Odessa church stays on mission in Peru
October 9th, 2017 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments
ODESSA The Amazon rain forest boasts two seasons—rainy and dry—and one temperature: hot. Villagers barter plantains, dried fish and tapioca or sell them to brokers docked along lush riverbanks.
Despite this commonality of economy and climate, the people of Nuevo Jardin, Peru, are different from many living along the giant river flowing into Brazil.
They have been changed forever through a work begun by two Odessa churches and continued by Sherwood Baptist Church.
In 2012, a sermon at the SBTC annual meeting challenged then Sherwood pastor Ivy Shelton to encourage his church to adopt an unengaged people group.
On a vision trip in January 2013, men from Sherwood and Odessa Bible Church traveled up the Amazon with IMB missionary Jake Glover.
A joint effort was born from that journey when the village of Nuevo Jardin welcomed the Texans, who led two men to Christ.
For the next two years, groups from Odessa Bible and Sherwood traveled to Nuevo Jardin on alternating months. Following two years of the combined venture, Odessa Bible’s commitment period ended, but Sherwood continued going to Peru, initially six times a year.
Three trips have been planned for 2017—one occurred in March; a second departed Sept. 17, and a final trip is anticipated before year’s end, said Sherwood’s Pat Wenger, who has gone 15 times and coordinates the trips.
Groups fly into Lima and then Iquitos before boarding chartered speedboats piloted by hired men who know the river. Ketty, a Christian who worked for Glover, has accompanied and cooked for groups on every trip.
Part of Wenger’s job is to ensure funds reach Peru to cover food, bottled water, translators and transportation costs. Participants pay their own way although the church covers some expenses.
Wenger’s first trip was in March 2013. She heard of a nearby village that “worshiped the cross,” and was later stunned to discover the religion had been started by a man named Cross who had come to the area earlier, evidence of the area’s prevailing superstition.
Trips transitioned to a pattern of holding church services, Bible studies, youth and children’s programs.
“We live life with them,” said Sherwood’s Andrew Mailey, who has gone twice to Peru, including an August 2016 trip with Wenger, Jo Ann Bell, and seven teenagers, including his two sons.
Wenger estimated village population at 110, and to date, half the villagers have trusted Christ, she said.
When villagers decided they wanted a church building, Sherwood supplied saws, nails and roofing tin. Village men cut and hand-milled the lumber and erected the chapel.
Today, villagers hold church services several times a week, including twice on Sundays, Wenger said. Most preaching is done by a villager named Mier. Wenger and Bell, an 11-trip veteran, went once by themselves and were the first Texans to worship in the new church.
Mailey preached multiple times on his two visits, admitting he likes being “part of the village”: enjoying fellowship, quiet times, prayer and Bible studies with the families.
Sherwood has also contributed to the education of villagers. The church would like to help Mier gain biblical training, thus far impossible because of his family commitments. Meanwhile, they are helping three youngsters obtain secondary education, since free public education is only provided through grade six.
This started with Jorge, a young man whose zeal for the Lord was unmistakable after he trusted Christ.
Calling Jorge “a man after God’s own heart,” Wenger said Sherwood pays for school fees, uniforms and books, and contributes to his room and board in a village closer to Iquitos with a secondary school. Sherwood is similarly financing the education of another boy and girl.
Recently, after a mission trip to Panama where she observed the benefits of water filtration, Wenger arranged for filters to be distributed to every home in Nuevo Jardin. The villagers refused to drink from the government-drilled well, preferring the Amazon with its questionable purity. The filters have made the village healthier, Wenger said.
Despite potable water, conditions are primitive but have improved for the visitors. The church purchased a two-story open-air house vacated by a departing family. When the house started sinking, the village men rebuilt it on higher ground, using supplies provided by the church and rain forest lumber. The church paid for the labor, Bell said.
Wenger said she has a special plan for September: to encourage the people of Nuevo Jardin to pray about which nearby village they want to evangelize.
Bell, who like Wenger is in her 70s, said she hopes others will be encouraged to go on mission. “Just go where God wants you to go. You are never too old or too young.”