The main aim of the first week was teaching at one of the regular training weeks. The idea is that the centre provides basic training for pastors and church leaders who come from Iquitos, Nauta and the river communities. Most have little formal education, no books beyond a copy of the Bible, and lead sm all churches alongside working to support themselves and their families. The weeks work like ‘block weeks’ would at a UK centre, the participants arrive on Monday and leave on Saturday and in the days are filled with talks, group work, discussion and practical activities. Each week is slightly different but includes a significant amount of Biblical study, some doctrine and some practical application to the roles of church leaders; there is also at least one session given over to issues of health, community development or creation care. This last week included me leading the group through Mark’s gospel chapter by chapter and then using passages from the gospel for preaching practice; a couple of sessions looking at ethics and some others looking at the book of Revelation. There were also sessions on primary health issues and one which looked at ‘who is Jesus’ from a more doctrinal perspective.
An unexpected pleasure this time was to be able to baptise 3 couples who had come from one of the river communities. They all have young families and have been Christians for a while but are playing a significant role in the life of their church community. It was a great experience and a real privilege. It was also great to hear of another participant from Nauta, using his experience of the preaching practice to preach in church on the Sunday.
The middle Sunday I preached at a church in Belen, Iquitos “Dios me cambio” and then on the Monday and Tuesday afternoons Lori (my wife) and I led some sessions for women from some of the Iquitos churches.
Whilst we were there Sarah, from BMS’s communications team, was with us taking photos / video of the more general BMS work in Iquitos / Nauta which will no doubt appear in their publicity soon (there might even be a very brief clip of me). This led to some interesting discussions about the need for stories and information in the UK and the way that things are portrayed. To what degree do we do things in particular ways so they create a good impression for supporters in the US / UK? My experience of BMS folk on the ground is that they have a good track record of being focused on the needs of the community they serve, but the need to raise support and communicate with home churches remain.
As always, mission is a two way process not a one way street. I may go to teach but I also go to learn, it is a sharing together of experience, knowledge and God through which all of us can grow. After five years of visiting I’ve been more aware this time of just how big a challenge all of us face (whether from Peru, UK or US) to live Christianly in our particular social context. As part of the ethics sessions we had some interesting conversations about marriage which I’ll try to blog about next week; not least because I wonder if the experience of folk from the river communities might shine a light on how we plot a way through some of these questions in the UK. It’s also a language challenge; I’ve learned a bit of Spanish but this trip showed how much I’ve still got to learn.
I’d forgotten how much I enjoy living in the jungle. I wasn’t able to go last year because of my heart attack so it is nearly two years since I was there, whereas I’d been going twice a year for the previous few years. I’d love to be more involved though that’s not easy with our current family commitments; but maybe there is a mission shaped role for us somewhere in the future. (Yes, I know that being a minister in the UK is a mission shaped role too).