June 18, 2010

Mission notes - Peru: “Don’t steal, don’t lie, and don’t be lazy”

It’s impossible to pass through Huaraz (Peru) without noticing the great 

white mountain peaks, the obvious difficulty in breathing characteristic to travelers unused to the high altitudes and the multicolored hats that almost every women wears. Quite soon the culture hits me hard: I am trespassing on the territory of the Quechua indians, the direct descendants of the Incas. The Inca Empire, which existed for a century before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, was a highly developed civilization stretching from parts of present-day Colombia in the north, southward into Chile.

As soon as I enter in the Aija Valley, just passing the 15.000 feet altitude South of Huaraz, I can’t help but remark the great laws of Quechua written on the great rocks that overlook the valley: “Don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t be lazy”. Just a few centuries ago stealing, lying or laziness were punished by death. As I am trying to reflect on the eternal value of these laws, Alejandro our translator quickly remarks on the great and negative influence that the Spanish conquistadores had on this proud culture, a “name only” Christianity that produced a unique mix of idolatry with Christian elements.

Today’s Inca descendants are worshiping the Christian symbols instead of their own idols. However, there is no difference. As once they were bringing tribute to the deities of the forest and of the mountain, today they are pouring beer at the cross-symbol that marks the entrance in the valley. The Christian symbols are misleading here; the Indians have the knowledge but lack the relationship. They worship a cross that for them really represents the spirit of the mountain.

Things are not looking up in the Aija valley. In our short visits in La Merced, Aija, Dos de Majo, Mallacayan, Llanquista, Succha and Colca I was impressed by the crude poverty, insufficient resources and their openness to the Gospel. Today’s Quechua work in the mines or farming their small piece of land. However, only a few can make enough for a living. Their survival is linked with the success of this year’s crop.

Since 2004 Canadian teams of short-term missionaries have visited Aija valley’s schools, held medical clinics and proclaimed the gospel to thousands of Indians. The result was instantaneous, hundreds have received Christ. Unfortunately after this apparent success many Quechua have returned to their old rituals. The Gospel has still to penetrate in this difficult and idolatrous culture.