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Growing a Healthy Church

Jim Sayers made a field visit to Arequipa, Peru, in March, to visit our workers. Ronny and Rocio Tipismana now lead the church in Simon Bolivar, which is growing fast. Here Jim gives his reflections on what is happening in the church.  


I met Jesus in the doorway. I really did! His name was Jesus and he came up to introduce himself. His name makes you realise that Peru retains much of its Catholic Christian culture. While we laugh at old English names like Ebenezer, Gabriel or Jeremiah, Peru has plenty of people called Maria or Jesus. Yet these people are crowding into a church where the Word of God is central and the gospel is changing lives.


GBM has known this church as ‘Simon Bolivar’, a neighbourhood name, but to local people it is Iglesia Evangelica Bautista de Gracia. On Sunday morning they just kept coming, pulling up every available chair. Thirty children left for their groups and still more people came, filling all seventy chairs. David Rivero, former GBM missionary now pastoring a church in Madrid, was my travelling companion and translator, and he preached with great passion at the morning service. Several other men took part in the service. At the end they asked me to bring a brief greeting, and when I said that despite the distance we in GBM are united with them in Christ, the strong ‘Amen’ from the congregation was the warmest I have known anywhere.


Ronny and Rocio Tipismana are Peruvians who have been supported by GBM as national workers for many years, working to establish this church with Anthony and Roxy Green. When the Greens moved on in August 2017, Ronny became the sole pastor. He has worked hard to take the church to the next stage. In June 2018, seven people were baptised in a lake in a nearby park. In recent months a group has come from a large Prosperity Gospel church in the city centre, tired of the empty promises they heard each week, and hungry for the gospel. They spoke highly to us of the joy of hearing God’s Word week by week and being spiritually fed after so many years of famine.


Growing healthy churches


In the summer of 2017, Ronny and David Rivero attended a ‘church weekender’ at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC, and it was a defining time for Ronny. They listened to Mark Dever and his staff explaining how they work out the ‘9 marks of a healthy church’ in their context, with everything translated into Spanish. Inspired by this, Ronny decided to get David to speak at a pastors’ conference on ecclesiology during our visit to Arequipa. He spoke over three evenings to about thirty pastors and leaders, mostly from the city, thinking through the issues of baptism, membership, communion, eldership, discipline and discipleship.

  

Ronny has established a formal membership, and has gathered a group of the men together to discuss a draft constitution. They are effectively the leadership of the church, and once the church becomes formally constituted they will appoint both elders and deacons, probably next year. The title to the church building is currently vested in GBM Peru, a legal entity that we hope to devolve onto the church once it has been formally constituted. Working through the details of this, with David patiently translating for me, was a long process, and I am thrilled that by the end of our time an agreed action plan was in place to plot the road to full independence for the church.  


The slopes of San Pedro


Outside the city, in the valley that leads south, two rocky hills rise out of the plain. One of these neighbourhoods is known as San Pedro, and it is here that an outreach work has gone on for many years. Many of the early members of the church came from here, and the work continues. They used to use the community centre to host a children’s club, but it was recently upgraded and they often turned up to find it had been double-booked by someone else. Currently, a group of some fifteen people meet in a home, keen to share the gospel with their neighbours, and maybe one day see a daughter church established. Please pray for this work, especially that God will provide gospel workers to lead it. Ronny spent much time here when he and Anthony worked together, but now that he is the sole pastor, he simply doesn’t have the time to run what would be his third Sunday service in San Pedro each week.

  

A movement in Puno


I was woken at 4am on the Thursday morning by what sounded like a truck deep underneath the house, a deep roaring sound that lasted for two minutes. It was an earth tremor, 7.0 on the Richter scale, which is strong even by Peruvian standards. It was noticeable that both missionaries and nationals talked about it with some awe. The epicentre was very deep, which meant it did not cause any damage, and it was centred 300 miles north-east near Puno on Lake Titicaca.

  

Another movement is happening around Puno. During the pastors’ conference we were joined by a small group of pastors who had travelled down by bus from Puno. They are Aymara-speaking, and come from the churches where Pam Butterworth (née Brown) once served with Irish Baptist Missions. I spent two mornings teaching Philippians to them through translation, looking at the themes of discipleship and mission. It was wonderful to enjoy fellowship with them and to hear of how God is using them to grow a movement of churches, already eighteen in number and eager to do more.

 It is wonderful to see God at work in indigenous churches, led by Peruvian nationals, expressing the gospel in their own languages, and developing churches that are a living embodiment of the gospel in Peruvian culture.