SAN LUIS, Peru – Josh Murphree doesn’t live at the ends of the earth, but he says can see it from his back porch.
The Alabama native grins when he says this, but it does take some expert driving to get to San Luis in the Ancash region of Peru, where he lives with his wife Crystal and their two children, Ella and Isaac. Driving to the town deep in the Conchucos Valley from Peru’s capital of Lima entails crossing a mountain range on perilous roads and traversing a 16,043-foot pass.
Like the overwhelming obstacles the mountains can be, Murphree says that life in this remote mountain setting has had its share of struggles.
“It’s been tough to home school. We have been very lonely at times. We’re eight hours away from an ATM or restaurant that won’t make us sick,” Murphree, an IMB missionary, explains. “It’s been tough but very rewarding at the same time. We realize we’re right in the middle of where God wants us to be – even if it’s not the safest place or the easiest place.”
John Grady, an IMB missionary, takes in the view just below the Punta Olympica, a 16,000-foot pass. Although the main mountain roads have been improved significantly in recent years, many ministry locations still remain accessible only with specially outfitted vehicles designed to function at the reduced oxygen levels of the Andes.
Murphree has hiked over mountains, taken hours-long bus rides and crossed some fairly sketchy bridges to reach villages that need the gospel.
The Northern Conchucos Quechua live in this geographically demanding area that provides plenty of obstacles that hamper the spread of the gospel. There, Catholicism has been fused with indigenous animistic beliefs. Biblically-based evangelical believers are much harder to find.
In 2012, student researchers for the Ancash Quechua team – of which the Murphrees are a part – discovered a cluster of five small Baptist churches in the remote Hu·nuco region. Team leader John Grady learned that these fellowships may date back to a Foreign Mission Board missionary who traveled into the area by horseback about 20 years ago and led several people to Christ. In the intervening years the fellowships stayed true to God’s Word, in part because some members in the congregation could read the Bible, which they had in Spanish.
Grady says these five churches are some of the few that have not slipped into heresy.
“A lot of pastors can’t read the Bible and have dismissed it as old news,” he says.
On the edge of the rainy season later that year, Grady, Murphree and another colleague made a trip into Hu·nuco to teach and train there. They traveled in a four-wheel drive truck instead of on horseback, as the earlier missionary had done before roads were built in the area. The villages were seemingly cut off from the outside world in the rugged terrain high above the Maranon River, Murphree says.
“It was amazing to experience a culture that did not depend on outside trade but only from their own crops,” he says. “At the elevation where we stayed most of the people grew potatoes and cold-weather crops, but it was possible on clear days to turn around and see snow in the mountains right behind us.”
When they arrived, Murphree says, there were believers there “with 20 years of questions in the making.” For six days they met with the churches, first in the main town of Huacrachuco, and then journeyed to outlying villages to teach in other fellowships, some of which could only be reached on foot. Many came into the villages from even further out in the mountains in spite of the rains. Several times the missionaries spoke to packed houses. In one village without electricity, they taught into the night by lantern light.
“We were able to spend some time with leaders in the churches, teaching oral means of sharing the Gospel in Quechua through stories,” Murphree explains. “The leaders in the churches were thrilled to learn how to take stories from the Bible in Spanish and craft stories in their own heart language to be shared with those who only speak Quechua.”
When it was time to depart, the missionaries discovered that a bridge they needed to return home over had been destroyed by a mudslide. Because there was no alternative route, road workers placed logs across the gully over which Grady then carefully drove their vehicle. Murphree and other colleagues volunteered to cross on foot.
The Ancash Quechua team is now working with nationals to craft stories from the Bible into Quechua to meet the need for God’s Word in the lives of these and other believers in the mountains. This also will enable believers to share the truths of the Bible in the heart language of the Quechua people.
“So we realize we’ve got to put a lot of our effort into Bible storying, whether it’s teaching the stories to outreach groups and house churches, helping them to multiply our efforts,” Murphree says. The leaders of these small groups have become excited about this way of teaching.
“Rather than preaching on a few verses they said, ‘I’m going to learn these stories and tell people what the Bible says. I want to tell people what God’s Word says. They’ll understand it this way.’”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Elaine Gaston writes for WMU and IMB. The Murphrees were featured in the 2013 International Mission Study on Peru, published by Woman’s Mission Union.)