It was when the guinea pigs started sticking their noses out their dark cornered caves in the kitchen that I got the feeling I was in a National Geographic magazine. It was one of those moments you just can’t orchestrate.
You might wonder why the guinea pigs were roaming freely in the kitchen. Let’s just say in Peru, these little pigs are not pets. Luckily for dinner that night, the menu was chicken, potatoes and rice.
We got to spend two days in a village called Huancahuanca (read Wonka Wonka) while staying in Peru. This small village nestled in the mountains was the site of a celebration for children from four communities who were being sponsored for their schooling. On a bright, crisp Sunday morning, 87 children being sponsored plus siblings, parents and friends streamed into the village. Some had walked for more than three hours to come. The party seemed worth the walk though, complete with songs and skits, lunch and the official handing out of new school uniforms for these children who had none.
The focus hasn’t always been on the kids in this community. We spoke with the church leader and his wife in this village. Sitting in their dark kitchen, one of two rooms to their home, they both talk about the betterment of the family life now that people are starting to really understand God’s Word in the community. Justina told us the children in Sunday School are changing as they learn about Christ, and they are able to give witness to not only their families but even to their school teachers.
They talk of marriages healed, where husbands and wives treat each other as they should and kids have positive role models to look up to.
They talk of rising numbers in their church, and how people are seeing Jesus in a new light. Before, villagers believed that only the weak would need a Saviour. Now, they see teams of people come into their community who do not need to be there, but choose to be because of Jesus. And residents begin to open their hearts to receptively listen to the story of a Saviour who loved us so much, He died on a cross for us.
It’s a story as powerful as time, and as it seeps into this community, life change is happening. So bring on the guinea pigs, it’s time to celebrate in Huancahuanca.
Eriberto walked for hours to meet with us. We don’t know how long it took him; time is not really a relevant detail to the highland Quechewa people. Neither is distance. What is important is community. And we got to see first-hand in Peru how the organization ATEK is helping communities to build and grow and become strong.
Standing in a field by the elementary school, Eriberto wears a Stetson-style black hat with a strip of brown leather stretched around the band. His blue checkered shirt is done up neatly underneath his bright red jacket. It’s fairly cool in the morning at 11,000 feet. We’re higher than Machu Picchu right now, surrounded on all sides by green mountains.
Eriberto was a leader in his church, and helped minister to another nine churches in other communities. The church leaders got together about five or six years ago, acknowledging that they needed proper training to help lead their congregations. None of the leaders of these churches had ever had formal training, and financially they could simply not afford to go to school. It was “impossible,” Eriberto shares.
That’s when Eriberto heard about ATEK, a Quechewa-run ministry that works with Quechewa communities to train leaders. Leaders who can teach, who can preach, who can minister to husbands and wives and children. Training that is simply not accessible to these remote communities otherwise.
ATEK came in to Corribumba and helped Eriberto’s community. In the last five years, Eriberto has seen enormous change in his community of Corribumba and in the other nine churches in his network.
In his town of Corribumba, ATEK-trained teachers are now leading marriage counseling, literacy training and alcohol education as well as pastoral teaching. He has seen his church strengthened where before it seemed ready to die. It grew the faith of the Christians in his community, and he says they are now aware of their responsibilities as Christians.
But more than that, Eriberto has seen change in his own life. He and his wife took ATEK’s marriage counselling. The sessions opened his eyes to what a marriage could be, such as praying together and making decisions as a couple, something they never did before. Even though he was a minister and was teaching and was baptizing, he never fully understood what marriage was about. Now it makes it more meaningful when he helps to counsel other couples, as he now does in various communities including the village of Perrca, where we were staying when he made his trek to share with us what God is doing.
Summing it up, Eriberto says this about the training he and his community received through ATEK.
“It’s a blessing from God. ATEK is like a medicine for the problems in our villages.”
After 60 hours, a delayed flight, and a subsequent missed connection, we finally arrived in Cusco.
Being a day behind schedule, we had to hit the ground running. Within 15 minutes of arriving at the ATEK compound we were re-packed and ready to head to a remote village buried deep in the mountains of Peru. We knew this was going to be the plan, although we had hoped for a few days to acclimatize ourselves to being at nearly 11,000 feet. The village we were traveling to was at roughly the same elevation, but some of the mountain passes surpassed 16,000 feet. We started taking our high altitude pills the night before and were hoping for the best.
The Toyota Land Cruiser was packed full of food and supplies for the five of us taking the trip. Up front was Pastor Freddi our driver and his trusty co-pilot Peter, a Swiss missionary here to teach English and on this particular trek, to be our translator. On our way out of town we picked up Yoni, a young girl we would later find out is in charge of children’s ministries for ATEK.
Eager to get out and see what God is doing here in Peru, we were excited and ready, but nothing could have prepared us for the roads that lie ahead. If you’ve ever driven a logging road to a primo hiking spot in the Canadian Rockies, you’ll have some idea. Just add a 5,000 foot vertical drop, triple the amount of switchbacks, remove the guardrails and let loose dozens of roaming sheep, donkeys and cows.
About a half hour in to the trip I realized that the supermarket chicken goulash was not the best choice for lunch. The combination of traveling for the past 2-1/2 days, the windy, bumpy roads, and what the doctor would later tell me is altitude sickness made for a rather unpleasant drive and resulted in three unscheduled stops to “take in the view”.
190 kms and 7-1/2 hours later we arrived at our final destination, Perrca. In the end the trip up was definitely worth it. The views were incredible, the people were welcoming and the knowledge that God is working here was encouraging.
It was amazing to see the distances that the members of ATEK go to minister to the forgotten Quechua people. Check back as Lorene will continue to share specific stories of what God is doing here over the next week as we move back in to areas with reliable internet.