by Peter Hocking
Peter and his wife, Marta, serve in Peru, training and mobilising local evangelists.
During the first 35 years of our ministry in Peru, we mobilised teams of Peruvian young people to take the gospel to towns along the coast and into the Andes. We understood that God’s plan is for believers to take the gospel to all the nations of the world (Mt. 28:19); however, we learned that the biblical meaning of nations is not just countries but rather people groups. God’s redemptive plan is to save people from every tribe and nation so that they might know and worship Him.
Focus on Unreached Tribes
With this new perspective on mission, we started researching the tribes of Peru and learned that the gospel had not reached at least 20 tribes. We discovered the great need for Christian work in Peru. In addition to the 20 Peruvian tribes without churches, 22 tribes had nominal Christian congregations where animistic beliefs restricted the gospel’s effectiveness in changing lives. Since these congregations were not committed to the Lord, their tribes were also in need of biblical teaching. What a challenge lay before us!
In response, we modified our mission training programmes to focus on cross-cultural mission, including exposure to tribal culture. More recently, we moved the training programme from Lima to Atalaya, along the banks of the Ucayali River in the Amazon, where our new mission base is located. We created a short-term mission strategy that introduces young people to the challenges of ministry in the jungle. By the Lord’s grace, these methods have produced good results.
This ministry could not operate without our dedicated co-workers. Presently, seven Peruvian and seven Romanian missionaries work full time with us, and ten indigenous missionaries serve part time. With the Lord’s help, our co-workers minister among five Peruvian tribes. Although I am 81 years old, I still teach some missionary and pastoral training seminars while transferring more of my responsibilities to our co-workers.
Over the years, we learned that reaching tribes with the gospel requires several stages. Today, we teach the students in our training programme the following steps, equipping them to reach tribes effectively, in the Lord’s will.
Train in Cross-Cultural Mission
Because communicating the gospel to people of another culture, especially tribal cultures, is complex, specialised training is needed. This helps the missionary to prevent avoidable mistakes that could hinder his or her outreach, cost lives or prevent people from receiving new life and victory in Christ.
Assess & Establish Contact
After receiving training, the next step is making contact with the people whom God has called the missionary to reach. If the tribe is not in a peaceful relationship with neighbouring communities, the wise strategy is to exercise intercessory prayer on the tribal people’s behalf; asking God to deliver them from their fear of outsiders so that, of their own accord, they may seek peaceful contact with outsiders and welcome missionaries. To encourage prayer partnership, we print prayer cards that describe each unreached Peruvian tribe and suggest specific prayer points.
If the tribe is in peaceful relationship with its neighbours, a missionary can travel to one of the tribe’s villages with someone who knows the tribe and speaks their language. Out of respect for the local culture, the missionary should first talk with the village chief and then with the regional chief to determine if they would welcome a missionary to live among them, and to provide them with medical help and basic education. After permission is granted, the chief and missionary discuss conditions for living in the village. If the chief can read, it is advisable to get a signed agreement so that the relationship begins on a firm understanding.
Live Among the Tribe
When the missionary moves to the village, he or she should live in a house similar to the local people’s homes. Although the missionaries are typically blessed with a personal supply of food, they should eat what the villagers offer. The missionary should also consider dressing in similar clothing to the indigenous people, so as to be more easily accepted.
Lay Foundations for Understanding the Gospel
While living in the village and learning the tribe’s language and customs, the missionary can begin preparing the people for God’s message; however, it is better to wait until they are able to share the good news with them in their own language. The missionary can ask the villagers to teach him or her their language and ask questions that encourage the villagers to examine their beliefs, such as ‘How do you know what you said is right?’ and ‘How can you be sure that what you were taught is true?’
With enough knowledge of the tribe’s language to teach God’s Word, the missionary can begin to teach the villagers truths that challenge their animistic beliefs and enable them to believe in Christ and His redemptive sacrifice. Teaching biblical truths is best done chronologically through the Old Testament. Topics may include: God’s nature, attributes and works; the spirit world’s true nature, addressing the tribe’s jungle spirits; God’s view and punishment of sin, and humanity’s need of a substitutionary sacrifice for forgiveness of sins. We have found it effective to illustrate these truths through drawings and dramas and we use Ethnos360’s excellent teaching materials. This step can last a year or more, but it is necessary to ensure a clear understanding of God’s truth.
After learning about the Old Testament’s foundational teachings, the people are better equipped to understand that Christ is ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (Jn 1:29). Providing the people with an accurate knowledge of Christ makes it easier for them to understand and believe in Jesus when the missionary presents the gospel.
Invite People to Trust Christ
When people understand that Jesus is the only One who can save them and they desire that salvation, the missionary can suggest that people individually ask Christ to save them in their own words. In this way, professions of faith are more likely to be genuine.
Teach Christian Living
Finally, it is important that the missionaries teach new believers how to function as a New Testament church. Studies in Acts and Paul’s epistles provide helpful examples for the new believers. In harmony with biblical principles, they can arrange their meetings to reflect their tribe’s culture, using their language, musical style and way of meeting together.
Pray for Tribal Missions
Over many years, we have learned that these principles and strategies are a good model to help believers reach tribal peoples with the gospel. We recently learned of a large tribe in Peru that has many churches but few national workers. In His sovereignty, God connected us to them through one of their key workers who is visiting and encouraging churches. Pray for him in his ministry to the Awajun tribe. Pray that God will help us to share His love and salvation with unreached tribes and that He will raise up more Peruvian missionaries to reach them.
- for the training of new workers
- for the ministry among the tribes of Peru
- that hearts are opened to the gospel.