Part 1 of 3 articles about the ongoing ELS work in Peru, as seen through the eyes of visiting North American pastors.
Our journey begins with a short flight from Lima to Tarapoto, Peru. As the plane flies over the mountains and begins its descent, the lush green blanket below takes the shape of a variety of trees and plants. We have made it to the jungle region.
We store most of our luggage at the home of Pastor Ronal Rivas and carry only enough for one night and day. Less than an hour after landing, we are in a small taxi driving through cloud forest to the city of Yurimaguas. Yurimaguas is where the road ends for us—but not the travels. Just before dawn the next day, we board a boat on the Huallaga River and begin a four-hour trip to the village of Nueva Chazuta. The morning is very foggy and it’s hard to see where we are going at first. As we continue on a smaller tributary, the river becomes shallower because there hasn’t been much rain. We hit the bottom several times, stalling the motor and get stuck once. Segundo, our boat pilot, and his son push the boat off the sandy bottom and find a deeper channel.
Nueva Chazuta has five houses and a church. About twenty residents live in small homes made of wood with thatched palm branches for roofs. The church is the nicest building, with a concrete floor and bright blue paint. The villagers are waiting to greet us and are excited to begin the church service. But first, we are invited to the chief’s home for a meal of Pucapanga soup (Pucapanga is a jungle bird) and bananas.
Pastor Ronal Rivas leads the service, preaching about the temptation of Jesus from Mark 1. The people listen intently to the sermon. Songs are led by Evangelist Antonio, who shepherds the people between visits from the pastors. Antonio attends seminary classes monthly for more training.
It is an exciting morning as an infant, Kayla, is brought to faith in the waters of baptism! Pastor Jaime Cortez, who has also travelled with us, performs the baptism. After much singing, the service concludes and the villagers share a snack together of soft bread and soda pop Pastor Ronal has brought with us. This is a favorite treat they anticipate with the pastors’ visits.
Then it’s time to return to Yurimaguas. Another four hours in the boat (this time without getting stuck) and we jump in a taxi for a wild ride through the twisting mountain roads back to Tarapoto in the dark. Our taxi driver may have dreams of becoming an international race car driver and practices on us. Each time we slow down for a curve, we can hear the jungle animal noises through the open windows.
After a short night’s sleep, we are up for church on Sunday morning at the Lutheran Church of Tarapoto. Pastor Matt Behmer has been invited to preach. He delivers the sermon on Luke 22:19-20, focusing on the Lord’s Supper. It’s another exciting day as Pastor Ronal’s daughter, Karen, is confirmed. The Lord’s Supper is served and we share in the blessings of the sacrament with the congregation. By the time the service has ended, the church is full and we are again greeted warmly by the people.
Pastor Ronal and his wife, Nancy, invite us to their home where most of the congregation and family members have gathered to celebrate Karen’s confirmation. We are treated to a wonderful meal of seasoned pork steak and potatoes—and Inca Cola. Inca Cola is a favorite national drink. It’s soda pop with lots of sugar and bubble gum flavoring.
The next day, jungle evangelists gather at the church for monthly training. There are currently twelve evangelists serving 20 different villages. Pastor Ronal teaches from the book of Romans and Pastor Jaime teaches pastoral theology. Late in the afternoon, they also work through Sunday school lessons to teach the children. The evangelists study at the institute for five days every other month and stay in dormitories behind the church. Only one is not able to attend this time because torrential rains have come and it is impossible to travel from his village. These men bring what they have learned back to their own villages and teach their people. The Word of God continues to spread as the evangelists push deeper into the jungle, bringing the Good News to more villages!
What a blessing it is to see these men so excited to learn and spread the precious news of our Savior, Jesus! Please pray for the ongoing work in the jungles of Peru!
-Rev. Paul Fries & Rev. Matt Behmer