It’s three in the morning and I’m hot. I’d been travelling for 24 hours when I arrived yesterday and now I’ve been bitten by something which has got through the mosquito net. Welcome to the Nauta Training Centre, where heat and humidity wrap you in an energy-sapping hug and the insects delight in the arrival of fresh foreign food.
I’m here to teach at one of a series of training events which equip pastors from churches in Iquitos, Nauta and communities along the Amazon’s tributary rivers, here in Peru. Over a cycle of visits I introduce them to a mixture of Biblical studies, basic doctrine, ethics and give some practical input into preaching and leadership. It is very different to the UK, the lifestyle and background of these pastors means they have little formal education and no books or resources other than the Bible.
Their experience of learning is very different; group work, buzz groups and class discussion take a lot of explaining at first. Brought up to believe the teacher is right they find my English desire to encourage them to decide for themselves a bit baffling; nevertheless, I’m determined to honour the culture here and help them build on their own experiences, not just mine. Though right now, in the middle of the night, my experience is of the bats moving around in the roof and the cockerel crowing loudly as he has been since 11pm!
My involvement started six years ago when Poynton Baptist Church was approached by BMS and asked if we wanted to partner with the Baptist Churches in Iquitos. Over the last few years this link has grown as BMS have placed a number of mission personnel here, enabling the local vision of a training centre to become reality.
For the course participants it is often the only chance they have of structured learning; for many it is the first time they have had any training to help their growth as ministers. I’ve been privileged to be part of the teaching team from the start and am humbled by their gratitude and grace; especially when an answer to one of their many questions alludes me.
Most of the course participants travel for many hours to get here, normally by boat because the only road is between the two large towns and the only way in to the region is by air or riverboat. The communities they come from are usually small (50 houses makes a decent sized settlement); they are poor, living off the land and rivers with limited opportunities for trade; their lives can be ruined by flooding, disease and other perils.
Life at the training centre starts early with breakfast at 6:30am; this suits me fine as I’ve got jet lag. The food is plentiful, particularly rice and plantain, along with lots of chicken and good quantities of fish; though the idea of eating different things for breakfast, lunch and dinner is foreign to the Amazon. The timetable has a long morning till 1pm with an afternoon nap before late afternoon and evening sessions. As well as the teaching, there are times of worship, questions and ‘practical application’; which makes for long and intense days.
Each time I fly over, I find myself asking ‘is it worth sending people from the UK?’ In the long term the answer is ‘no’ but Baptist infrastructure in Peru is not so well developed as in other parts of the world and whatever the downsides of people coming from afar, it has enabled the centre to start work. As the work progresses, the convention will be able to operate the training centre without BMS support, and over the next year or two I hope all the regular teachers and trainers will come from South America. But kingdom seeds are being planted and in time they will bring fruit.
And so, in the middle of the night I lie awake, listening to the sounds of the jungle, gathering my thoughts and wondering what God has in store this week.