by Norm Miller
Winter at high altitude. No heat in the hostel. No hot shower -- for five weeks. A foreign language. Indigenous food. A completely different culture.
Why endure all that?
For Truett-McConnell College students Rachel Johnson and Cara Cole, this is exactly what they experienced in the Andes Mountains – all for the sake of the Gospel.
Joined by two other collegians from their church -- Matthew Shinkle and Ben Pearman -- the team shared their faith hundreds of times on the streets, in schools, and in other venues in Lampa, Peru, June 3 – July 7.
More than 60 people prayed a prayer of repentance from sin and of commitment to Christ, and afterward confirmed they were new believers, Johnson said.
Having ministered in Lampa previously, Johnson always wanted to return because “the Lord laid Lampa on my heart. When I came back home after that first trip, I told the Lord, ‘I know that you love those people more than I do, so if you will give me the opportunity to go back, I will do it.’”
Through members of Beulah Baptist Church in Douglasville, Ga., and from relatives and friends, the quartet of collegians raised $10,000 for the trip. And Beulah’s youth group raised enough money to provide 100 Spanish Bibles.
“I’ve been on many other mission trips before, but there’s just something about witnessing in Lampa,” Johnson told TMCNews. “While witnessing in the street, the people were so attentive to the Gospel. Many of them asked us, ‘Please, tell me how to be saved.’ And they thanked us for showing them the way to the Lord.
“But to have to turn around and leave? The people will have no discipleship,” said the TMC missions major. “Saved from a future hell – that’s great. But they are missing growing in the Lord here and now. We all felt that way.”
In addition to her love for lost people, Johnson said another motivation to return to Lampa was the discipleship of new believers.
Obeying the Great Commission, the team spent many winter days on the streets of the town square, giving away popcorn and hot chocolate, and using the Evangecube to witness to children and adults.
Johnson said people of all ages related well to the Evangecube by overtly expressing knowledge about each part of the evangelism tool.
“But when we got to the picture showing the Lord’s hand reaching down in relationship, they fell silent,” Johnson said. “They have no problem believing God is real. They just don’t know that He wants to have a relationship with them.”
The Catholic influence
Iconic to Lampa is the Immaculada Concepcion, or the Roman Catholic Church building.
“It’s just beautiful,” said Johnson of the structure. “It’s full of icons and relics. Tourists travel to Lampa just to visit the church.”
“The Catholic church pretty much runs the town,” she added. And for many in Lampa, “it’s just about the building and what you do in the building. Otherwise it’s completely disconnected from Christ.” The locals “claim association with the building, but they have no concept of, and don’t even claim any relationship with Jesus,” Johnson said.
On a mountain some distance from Lampa, Cristo Blanco -- a large white statue representing Jesus -- is poised with outstretched arms.
“The Catholic church building is large, and it casts a shadow over the town; but outside of town, Cristo Blanco beckons,” said Johnson, alluding that more locals might see Jesus if not for the Catholic church.
A woman claiming to be Roman Catholic approached the team on the street, noting her church affiliation and telling the young evangelists, “You are different,” Johnson recalled, “and she wanted to know why.”
“We have a relationship with Jesus Christ,” I told her, “and he motivates us to do what we do.”
“I want that, too, but must I leave the Catholic Church?” the woman asked.
Johnson responded: “If you have a relationship with Jesus and follow Him, He will lead you to the right church.”
By conversation’s end, the woman asked the team for directions to the closest Baptist church, Johnson said.
Avoiding evil, not seeking good
A culture of fear and of works salvation permeates the populace of 50,000 comprised mostly of farmers and shepherds.
When street-witnessing, the team invited people to a nightly Bible study they held in their hostel. “Many of them told us, ‘I want to know more about what you were saying in the square,’” Johnson said.
After the Bible study – attended mostly by young people – the meeting was an open forum dominated by questions of which sins will send a person to hell.
“They are so focused on ‘this is bad and that is bad’ that they were fearing hell rather than focusing on what is good, and that a relationship with Jesus Christ is necessary for entry to heaven,” Johnson said.
Using the words of Christ from Matthew 23, the team explained what whitewashed tombs meant. “Changing the inside is what effects what happens on the outside” was the explanation, Johnson said.
“We also spent a lot of time in the Book of James,” she noted. “We told them that you work from faith and not to it.”
Reflecting on the people attending the Bible studies, and others she met, Johnson said, “They have most of the pieces of the puzzle, but they are not in the right place. The missing piece is the relationship with Christ and how to have it.”
“Why else would Jesus have come to earth unless he wanted a relationship?” asked Johnson. “The people of Lampa, they just don’t know that part.”
After five weeks of mountain ministry at 13,000 feet, Johnson developed high-altitude cerebral edema. The six-week trip was but five as the team accompanied Johnson back to the States.
Johnson -- who also suffers from asthma and a number of allergies particularly in Lampa – said she has “been praying about long term ministry in Lampa. The Lord had us there for definite reasons. I so want to go back, but that may not be possible.”