We finished up another retreat today with 14 people, and it is just one of those days when I am reminded of the reason I am here. It is one of those days when every sacrifice I have made to be here, every struggle I have gone through, every moment I have felt alone, and every moment I have spent praying 100% worth it. Listening to each of them, knowing their stories, and seeing how God has been working in their lives during the past two years I have been here has filled me with such peace and contentment. The idea of leaving in December is heartbreaking. Many of the people in this past retreat are not new to our church, they are people we have known at least 6 months to 1 1/2 years, they have flitted in and out, and we are finally seeing growth. I want to share a few brief testimonies to help you understand what I mean.
Samuel’s Story- In the first several months of our planting the church I ran to a local corner store to buy a few things before church. The youth behind the counter asked if I was Mexican, and that led to me explaining where I was from, why I was here, and an invitation to our church service a few hours later. He promised to come, and then never showed up. Surprisingly, a few weeks later he showed up, later he accepted Christ and from there he sporadically came to church and Casas Abiertas, sometimes disappearing for months at a time. We encouraged him to come to a retreat, to take discipleship classes, and he never did. Honestly we had kind of given up on him, but a few weeks ago he showed up at church again and then decided to come to the retreat. God has totally changed his heart. This morning we had a really good chat at the retreat, he asked how I decided to be a missionary, and why, and a lot of other questions, saying he is feeling God doing something in him. He also decided to get baptized today, and during his testimony shared that he feels called to share with people about Salvation. It was so amazing, and so encouraging! God used one small encounter at a corner store to transform life, all I had to do was invite him, opening up that door, and God has done the rest.
Lisbeth’s Story– Lisbeth is one of our contacts we have known for a while now. She used to be a part of a Charismatic Catholic group, but stopped attending after she fell into sin and drifted away from God. She was living for herself and her own desires while knowing in the back of her mind that the way she was living was wrong. Brenda and I have been meeting with her regularly for over 6 months, encouraging her in her faith, helping her to take the steps necessary to change her situation and live for Christ, free from the chains of sin. It has been a long, hard, and emotional road, but Lisbeth has found forgiveness and new life in Christ. She is walking in her new-found identity, confident of God’s love and with a desire to reach others with the truth. She has been trying to attend a retreat for months now, but every time her workplace refused to give her time off. The morning we left for the retreat she called crying because her supervisor would not give her permission to leave, but through prayer and the decision to put God first, she was granted permission at the last moment and arrived just in time to start with the rest of the group. I think this weekend was just what she needed to break the final ties and old habits and surrender everything to Christ. She also was baptized this afternoon, and I am filled with joy and excitement to see what God is going to do next in her life. This young woman is filled with the joy of the Lord and has a real hunger and thirst for God.
Ralph’s Story- Honestly, I don’t know Ralph that well. He is one of the young men we invited off the street to join us in our picture scavenger hunt evangelism event in February. He came, accepted Christ, and then sporadically came to church from time to time. The guys tried following up, but he never appeared that interested. Then this last week he signed up for the retreat. Honestly, most of us didn’t really remember who he was. He is quiet and reserved… but when he shared his testimony today it was powerful. He shared how he always looked to fill the holes in his life, but never found fulfillment. He never realized that the love of God could fill any and every hole he had. He encouraged other to go to the retreat and has decided to get baptized as well. His powerful testimony makes me want to stay longer to see how God is going to use Him and many others to expand his kingdom as they grow and mature in their faith.
Fernando, Lupe, and Melizza– Fernando, one of our contacts and now leaders attended one of our retreats in February. Since that point his life has radically changed and he has surrendered everything to Christ. His desire since that retreat is that his family would go, specifically his mom Lupe. His mom is by tradition Catholic, and His new-found faith has at times been a point of conflict between them. We have been in prayer with Fernando, visiting his mom, encouraging her to attend a retreat, but every time the retreat came around there was the excuse of work or health, etc. Honestly Brenda and I had almost given up, but not Fernando. Last week during 4am prayer he prayed that he would say to his mom “Your going to the retreat and that she would respond positively, for the first time”. The next morning he spoke to her and she responded Yes, saying she was going to bring Melizza, Fernando’s sister with her. Fernando told me he just about fell out of his chair. This past weekend at the retreat God opened his mother’s eyes. Helping her to find true peace that can only come through Christ. Little by little Christ is drawing Fernando’s family to himself. Fernando’s sister has historically been even more opposed to his Christian faith, and really didn’t want to be at the retreat, but God has begun doing his work, opening her eyes as she enjoyed the different themes and has a new-found interest in the things of God after being loved on and encouraged by each person at the retreat.
There are so many unique stories to share, so many lives transformed. This past weekend we have seen marriages restored, forgiveness found, restoration received, and hearts changed as God’s Holy Spirit was at work during the retreat. We also had one of the pastoral candidates with us this weekend as he ministered with us into the lives of these children of God. Today I realized just how much I want to see the continued growth of each one of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I know God has huge plans for each one of them and will continue to carry-on his work here in Arequipa even after we leave. I am just so thankful that God has given me the opportunity to serve the people of Peru and to see lives transformed. I just want to sing his praises for all he has done and is doing!
I recently had the opportunity to use a few of my free days to travel to Machu Picchu, celebrating my two year anniversary here in Peru. I had an amazing time and felt so refreshed after spending a few days outside of the city.
Finally, if you know me at all, you know I like animals. Last week I received a little lizard as a gift from my friend. It needs a name.