quizzes and final presentations from the students in that 20 hours). This was the toughest part of the endeavor. And I had to have the quizzes and student outlines to a translator weeks ahead of the class so they could be ready. But thankfully all this would come together with some time to spare.
Because these courses are taught in a missions setting, teachers are not paid and are responsible for paying their own expenses for the trip. God is gracious when we obey His call to serve. I was able to save the small honorariums I receive from teaching for the GBMB to pay for the trip. I even told my students here in Georgia how part of their tuition was enabling me to teach a seminary class for their brothers and sisters in Peru!
So here’s how the trip went –
I left Atlanta on Monday evening, Oct. 7th and got to Lima around 1 am on Tuesday morning. Pastor Julio Cruz, my host and coordinator of the seminary classes, picked me up at the airport. After the first of many “getting closer to Jesus by riding in a Peruvian taxi” experiences, staying the “night” in Lima and then meeting Julio’s family Tuesday afternoon, he and I flew to the southern city of Arequipa.
Arequipa is a beautiful, Spanish colonial town established in 1540 in the lower Andes mountains (lower being a relative term since it is at an elevation of 7,661 ft). Rising above the city are three volcanoes. Two are inactive: Pichu-Pichu and Chachani. The third, and still active one which rises to 19,101 feet is named (and I kid you not) Misti. My students thought it was hilarious when I told them my wife’s name was Misty and that she could be a volcano too. And a further coincidence is that Arequipa was founded on August 15th, my Misty’s birthday!
I had 17 students in Arequipa. They were an inspiration and kept me on my toes with their questions. The youngest was 17 and I wouldn’t dare guess the oldest. When they shared their personal testimonies, I discovered one of the younger girls had accepted Christ at the age of 10, after she and her sister had received Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes from Samaritan’s Purse. I almost cried when I realized this. God allowed me to see the “other side” of a ministry our church faithfully participates in each year. And I got to see firsthand the eternal impact of a shoebox. Now this young lady is studying in a seminary class, working as a leader in her church! God is good!
We wrapped up in Arequipa on Saturday. I couldn’t have asked for a better translator than my new friend Elva, who I treated to a Starbucks Frappuccino one afternoon. We have already been messenging on Facebook since I left. She’s an amazing person and works with many different missions teams all over South America based out of her home in Arequipa.
Sunday we flew back to Lima and then to Ayacucho, a city higher up in the Andes (at an elevation of 9,058 ft) where the population is predominantly Quechua native people. My translator there was Rachel, who speaks not only English and Spanish, but her native Quechua. Rachel was a delight to get to know and work with. Her father was a Presbyterian minister who had been led to Christ by one of the first Evangelical/Protestant missionaries who came to the highland jungle area in the 1930s. Her father played a key role in translating the first Bible into Quechua and Rachel herself acted as a typist for the project. Rachel’s husband is a local Baptist pastor. Her family has endured many hardships over the years for their faith. Her grandfather and two of her uncles were murdered by members of the Shining Path, during some of the highlands darkest days.
Tbis group of 18 students amazed me. Many live in the highland jungles of the Andes and had to travel 6-8 hours by bus over primitive mountain roads to come to Ayacucho for three days of intensive study. Unlike Arequipa where classes where at night, so the students could come after work, here we went all day with just a lunch break. They were eager to learn and their love of Christ was infectious, While they all can read and speak Spanish, their heart language is Quechua. They even sang for me a few times in Quechua, a language I had never heard before. Rachel was invaluable – taking time to translate the Spanish outlines and my lectures into Quechua so that everyone could get the maximum benefit from the course. My youngest student was 12, a boy who came to study with his father and grandfather, both who are pastors.
The testimonies of this group were often emotional as many had been disowned by their families for their faith in Christ. Evangelical Christianity is viewed as evil in the world these believers live in. Some live in villages with no church or pastor, so they have to travel long distances to go to church. One young lady and her husband started a prayer meeting in their home after they became Christians, only to have their neighbors surround the house one night, throwing bricks through the windows and threatening to set it on fire. They were forced to move out of the village because of their faith.
On Wednesday my morning started at 7 am (6 am Georgia time). After a half day of class, Julio and I flew back to Lima where I bid him goodbye and waited for my 1 am flight back Atlanta. 6 1/2 hours later, and an hour time shift, I landed in Atlanta at 8:30 on Thursday morning. A quick trip down I-75 (thankfully no traffic issues heading South that time of day), a quick stop at the church, I arrived home at 11:30 am, and crashed into my own bed after being awake for almost 30 hours (no, I can’t sleep on planes so I watched movies and read). After ten days, six plane rides, three foreign cities, 35 amazing students, two talented translators, one beloved host pastor and 8,028 miles (not counting those death-trap taxi rides), my journey was over.
I am beyond grateful and truly humbled to have had this wonderful opportunity. To borrow from John Wesley, my heart was deeply warmed by the experience. I was brought to tears on several occasions as I saw the genuine faith and love of my brothers and sisters in Christ, whose hunger for God’s Word is unquenchable. They gave me so much more than I was able to give them, and I only hope I was able to strengthen their ability to continue the work they are already doing for the Kingdom,
Thank you to my family and church for allowing me to be gone. Thank you to all who prayed for me and sent encouraging text messages each day. Thank you to Pastor David for trusting me with this task and giving me the chance to use my gifts in a new way. And finally, I say Gloria a Dios, to my Heavenly Father for prompting, providing, and protecting!