Advance in the Altiplano
As we walked off the airplane and down the stairs toward the airport, there was no question that we were not in Lima any more. It was the Peruvian summertime, but it was not the stereotypical equatorial summer that greeted us as we disembarked. We had just left the coastal capital of Lima and had landed in the Altiplano, the Spanish word meaning “high plane.” As we walked toward the airport, we were thankful that the sun was shining down upon us and that our jackets were not buried in our checked luggage. The welcoming sign above the terminal gave a fitting introduction. It read: Juliaca, Peru, 3,825 meters (12,550 feet). We had just landed in the most extensive high plateau in the world, excepting the Himalayan-bordered Tibetan Plateau. In the widest spot of the Andes Mountains is this high prairie, surrounded on all sides by the even higher Andean peaks. This high plane is higher than many mountains in the lower 48 states of the United States and thus requires some ingenuity to live there.
The brethren met us at the airport and escorted us to the home where we would be staying, where our rooms were located on the third floor. After carrying our luggage up the stairs, it was clear that we were not in the lowlands anymore. What would not normally have required much exertion left us breathing much more deeply than normal. At these higher elevations, warmth and oxygen are both present, but not in high doses.
Dr. Franco Monteza, his wife and their two daughters and I had arrived, after a brief stop in Lima, to assist the brethren of Gethsemane Church of Juliaca, Peru, in their outreach efforts, and now we were seeking to acclimatize before the busy schedule began the next day. As I snuggled into the alpaca blankets that evening, my mind was processing the new environment. My mind drifted back to my childhood. I thought of studying about Lake Titicaca in social studies classes and the natives dwelling on and around the lake. I could still remember the desire that was born in my heart as we studied this region to go as a missionary and to help the people here. It was the first time that I can recall a desire to work for the Lord being planted in my mind.
As we learned the truths of the Three Angels’ Messages and became Seventh-day Adventists, this conviction only deepened. On Friday evenings, as our family would gather for worship and read mission stories, we came across books about Fernando and Ana Stahl, some of the pioneering missionaries in the Lake Titicaca region. I have never forgotten that boyhood dream, although twenty years before, and now I was here!
Life here had definitely changed since the Stahls had labored here. Modernization had set in. The educational system that the Stahls brought for the natives has given thousands the access to education that was not available before. Social reforms have broken down many of the class barriers, but yet much is still the same, too.
The elevation, one of the greatest challenges many early missionaries faced, still challanges. The weather still brings the summer highs to the 60s (Fahrenheit) with the nights dropping down into the 30s (0 Celsius) and below year around.
In the cities now some may live in concrete homes instead of mud and rock, but with almost no wood or heating source in this high prairie, the homes are anything but warm, so most still dress in many layers of sheep and alpaca wool. The traditional dress of alpaca ponchos is still donned by many, and the elderly still chew coca leaves (used to make cocaine) in the morning to warm them up.
Quinoa and potatoes are still about the only thing that can grow here, and sheep, alpacas and llamas are still probably more numerous than the people.
Seventh-day Adventism has grown greatly and increased from the work started by Stahls and others, but there are still thousands needing to hear the message of mercy for the first time, too.
As I drifted off to sleep, I was thankful to the Lord that He had called me to become a worker in His vineyard, and I was excited to see how the Lord was going to work in this new mission experience, a fulfillment of my dreams of years before.
We had been invited by this group of faithful believers for a broad-reaching outreach program. Our program began at 6:30 each morning with a training program for those interested in doing Bible work and being missionaries for the Master. Some came from their market booths at which they had been selling for a couple of hours already. For others, our meetings, which began just as the sun peaked over the mountains, were the start of their day. We covered subjects such as how to answer various objections that people raise, how to give Bible studies and more.
Eric Rosa, who had graduated from Taquara Institute missionary training school in Brazil, and I shared these classes, and many youth and others were encouraged to pray for the Lord to lead them to those with whom they could study the Bible. After a break for breakfast, we would be back at the church for a free health clinic. Church members, friends or contacts from the community would come and receive advice regarding whatever health issues they might be facing. Dr. Monteza dealt with their physical maladies while we would pray with and counsel those who had
spiritual or family issues. As always, there is much hurt in the world and much need for prayerful encouragement. Then in the evening, the evangelistic program in the center of town was held.
As we began the work, the devil was obviously attempting to hinder the work that the Lord was doing. When we started planning the program, the father of the coordinating and motivating family within the church became very ill. After seeing several doctors and tending to his needs, it was thought that he had some form of cancer. They began treating him and doing what they could, but as the meetings progressed, this faithful brother fell asleep in the Lord. While many of the workers were required to attend to the needs of their father and then funeral arrangements, the work went on. Another major obstacle that we faced at times was the torrential rain. One day on the way to the meetings, we were riding in a little motorcycle taxi, but we thought that perhaps it was an amphibious vehicle. The rain came down so hard it turned the roadways into traffic-congested rivers. There was barely a day that it did not rain, but the meetings went on and people kept coming.
As we neared the end of the meetings, there were many people that we knew needed to continue with Bible studies to be grounded in the message they were learning. We thought that this would be an ideal opportunity for those who had been coming to the Bible worker training program to put into practice the principles they had been learning. After visiting with one of the newcomers, we suggested to one of the workers, Aydee, that she start Bible studies with her. This faithful worker said that she had already started Bible studies with this young lady and with several others who had come to the meetings, as well. She was planning on using her newly acquired skills for the Master.
The last Sabbath that we were in Juliaca, one lady who had been attending the meetings came forward and gave her testimony of how the Lord had brought her. She had been walking down the street and had come across some litter in the road. She stopped to pick it up and brought it home. As curiosity got the best of her, she cleaned off the muddy and crumpled paper to discover that it was an invitation to our prophecy meetings. She determined to start coming and was so thankful for the truths that she discovered. There were many others from the youth to the elderly who were touched and made decisions for the Master. We praise the Lord that He led us to souls who were honest in heart and searching for truth in the Altiplano.
While twenty years ago it seemed little more than a pipe dream that the Lord would ever call me to minister for Him in this far off land, the Lord had other plans. As the Lord opened the door for us to travel and minister and as faithful brethren continue to share the message of truth, His truth is advancing in the Altiplano.
By Cody Francis. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org. Mission Projects International, PO Box 59656, Renton, WA 98058.