January has been a month of transitions and new developments.
Mid-January we flew to Bolivia where we completed the “overseas” part of the residency process. We could have simply gone down the coast to Chile (same distance) and done it at the seashore town of Arica, but we wanted to explore another part of South America and see what God is doing elsewhere. I have been fascinated by the Anglican ministry in Bolivia ever since Frank Lyons became bishop. We were able to visit Curt and Paola Little in La Paz, which was a delight. Curt, Polly and I were on the same SAMS discernment conference three years ago. Curt is now married to Paola and their first child is due in February. Currently they are involved with youth ministry in La Paz, but hope to move on to a more rural area about six hours away where they will work with children in the “selva.” We hope to see them again!
Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, was a stretching experience for us. La Paz is huge (two million), and the city center is well developed with businesses, restaurants, hotels, historic buildings, churches, cobbled streets, markets and cultural museums. We were surrounded by busy people on their way to work and others patiently standing in long lines at government offices. Often, eyes were downcast. Many women wore colorful traditional dress from the colonial Spanish era: bombin (hats), shawls and multiple petticoats. Many police strolled the streets and directed traffic. Rarely did they smile or greet the people the way they do here in Peru. It was hard to find a smiling Bolivian! My sense was one of heaviness and oppression. This makes the ministry of Christian folk all the more vital and the Anglican Mission in particular. I think of the words of John 20:30f –
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (ESV)
Meanwhile the residency process continues to make its expensive progress. We have returned with our new category of “Religioso no Catolico.” The Peruvian police and Interpol now have our mug shots, fingerprints and dental records on file, and the FBI have been asked for a report. We hope next week to receive our “Carnets Extranjeros,” which will make us legally resident for our ministry here in Peru. This is important because when we flew down here in November, the airline did not want us to board since our return flights were dated after the current 90 day visa would have expired. God intervened. It does get confusing as the rules change on a regular basis. One of the things that MTI (one of the best trainings that I have ever experienced and mandatory for all SAMS missionaries) reminded us of is that we must learn patience. Hopefully, the Spirit is at work within us, changing us (2 Cor. 3:18).
For a while I have been in the nomination process as one of the area assistant bishops here in Peru. I am no longer in the process. The nominating college wants people with better Spanish skills and longer familiarity with Latin culture. I was honored to be considered and nominated by the group in Arequipa. I am deeply committed to the raising up of Peruvian clergy, bishops and leaders. There will need to be more time before all the bishops can be Peruvian. I have committed, and will dedicate, my time, to that leadership development. We shall see what God will do!
Flexibility seems to be the recurring lesson of being on the mission field in a fluid and growing place. Here we have a Diocese and a nascent structure that is seeking to serve the mission of God’s Church. That is the way it should and must be. Tragically, we see so often the Church become an institution and not an organism. The institution becomes self-serving rather than serving God’s mission. To be the “Body of Christ” is to find our identity with Jesus and the Apostles. We believe passionately in the Church and the need for it to be visible in our world, but never to the extent that the visible Church be confused with buildings that demand our worship (as did the Temple in Jerusalem of Jesus’ time). These buildings, grand or modest, are places where the light of Christ is present so as to shine into their community. Their purpose is to manifest Jesus through the people who worship in them and go out from them to bring Jesus Christ to our suffering world.
Here in Peru we are not known for our buildings. I pray that we are known for our ministry among the people of Peru, especially the poor and the marginalized. As part of the missionary community, we walk alongside and serve the Peruvian Church and the people of Peru. We seek to serve the people and develop their mission and leadership. I pray that we will always step aside and rejoice as new leaders emerge and shoulder the roles that God has for them. The huge privilege is not only to see that happen but to help that happen. My mentor in this is John the Baptist.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30 (ESV)