“City of Kings”
When Francisco Pizarro first founded Lima in 1535, he called his new territory Ciudad de los Reyes – the “City of Kings.” Almost 500 years later, still nestled between an arid plain and the jagged, towering cliffs of the Pacific coastline, the Peruvian capital is the fourth largest city in the Americas. But though they live in Pizarro’s royal city, many of Lima’s 9 million people don’t yet know the King of Kings.
The Peruvian economy’s recent growth has helped strengthen the middle and upper class, but the increase in jobs and educational opportunities has also drawn hundreds of thousands of poor Peruvians from mountain and jungle communities. Coming with little more than the dream of a better future, they pack into the ever-expanding slums that blanket the sand dunes surrounding the city. Those who live in the heart of the capital are often crammed into one of hundreds of overcrowded, impoverished quintas — slums — that riddle the city’s narrow alleys and abandoned apartment buildings.
IMB missionaries Quentin and Gina Roberts work in some of the most unsavory parts of Lima’s downtown sprawl, where their ministries are as varied as the city’s diversity.
“Downtown we have people who live there, come there, work there and visit there,” Gina said. “People come from the mountains, the jungles, the coast. So you can’t have a cookie-cutter ministry where one size fits all. You have to design ministries that are going to meet particular needs that you find. It’s a wide spectrum.”
“It’s a challenging area,” Quentin added. “It’s got prostitution, drugs, incest, the whole nine yards.”
The Robertses hold Bible studies in several quintas. They also teach free weekly English classes in a local seminary downtown. After class, they hold a Bible study for the students in Spanish. They also began a weekly Bible study at a local soup kitchen and another at a hospital for people with HIV.
With the help of a few Peruvians, Gina began a Bible study at a women’s maximum-security prison. They also hope to begin permanent ministries at local orphanages for children abandoned by drug-addicted parents.
The Robertses said that one of the greatest difficulties with ministry in the city is gaining the people’s trust. Many have become hardened by abandonment and dishonesty in the past. When a person comes along offering help, they don’t immediately buy it.
“It takes time to build these relationships,” Quentin said. “They observe, analyze, and critique. It’s all about ‘How long will these people last?’”
One winter, the Robertses held a Bible study on a woman’s front porch every Friday night for six months. Only two people attended.
“They didn’t expect us to stay,” Gina said. “They figured after about two months, we’d just leave like everybody else. So we had to persevere to show them that we were really there because of the Lord, and let that be our testimony.”
Quentin and Gina are currently looking for Peruvian believers willing to lead new ministries in their own city.
“One of the problems with the quintas is we have to find someone willing to lead a church who is from a quinta,” Gina said. “Because they generally aren’t going to accept an outsider. And that’s really hard.”
Pray for the Robertses as they search for Peruvian believers to lead Bible studies in downtown Lima. Pray that God will open doors in the many ministries the Robertses have begun, and that many will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Castles in the sand
While Lima has a large percentage of urban poor —nearly unavoidable in any large city — missionaries in Lima face the growing challenge of reaching the upper class living on the city’s coastal edge.
John Pham, the IMB’s megacity strategist for Lima, says the tendency to focus on impoverished areas can often cause the wealthy unreached to slip unnoticed through the cracks — an oversight he’s praying to avoid.
“The biggest prayer need for Lima is for someone to reach the upper-middle class,” he said. “In my opinion, that’s the new unreached people group of Lima. We can go and there are plenty of missionaries in Lima — both IMB and other [denominations] — and they’re reaching the lower classes and planting churches. There are altogether 300 Baptist churches in Lima alone. But you can’t get churches to plant up economically; they always plant down. So now you have an abundance of churches in the lower classes, but in the growing upper class, I’d say there are three or four. No one’s reaching them.”
The widening divide between the lower and upper class is also causing a religious shift in Lima.
“It’s separating into two cultures,” Pham explained. “In one, you’re dealing with a typical Catholic barrier where they believe in God and Jesus, but it’s that lordship and surrender and trusting only Him. … The barrier is getting them to leave behind Mary and the saints to intercede for them and to leave their system of good works.
- Nickname: The City of Kings
- Founded: January 18, 1535
- Population: 9.4 million
- Area: 1,088 square miles
- Percent evangelical: 10.2%
- Languages: Spanish (84.1%), Quechua (13%), Aymara (1.7%), Ashaninka (0.3%), other native languages (0.7%), other (0.2%)
- Oldest institution of higher learning in the New World: San Marcos University founded 1551
“But among the upper class, what you’re seeing more is post-modernism,” he continued. “They think, ‘Oh, I’ve got money. I’m educated. I don’t need religion.’”
Pham knows that most wealthy Peruvians won’t respond to the same kinds of evangelism and church-planting methods used in poor areas. To try to stimulate church-planting among the wealthy, the IMB team in Lima has partnered with Peruvian Baptists to begin a program called Crecer — Grow — to train church planters and help create a support system to begin new works.
The 15-week church-planting course helps local pastors and rising church-planters learn tools that will help them start new ministries in their communities, many of which are among the upper class. The program also helps connect three or four existing churches in a partnership that will help support the new church, instead of a single church carrying the burden.
“The strategy in the past has been for the IMB to plant churches, then find some local believer to take over the work,” Pham said. “But now, we want to work with national pastors who have a church-planting vision.”
Pham said that U.S. churches will also have a role in supporting these new ministries.
“We try to connect stateside churches with these new works, for medical campaigns, evangelism campaigns, whatever,” he said. “So the idea is to partner with stateside churches and then to offer extended training to continue to train these leaders in their new church plants.”
Within its first year, Crecer has helped begin nearly a dozen new church plants. Some of the training classes were overcrowded, but Pham didn’t want to stop the progress. He also made sure the program was Peruvian-run and not dependent on the IMB.
“All of our classes are going to be taught by nationals,” he said. “The idea is to have Crecer be fully nationally run, so when I’m not here anymore, I can leave it.”
Little China, big need
Towering over a wide side street sprouting from Lima’s city center, a red-and-green archway marks the entrance to Chinatown. The air is thick with the aroma of grilled meat. Little stands cram onto the bustling walkway, showcasing trinkets and herbs among a haze of smoke curling up from miniature Buddha shrines. Shop owners hover in doorways on either side of the road, looking for customers to buy shoes, clothes, cookware, gadgets — almost anything can be bought in Chinatown.
This is the most obvious place in Lima to find Chinese, but it certainly isn’t the only one. Somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 Chinese live in the Peruvian capital. Most work in the thousands of chifas, Chinese restaurants that can be found on just about every street in Lima.
Working with a minority poses a whole new set of challenges for the missionaries among the Chinese.
*David and Grace Wynn are IMB missionaries who learned Spanish working in Paraguay. When they relocated to Lima to work among the Chinese, they quickly realized their Spanish wouldn’t help very much in their ministry. Many Chinese adults in Peru speak minimal Spanish, which isolates them from society.
“There are a lot of Chinese here who are very personable, very caring,” Grace said. “But a lot of times because of the language barrier there and the cultural barrier, a lot of Peruvians don’t go out of their way to build friendships with the Chinese. So they move more within their own circles, and there’s not a lot of interaction with society.”
Since moving to Lima in 2011, David Wynn has taken Chinese classes to communicate with those who don’t speak Spanish. Because the workplace is the best place to find Chinese, he often visits chifas to practice his language and build relationships with the workers.
- Pray that the unreached upper middle class residents of Lima would come to know Christ.
- Pray for training efforts aimed at preparing pastors and other leaders to plant new churches in Lima.
- Pray for U.S. churches as they look for opportunities to join Peruvians in reaching Lima for Christ.
- Pray that the thousands of Chinese living and working in Lima would come to know Christ.
- Pray for IMB personnel working in the poorest and most dangerous areas of Lima.
“Face time is crucial,” he said. “The more times I see them, the more times I eat in a chifa, the more times that I just stick my head in the door and get a water, I think it really paves the road for a friendship.”
A Chinese worker’s job provides an opportunity for a conversation, but it’s also makes it difficult to begin a ministry among the Chinese.
“They work very hard,” Grace said. “They work more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week. The hours that they’re free are not the hours that the majority of people in society are up and awake. They’re free a couple hours in the afternoon, or between 11:30 at night and 4 in the morning.”
IMB missionary *May has the advantage of being a native Chinese-speaker. But even she says it’s difficult to work around the Chinese’ hectic schedules. She visits a different district each day, visiting different chifas and having personal conversations with the employees.
“We have to engage them at the chifa,” she said. “When you build that relationship, you find the opportunity to share the Gospel and you find out their needs. The Chinese, if you help them with something, they feel like they owe you something. And that’s an advantage for ministry, because then they will listen to you.”
May also said there is a huge need for churches in the U.S., especially Chinese-speaking churches, to help reach the hundreds of thousands of Chinese in Lima.
“Chinese are not only in China,” she explained. “A lot of churches send teams to China. But how many of them know about the Chinese here in South and Central America? So we really want them to get the picture. There are so many needs.
“In Lima, we want to build relationships with Peruvian nationals and churches, and get them involved with the Chinese ministry. And I want to establish partnerships with the Chinese churches in the States because our team is small, and there are so many Chinese in Lima, and most of them don’t know Christ.”