It’s Sunday morning in Arequipa, Peru, and ten people sit around the table listening to the lesson given by Craig Querfeld, TEAM missionary and leader of the El Camino church planting team.
Each of these people sitting at this table represent a door opening into various communities and social circles of Arequipa. Each of them provides another avenue or way for the Gospel to spread in southern Peru. Each of them is a testimony that God is using this church to impact this nation, strongly imprinted by its traditional religious past, with a fresh and powerful expression of the Kingdom of God. It has not always been this way.
In the 16th century, the Spanish conquistadors used Catholicism as a means of control within the claimed and colonized lands. The strength of the church, woven together tightly with the government, reached into every Latin American life and influenced decisions and actions from cradle to grave. In recent years, an effort to find common ground between the Catholic Church and Protestants is causing Catholic Church leaders to ask people, “Why leave the Catholic Church to attend another church? We are very similar, and it could save you all the trouble of changing so much of your life.” It is true that leaving the Catholic Church could bring repercussions, maybe exclusion from one’s family. Therefore, Latins are very cautious and can often be resistant to the Evangelical church, knowing that this change would completely transform their lives.
In August of 1999, Craig and Sue Querfeld arrived in Arequipa to begin building relationships and to get to know the city that is often referred to as “the Rome of southern Peru,” due to its impressive architecture and central importance in the religious tradition of the nation.
This was the humble beginning of a missionary church planting team that now consists of the Querfelds, Brad and Lori Quiring, Bob and Ruth Wantz, and Kathi Small. The first service for the El Camino church was actually held on Easter Sunday 2001. For the first month of the ministry in Arequipa, El Camino met in the home of the Querfelds. Then, for the next four years, the church met in a rented house. Children’s clubs and English classes were a significant part of the ministry reaching into the community. These were the bridges by which people connected relationally with church and were exposed to the Gospel. For many, the difficult journey toward becoming disciples started here.
The continual struggle to grow committed disciples of Christ stems from the strong grip of culturally traditional Christendom on social and religious status within the country of Peru. Craig said he was “surprised by how quickly the church was up and running, but unpleasantly surprised at how hard it is to get the leadership up and running.” People show interest in these classes, but making a strong commitment to the Evangelical church becomes tough for Peruvians because of the social culture.
Two lay religious movements, Opus Dei and Soladicio, hold many of the upper class captive, for these religious ties also establish social status. To attend an Evangelical church would most likely remove one from a specific social circle, thus making it a hard decision for a Peruvian to identify as an Evangelical follower of Jesus Christ.
Kathi Small, a TEAM missionary who transferred to Peru from the Venezuelan ministry area, brought ideas that improved the El Camino discipleship program. Craig stated that they began to see a difference. Now participants are better helped to realize their potential and who they are in Christ through the Victorious Christian Living curriculum, which Kathi helped to introduce. 2009 is the year that El Camino will focus on the training and empowering of new leaders. There are a number of members who feel the Lord leading them into a ministry, and the leadership at El Camino wants to focus on their training. Gabriel and Claudia Pezo, owners of a print shop in Arequipa, are examples of those who have been attending El Camino for some time and are now stepping into ministry leadership. One day Gabriel approached Craig and expressed his desire for more – more training, more discipleship…more chances for ministry. Gabriel now teaches the second level of the discipleship class at El Camino.
This increasing desire for more in Christ has also prodded many church members to reach out to those who are less fortunate. For about five years now, El Camino has been involved in a community called Cuidad de Dios on the outskirts of Arequipa. Every Sunday, a team goes out to lead a children’s club, sing songs, teach a Bible lesson, and play with the kids. Through this ministry, many now realize their ability to reach out and make a difference. They feel that they have permission to respond to a burden or a need that they see. They feel unleashed and confident – ready to start reaching into their own social circles. Now the vision of a “church reproducing itself” is becoming a reality. Women are asking to do Bible studies with the women of Cuidad de Dios. Couples are beginning to ask what it would look like to begin a ministry to families there, and one member of El Camino even asked about the possibility of planting a church!
The model of establishing churches that would be high profile and, by design and intent, make an impact upon their immediate social settings has been a strategic model actively pursued in Colombia. The name that describes these churches in Colombia, Honduras, and Nicaragua, Impacto, arose organically from the vocabulary of those in Colombia. Just across the border to the east, in Venezuela, a similar term, “impact churches,” was used to describe the influence these churches were making in their communities. Craig Querfeld stated that when the Arequipa church was beginning and they were looking at the impact church model, he wondered where and when the impact would take place. But as they faced and overcame daily challenges and struggles, this church in Arequipa definitely began to impact the community around them. It started by impacting its members and drawing them deeper into a relationship with Jesus. Now they are seeing those members rising up and desiring to impact their circles of influence.
This process of church growth is happening elsewhere in Peru, as well. In northwestern Peru, in the city of Piura, a new church plant, Alianza Familiar, began to meet in May of 2008. This work in Piura is a partnership with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) church in Miraflores, the residential district of Lima, Peru, and TEAM. The CMA church in Miraflores sent one of their pastors, Jorge Merino and his wife July, to lead the church planting team, along with Marco and Mariana to lead the youth and music. Brenda Matthews, a TEAM missionary transferring from the Venezuelan ministry area, will join the team in late 2009 and focus on discipleship and the children’s ministry.
A recent community evangelistic event, on October 31, 2008, was a major push in Piura for Alianza Familiar and a team from CMA Miraflores. Asking the question “What Happens After Death,” this event attracted a number of visitors, and 112 people made decisions for Christ. As this young church strategically develops their discipleship program to care for these new believers, there is a great opportunity for them to impact the middle and upper class of this historic city of Peru.
-Written by Robert Johnson
-Photography by Robert Johnson
[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, March 2009]Download This Issue of TEAMHorizons