Gaining New Perspectives of God's Reign in Peru
by Hunter Farrell (MDiv '86)
Like many other students in Fuller's Cross-Cultural Studies program, I had benefited from a brief taste of international mission--a volunteer year in Africa--before arriving on Fuller's campus in August 1983 hungry for tools to work more effectively out on "the mission field."
The theoretical and practical insights of the School of World Mission faculty, together with the often surprising and profound perspectives of the international Christian leaders with whom we studied at Fuller, were precisely what I needed to return to work in theological education and Christian community development in the Congo, and more recently, in Peru. My training at Fuller motivated me to pursue advanced academic work in African traditional religions in Paris and in Andean anthropology at the Catholic University of Peru, because I wanted to do everything I could to be prepared for the difficult task of reaching people for Christ.
Yet, often, in the midst of all my efforts to take God's healing power out to "the mission field," God's Spirit has surprised me by changing the locus of change from "them" to "me." In a national context of increasing poverty, unemployment, and reduced government services such as education and healthcare, the following encounter with a group of landless farmers on Peru's northern desert coast illustrates this movement of God's Spirit.
I'm standing in the middle of Peru's coastal desert a million miles from nowhere, wondering what in the heck I'm doing here. Miles and miles of sand and broken rock frame the horizon as the relentless sun beats down.
"It's just ahead, brother. Can you see it yet?"
"Definitely not," I think to myself.
My church had asked me to visit the Haya de la Torre Association, a group of landless farmers who had been working together once each week for 16 years in an attempt to cut a 1.4 mile-long irrigation canal out of solid rock. The canal would irrigate 2,700 acres of parched land and provide them with land for themselves and their children after them. With only 124 yards left to complete the project, they had requested help from our church to rent the heavy machinery necessary to blast and cart away the rock.
The connection between the association and my church was a bit of a stretch in the first place. The association members I had met were a hard-working, hard-drinking group of folk Catholics whose beliefs bore little resemblance to our own Westminster Confession and reformed doctrine. Historic Spanish Catholic images seemed but a thin veneer covering a traditional Andean pantheon of deities--Our Lord of Miracles, the Virgin of the Door, the Lord of Muruhuay, etc. Spiritually, these are needy people, I thought.
I took one look at the granite mountain in front of us and chuckled to myself. It looked like pure foolishness. But I guess I'd never seen faith really move mountains before.
A charter member of the association, 68-year-old Alicia Moraga, showed me the 1.3 mile ditch already cut and carefully lined with rock. Using ancient pre-Incan technology, the community had coaxed water out of the Huara River higher up in the valley and brought it to within reach of their goal.
I looked at Alicia, perplexed. "Sixteen years? What kept you going, señora?" I asked. Now it was Alicia's turn to be perplexed. "But you should know about faith, brother!" she replied. "We want our children to have a better life than we've had, and they'll need land for that."
All along Peru's bone-dry Pacific coast, the equation is simple: Land + Water = Life. And the association had bet on the fact that if they could bring water to the arid, unclaimed land overlooking the town of Humaya, they could obtain that land - about 40 acres for each family. The risks were phenomenal. But the promise of a future for their children was greater.
I was speechless. The thought of dirt-poor peasants working for 16 years with picks and shovels on a wing and a prayer made my definition of faith look pretty wimpy. Though no one in the group makes more than US$3 per day, they had already raised several hundred dollars for a hydrological study and had successfully battled both a mining company and the government to retain title to the arid land (once it became clear that the irrigation project might succeed, you'd be amazed at who all became interested in the project!).
Knowing what I do about community development, I hardly gave a second glance to the irrigation project--on paper, the whole thing just looked impossible. There was nothing feasible about it, except that it is a community-developed response to a critical problem as defined by the people themselves: the desperate need for arable land. I smiled as I suddenly realized our God's remarkable sense of humor. My mind was focused on feasibility studies and theological purity, while the Spirit was moving mountains to bring life-giving water to Alicia's children. Because of the differences between us, I had placed Alicia and friends in the "unreached people" category--they had become the objects of my mission. But the Holy Spirit used Alicia to touch an unreached place of my heart and transform me into Alicia's fellow laborer in God's mission.
Then Alicia and the association women brought out a "meal to end all meals"--bowls of fish and rice, choclo (Andean maize) and camote (sweet potato), watermelon, and sweet, black coffee. And in that breaking of the bread, I saw an image for my own missionary career. Here I have all the tools you can imagine to respond to the poor people's spiritual, economic, and social needs--education, financial resources, and connections galore--yet I'm the one who's constantly on the receiving end of things. More often than not, poor folks are always outgiving me and I find myself eating somebody's last chicken or drinking their last liter of clean water. Scripture teaches us that we walk in God's way by loving God and loving our neighbor. Though I represent one of the wealthiest denominations in the world's wealthiest nation, it is the poor who are teaching me what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
And so in Humaya, Alicia Moraga and her small band of landless farmers are opening up a small piece of God's reign to provide a hope and an inheritance for their children. And I'm thankful to Alicia and her friends because they have shared with me a faith that moves mountains.
"Can you see it yet?"
Hunter Farrell is an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and, with his wife, Ruth, has worked with the church's Worldwide Ministries Division in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (ex-Zaire), the United States, and Peru since graduating from Fuller in 1986. While at Fuller, Ruth served as the director of Student Financial Aid. You can write to Hunter at email@example.com.