These workshops are opportunities for the believers in the area to get together and pray together, break bread together, worship together, encourage one another, and study God’s Word together. Ok, so why the “together” mantra you ask? On the river where we are serving, one of the biggest challenges is how disperse the population is. There’s an estimated indigenous population of roughly 11,000 people scattered throughout close to 20 villages (that does not include the large non-indigenous population & towns as well). Imagine having a few believers spread out hours and sometimes, days apart all along a huge river, where resources for traveling between villages are hard to come by for the people.
One of the keys to a healthy believer is the opportunity to be encouraged and supported by a local group of believers, which is why our ministry can be summed up as church planting. :)
We were so blessed to have a 4 person team (Karina, Max, Fabio, and Gerzon) from Pucallpa join us! I can’t say enough how the Lord used them all to bless and encourage the people. We also had our core team, Jamer and Isabel, Tim, Ruth, and Abi with us (Ruth officially joined our team after this trip, and we already see Abi as part of the team, even though that decision is pending). Geny, the wife of a pastor in one of the towns downriver, also joined us. She and her husband have been a huge help over the years in ministry on the river!
-As we were returning from our missions’ trianual conference to the river, two of our teammates didn’t make their flights, and it just so happened that there weren’t any more flights for several days.
-Before that, the leadership from the host village had let us know that one of the leader’s wives had suddenly been diagnosed with Turburculosis, which meant that one of the key families in the church (and one of the strongest) would largely be absent as she needed to be quaritined in a hospital several hours away to receive treatment. Not only were we concerned about her, but also for her husband, kids, close family, other believers from the village, and others close to her - did they perhaps have TB too??
-With all that was happening the host village was suddenly unsure if they would be able to receive all the believers from different villages. They were discouraged and not sure if there would be enough food.
-Also, the other gal who had agreed to help me teach the ladies’ classes that week (so that I wouldn’t have to take on the load of teaching 6+ hours a day) called a week before to tell me she wouldn’t make it because of a family situation that had come up, so all of her teaching would fall on me with no time to prepare.
-One of the leaders of the church on the river was under suspicion of being unfaithful to his late wife who had passed away. His family did not approve of his remarriage, and so they were doing their best to destroy his reputation as a Christian by making up stories about him having an affair with his current wife before his late wife had passed away. In so doing, those family members were ("are" - its an on-going problem) dragging our small, growing Christian community through the muck, which of course was causing many of the believers from different villages to get sucked into the community gossip about the Christian leader and of course, they were wondering how someone they respect and look up to could do something like that.
-Nemo and I ended up having a legal document that had to be sent before we left, and after days of trying to complete the process before hand with no success (The due date for the document literally fell the day after a 3 week vacation for the whole office! go figure…), Nemo ended up not being able to make it to the workshop either, so I felt incredibly alone with everything piling up around the workshop.
-Half of the food for the week also ended up getting lost along the way, and the first day we arrived, none of the hosting believers were there to receive us, so there was no place ready to cook, no pans, little to no food, and lots of mouths to feed.
Needless to say, I cried a lot the first couple of days as we traveled the 3 days to the village where the workshop would be held. My conversations with the Lord went something like this:
"Lord, the believers from all the different villages are sacrificing so much to be present this week, and it is literally the first time in six months that many of them have had the opportunity to be surrounded with like-minded, fellow-believers! Why is everything going so wrong?! We can't afford to fall short in completing our part of the bargain to be prepared to encourage them from your Word. But how are we going to do that if half of the teachers do not show up or are discredited in the mind of the people??! What will the believers think of our commit to them and the gospel if we can't even show up and be prepared?"
Anyway, you get a rough idea perhaps where my heart and head was. We've never had so many things go so wrong before one of these workshops, and boy, did I struggle with what I was seeing and feeling. Thankfully, the truth that I couldn't see, and was struggling to hold on to, was that the Lord hadn't abandoned us. Not once.
After everything that could possibly go wrong had gone wrong, Sunday night, the day before the workshop was scheduled to start, right before dark, almost everyone showed up, litterally at the last possible moment – all the canoes packed full of believers from upriver and even our two teammates, the pastor of the host village, and the gal who ended up being able to make it in the end to help me with the teaching that week - they all made it! Even the food that had gotten lost on the way, showed up. Thank the Lord!
The week went almost smoothly after we got started on Monday, and it ended up being an amazing week!
-The Lord provided more than enough salted fish and game to the extent that some was left over.
-Several of the older believers continue to bring their new disciples with them – those from their village who they are sharing the gospel with! All of those who were baptized were those who had been brought and already taught by the older believers in their villages.
-In the group of ladies, there was over 30 the whole week! Even with long hours sitting on the floor with the heat making us wish for a nap, they didn’t miss one session. There were 3 men's groups, and they also attended and studied faithfully.
-Every night a representive from the 4 discipleship groups presented one of the stories they had learned that day from memory!
-There was a good group of young people who stayed with us throughout the sessions that week, tracking with all that we were learning – and they were even quicker to respond and share in our sessions than the older believers at times!
-It was so apparent that the people loved their time together, especially each night when we had church services. Each night, they would still be going strong when the power from the generater would finally go out.
-The kids loved the program that the team from Pucallpa organized for them each afternoon! One of the ladies told me that a few of the parents in the village who are not in favor of the church had threated their kids and told them not to go to the kids program. She then laughed and said that they went every day any way. It was too much fun to resist!
-There was a big group who decided to be baptised as well! We spent time beforehand with each of them individually making sure they were ready.
And that's just a few of the highlights from the village in August! So thankful that the Lord held me together with all the stretching situations we faced. It was not an easy week, but the Lord is obviously at work!