By Richard Harknett
Richard currently works for Echoes International as our Training & Equipping Manager, after working as a mission worker in Peru for over a decade. Recently returned to the UK, Richard shares here about the exciting future of Christian mission in Peru.
Writing about 11 years in Peru is a strange feeling, not only because it seems just a few weeks ago that we left the UK to start work in Peru, but also because it means that our time there is fully over. We left for Peru after only five months of marriage, heading for a new ministry with a fledgling team. We return to the UK as a family of four, encouraged by seeing God establish national teams to continue the work. As we contemplate what the future holds for us, we also wait with excitement to hear of what happens in Peru.
Ministry Among the Churches
We arrived in Lima on 20 February 2006. After eight months in language school we moved north to Trujillo, still not confident in our Spanish but assured by our tutors that we were ready to leave. The rest of our team, Luis and Anne-Laure Mostacero, were already there, working on the new Bible Institute. Although the initial vision was for the establishment of a nine-month residential programme, a different plan was gradually revealed to us. This was one of the many lessons that we needed to learn. As the Lord had given us the vision, this meant it was also His to change and adapt as He saw fit. Our part was to be sensitive to His voice and leading. Over time, God clearly directed us down paths we had not anticipated, but ones which were undoubtedly the best way forward.
“God clearly directed us down paths we had not anticipated, but ones which were undoubtedly the best way forward.”
The Bible Institute began in 2006 with 12 students, who travelled to Trujillo to study full time for one month. Limited physical resources prevented the development of a full-time programme and instead, our focus became expanding the reach of the institute. Night classes were established in Trujillo and then a second institute was founded in the mountains, administered by three of the first group of students. A third site commenced in the capital, Lima, also overseen by a past student. By the time a fourth was added, the initial dozen participants had increased to over 300! Each of the institute programmes have encouraged us in their own way. In Trujillo, on the northern coast, we received the first students and saw how the awareness of the need for training grew in them, along with a desire to do something to meet that need. Some shared the vision for what we were trying to achieve, and they were the ones who launched the programme in other areas. In Lima, we saw how the time shared together at the night classes could build relationships between the students and, as a result, develop greater unity between their churches. Up in the mountains, we saw how the institute could truly start to impact the surrounding assemblies. Whily Cacho, a Peruvian-commended worker, took on the task of developing the existing programme in a way that would be relevant and accessible to the people of that area. Uncertain of how it would initially be received, he began by inviting a limited number of participants. Over time, Whily noticed how the themes studied at the monthly courses then cropped up in churches and regional conferences across the area. Church leaders began to ask him how some of the preachers had grown so much in their understanding, in such a short space of time. When they heard about the institute, they immediately asked if they could send their members and, within a year, Whily was directing the highest-attended institute.
Alongside the training work, we launched two other ministries to serve the Brethren churches in Peru. Firstly, in 2009, a service agency was established to support the national full-time workers – a Peruvian equivalent of Echoes International. Secondly, in 2011, a short term mission team programme began, that now sees six to eight teams of Peruvian young people travelling, each Easter, to work alongside churches in all parts of the country.
Key Moments in Our Lives
Although these events stand out in the memory as points when the work took a significant step forward, on a personal level, two others were equally influential. The first took place in 2009, while in conversation with one of the students. She related how one course in particular had changed her life and led to a re-evaluation of her future. Consequently, she was looking for advice on how to put into practice what she felt the Lord was challenging her to do. In passing, she mentioned how grateful she was to the tutor, but then made one mistake: the tutor she was praising was not me! I clearly remembered both teaching the course she mentioned and also the conversation we had afterwards yet, in her memory, it was someone else entirely who was responsible.
I felt the Lord challenging me. Does it matter that she made that mistake? She wanted advice, but was I more focused on correcting her error to be able to take the credit that I felt was owed to me? Looking back now, it appears as if a whole train of thought fitted into that instant. I remembered Luis stressing to our team that we are here to serve the Peruvian churches and to do what is best for them, not for us. I felt the challenge to be content in the knowledge that Christ knows all that we do. I knew that I could never serve the church as I should, while constantly seeking to have my efforts recognised. Maybe it would not have been wrong to correct her before offering my thoughts on her situation, but I chose to let the mistake stand and focus on her future – not my past.
“I felt the Lord challenging me.”
The second formative moment was a mistake on our part, not someone else’s. In early 2007, the church leadership asked us to start a teenagers’ programme, which we agreed to do. For six years we headed up the team to run this ministry and were privileged to see fruit almost from the first day. However, when we stepped down and passed on the responsibility to others, we saw our error: we had stayed too long. The ministry stagnated in the last year we ran it and our presence discouraged others from participating in the leadership. Again, the challenge came to mind: what is best for the church in Peru? What will we do if what benefits them most is not our continued presence but, in fact, our absence? Do we consider the ministries ours, or are they the Lord’s? What will we do if God asks us to let them go? Others will make different decisions, take different paths and make different mistakes. But can we trust God to guide them as He guided us? These questions stayed with us until the end of our 11 years.
Encouragement for the Future
The decision to leave Peru was not an easy one, but one that both the Mostaceros and we ourselves eventually took. One way in which the Lord confirmed this for each of us was the increasing number of national believers involved in the work. As the Bible Institute expanded, from one site to four, new teams were needed to administer these and we aimed to appoint nationals to these roles. Likewise, a wider pool of tutors was required, and time and resources were invested in helping to equip Peruvians to take on this responsibility. Whily Cacho continues as the leader of the mountain institute and, with his wife Nikki, now heads up the short-term mission programme. Giovanni Núñes, the head of the Lima Institute, is now the Bible Institute Director at a national level. The service agency was passed into the hands of a new committee of five people, four of whom are Peruvians. In all, the ministries that were started by a handful of us over the past 11 years are now administered by 20 people, three-quarters of whom are Peruvian.
When we arrived in Peru in 2006, one of the first tasks that Luis encouraged us to undertake was to travel, visit the churches, ask questions and seek to understand the situation in the nation. One problem we heard repeatedly, from both nationals and expatriates, was an over-dependency on overseas mission workers. We leave in 2017 confident that changes are taking place. Over the past few years, the Lord has led a number of these mission workers to move on. In their place, a new generation of national believers are growing and taking on increasing responsibility. Will they make mistakes? Clearly they will, but then so did we. Are they ready for the task ahead? Maybe not, but then, if we are honest, neither were we. Ultimately, it is the Lord’s Kingdom that is being built and not ours.
“We must submit our plans to Him and allow Him to shape the vision as He desires.”
We must submit our plans to Him and allow Him to shape the vision as He desires. In the end, He will ask us to hand the work on to others, even if that is costly to us. But the best path will always be following where He leads.