Quinto is a farmer and a pastor. He can tell Bible stories--in fact, he knows the whole Bible in story form. He needs (and wants) to study more, but his study and reading skills aren’t at a college level. He meets with a small group of pastors who pray for and help one another. They all want and need to learn more. They’re more fluent in Quechua than in Spanish, where sometimes they struggle to understand. Quinto and the other pastors live in small mountain communities, far from any major population center. It’s a hard and costly trip to get there from just about anywhere.
Ronny has degrees in education, missions, and theology, and an intense desire to help rural pastors, but he needs to teach in a Christian school to support his young family. He would love to go teach pastors all the time, but in reality, he can only get away once or twice a year. Peruvian churches don´t support missions beyond local evangelism or the occasional church plant, and foreign mission associations have a hard time raising money for Peruvian teachers.
These two men exemplify the big problem that we have in pastoral training in Peru. The amazing spread of the gospel in the twentieth century produced many little churches throughout the country, but the cost and difficulty of traveling the rugged terrain and distances (Peru is twice as big as Texas), make it hard to for trained teachers to reach the pastors and churches with the training they need to fulfill the Great Commission and make disciples.
The stakes are high. Churches flourish for a while in the wake of the first wave of evangelistic Bible teaching but don’t establish solid programs of discipleship and pastoral training. They then succumb to cults or become nominal Christians. These call themselves evangelicals but regress to their old pagan customs, while adding Christ to the mix. One pastor told Mike, “We know that Christ died for us and will take us to heaven, but here and now the apus (mountain spirits) can kill us, so we have to make sacrifices to them.”We see here how true it is that the church is always only one generation from extinction. We once had a visiting team teach evangelism to pastors and church leaders in the mountainous Apurimac region, which received the gospel in the 1930s and 40s. Over 200 of the leaders and pastors attending heard the gospel for the first time and accepted Christ.
They're called Christians, but they don't know the basic teachings of Christianity--God loves us, but we have all sinned, and the penalty is death. Christ lived a sinless life, died to pay the penalty for our sins, and rose again showing His triumph over sin and the grave so that those who accept Him as their savior receive eternal life and are reconciled to God. These “Christians” falsely depend on church attendance or rules such as “don’t dance” or “don’t drink” for their salvation.
Maybe you think that massive fundraising is the answer. We don’t think so. We see that dependence on foreign money and teachers is how the Peruvian church got into this weak and dependent state. It’s one thing to help the church get on a stable footing so it can grow, and quite another to start schools that are perpetually dependent on foreign funds.
So what can we do? We think it’s time to use the internet as a tool to bring teachers and students together. All around Peru, in remote locations, we meet people who have email. The Peruvian postal service isn’t reliable. Rural people receive mail either from someone carrying it to them personally or by going to town for their email. Towns have internet cabinas, which are businesses that rent computers by the hour. The people pay a sol or two to read their email and chat online.
Some rural people access the internet by smartphones, which are making inroads into remote areas. As more and more cell phone towers are constructed, more and more rural pastors have their own smartphone with internet access, though landlines have never reached their area. More and more young people are internet-savvy, though their parents grew up without telephone and electricity. So while traditional mail correspondence school still would not work, internet-based classes are now accessible to many.
Online video, another advantage over the traditional distance course, makes it easier for people with lower reading comprehension to study. We are not backing off on Bible literacy and Bible distribution, but many people in rural Peru learn by hearing and seeing much better than they do by reading.
We’ve thought about this for a long time. One of the hallmarks of our Peruvian ministry organization is that the teaching is practical and understandable. When we’re teaching students, we’re right there to see if they get it or not, and we can encourage them, change up, or get someone to explain it in the local language if their Spanish comprehension is the problem. We weren’t sure how to do that with online studies.
Our solution is to train facilitators who’ll guide the local classes. The facilitators need to be biblically trained and internet savvy people who share the ministry vision for Biblical training. They’ll run the classes and scheduling, and guide the discussions, using a downloadable teachers’ guide. Many of our students that graduated from the seminary or mobile institute are able to do this. Other missionaries are interested in using the classes, and they too are qualified facilitators. We can also train pastors or teachers in an area to do this in a relatively short time.
So how will this look? Quinto, the pastor at the beginning of our story, can study with his local group. Since the group is fairly small, they can watch on one computer that belongs to the local facilitator. In other towns, the group may all go to an internet cabina together. One pastor already has plans to download the videos and show them with a projector in church.
Ronny can write his class and record teaching videos at his church or in his office. Students can ask him questions in a chat group if they wish, and he will communicate with facilitators by phone or email according to his preference.
We have other teachers like Ronny available. Some of these can record classes in Quechua. Mike is going to start recording classes in January.
We are excited at this opportunity to bring teachers and students together using the internet. We think that this is the tool that God has provided for His people in Peru at this time.
So, how can you be part of this?
- Pray specifically for the internet ministry.
- If you speak Spanish or Quechua and have theological training, you can teach and record classes.
- Communicate with us. Some of you have good ideas to share. Some of you have probably recorded Youtube videos or done online teaching. Please share your tips!
- Give for infrastructure. We don’t plan to do this in a big fancy way (that just makes it impossible for the ministry to be self-sustaining) but we do need lights and some good microphones.
- It would be a big help to give money for the expenses of the teachers and facilitators. These people will be working as volunteers, but they will have to pay for supplies, etc., and for some of them that is a stretch. $20 a month could be a big help.