A few weeks ago I had chance to visit Iquitos, Peru where BMS: World Mission are involved in International Development work with local churches (BMS link here). I had a great time:
- We visited a number of local churches, particularly those who run P.E.P.E. preschools that are a fantastic way to help the development of children from poorer backgrounds enabling them to make best use of the local primary school education.
- Preaching in churches from the very poor to the middle class, including at a funeral service (you never know what you will be asked to do).
- Visiting river communities, looking at how the church is helping with conservation work, encouraging sustainable living and business development. People pay good money to take tourist trips up the Amazon river and its tributaries, I got to do it for free!
Overall I’m left with a couple of thoughts, all of which need to be taken lightly as I've not spent long enough in Iquitos to be confident of my analysis or cultural understanding:
1. The biggest need for the churches there is not for money but help building capacity, particularly training and developing church leaders.
2. We can bring a different voice. Much of church life in Iquitos is the result of Southern Baptist Mission work (and in recent years American Pentecostalism has had an impact). Much of what the Southern Baptists have done is good and important but (like all of us) they bring their own cultural and theological prejudices to the work. A UK involvement hopefully helps the Peruvian church to see that there are a variety of Baptist voices and helps them to develop the skills to work out for themselves before God how to be the Church in their particular context. In the UK Baptists generally get on with Pentecostals and share a common desire to see the Holy Spirit working in the church and world; likewise other evangelical or historic churches with whom we have things in common. This models something which may be of benefit in Peru; providing we exercise sensitivity and restraint.
3. Preaching with an interpreter is an experience. It brought home to me how often I use synonyms or alliteration when preaching because they don't translate unless you agree with the interpreter in advance! Likewise it is harder to preach in a way which takes people on an emotional journey. But more than anything else I recognise how easy it is to make assumptions about what people know and understand; a useful lesson for preaching in the UK as well.
4. Ecclesial Tourism is a form of holiday romance. I enjoyed it enormously, visiting church work in another part of the world always gets you thinking differently about the UK context. There is also that sense that you could enjoy working there yourself, but the reality is it tougher than the ten day experience ~ akin to being on the beach in the med thinking I could do this all the time! Nevertheless it raises a question worth pondering: how can I be of greatest use in the development of the kingdom of God and how can I serve most effectively.
It was also great to see how BMS work on the ground and experience first hand what a great mission agency it is ~ perhaps the subject of a future blog post.