The sun had already risen and was shining brightly when I awoke the first day in Arequipa. Oh, no, I’ve overslept! It’s got to be at least 8:30 or something. I looked at my phone to see the time. 5:45 AM. What in the world?
That was my first experience with an Arequipa sunrise! It comes up very early in comparison to Chile and I was surprised to see a few people already up and getting ready. Breakfast wasn’t until 8 and the first session of the conference started at 9, but I went ahead and got up too.
Not only did the sun rise early, but it set early as well. Around 6 o’clock it’d start getting dark and before long night would set in. I also later found that some of my roommates would go to bed fairly early. One time I went back to the room about 9:45 to grab something before going to play games with the group from Chile, and I noticed somebody was already in bed. Oh, wow, you’re tired? I have to say that overall I do prefer the “early to bed, early to rise” mentality, but the culture in Chile is a late-night culture, which makes that impossible to live by sometimes.
Above: Sunset in Arequipa
Below: Late-night gaming!
I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching at the conference. We would have three sessions from 9 to 12 in the morning, about forty-five minutes long each with a fifteen-minute break before the next one. A different missionary or pastor would speak first, and then Pastor Austin Gardner, who is the leader of Vision Baptist Missions, the mission board that Jason Holt is with (and the one that is kind enough to let me go through them for my internship here), would teach the next two. His teaching was excellent.
My favorite sessions of his were actually not the ministry ones as we think of ministry, such as pastoring or leading a church, but rather the ones about marriage and family. He would tell stories in strikingly honest detail and give applications that I found interesting and helpful. In a day where marriages fall apart all the time and people joke about being tied down to another person, he made marriage sound like it should be: A wonderful lifetime shared between two people serving the Lord together and finding joy in it all, even through the struggles.
Pastor Austin Gardner
We would then have a service at noon, free time in the afternoon, and then a service in the evening as well. That may sound like a lot but I loved it. The conference itself lasted from Tuesday evening to Friday morning.
It was a blessing to meet all the pastors from so many different countries, especially Peru, and for how kind they all were. It really was one giant meeting of brothers and sisters from many parts of South America coming together to worship the Lord, learn more, and go back to our respective countries spiritually refreshed and invigorated.
Another really neat thing about this conference was all the missionaries that were there. One afternoon Jason asked if I could go out to eat with them so I could meet Brother Gardner, so I did and met several of them. The next day I was going to hang out with my friends from Bolivia when he stopped me again and asked if I’d go help them plan and talk about things, so I went ahead and said yes. I’m extremely glad that I did as it turned out to be a great evening full of laughter and fun but, more importantly, great help spiritually and practically for me.
I found out about Aaron Vance’s ministry in Colombia a couple of years ago, was impressed with what I saw, and thought it’d be neat to meet him someday. He was there and was very encouraging to me!
Well hello, there!
One of my favorite aspects of Arequipa was the taxi rides. The rides themselves were fun enough, but they were also a great opportunity to witness if the trip was long enough. One advantage to being a gringo is that they’ll naturally ask what you’re doing there and it opens a door to explain what we’re doing and segue right into the gospel. The bad thing is they almost all think we’re Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses at first (This happens to me in Chile too and they’re generally surprised to find out I’m neither).
Two taxi drivers specifically stand out to me but unfortunately I can’t remember either of their names, so I’ll call them Mario and Denis (I feel like Denis is actually close to one of their names). I met Mario on Saturday. After venturing through the city for a while with some different people, one of the missionaries, Kyle Shreve, hailed a taxi to take me back to the seminary. Alongside me was Andrew Wilder, a missionary intern in Bolivia. Before we knew what was happening, Kyle stuck us in a taxi, said something to the driver, and off we went without really knowing where we were going! We did have a general idea and I felt like I would recognize the road when we got near it, but it was still another one of those fun experiences where you just hope everything turns out okay.
Look who I met while out in Arequipa!
We were out about in the city and saw these familiar faces!
Andrew has a very outgoing personality and it wasn’t long before we were talking to Mario and explaining to him that we were with a group of Baptist churches for a conference. Soon he dropped Andrew off where he was staying and then continued down the road to take me to the seminary. Somehow the door opened up for us to continue talking about spiritual things.
“I’m Catholic,” he said, and then he said something that I’ve heard plenty of times. “I mean, it’s really all the same thing, isn’t it? Evangelicals and Catholics.”
“No, not at all,” I said, before proceeding to explain all the differences between the two, including salvation. He listened intently and by the time he dropped me off seemed to understand that there was a difference between what I believed and what he believed.
The next day, Sunday, I jumped in a taxi with Katie Holt, Josh Holt and Grace White (A daughter of missionary Kevin White from Bolivia). We started talking to Denis right away.
He asked if we were Mormon, and I told him no and was getting ready to try to get into the gospel, when all of a sudden Katie Holt jumped in and took off with it. Having grown up in Chile, she speaks Spanish fluently as a first language and was easily able to begin explaining the gospel to him way better than I could’ve. I was happy to see Denis was actually very engaged with her, talking and answering her questions (I wasn’t so excited that he kept looking in the rearview mirror at her instead of the road in front of us, though!).
We pulled up to the seminary and she invited him to church. He was so kind to us the whole way through and I remember thinking, Every one of these drivers is somebody God is divinely putting in our paths for just a brief period of time, and we have that moment and that moment only to make the best of it. And isn’t that how life is? Sometimes we see people over and over again and have multiple opportunities to witness, but there are others that step into our lives for just a few minutes, and we have that short time to plant a seed of the gospel in their hearts and trust God will continue working with it.
We all went to different churches on Sunday morning and evening. After the service on Sunday morning, I spoke to the pastor for just a moment. “If you come back tonight, I’ll let you preach for five minutes,” he said. I was thankful and excited for the opportunity, so that night I brought something to preach.
But I made a mistake I never want to make again. I tried to fit a whole three-point sermon into five minutes, and the passage was like seven or eight verses long! I’ve been told before that when a pastor gives you five minutes to preach, you take your five minutes and then sit down and shut up. I really wanted to honor that and tried my best, but the result was that I blazed through the passage in Spanish that was probably barely inteligible. The next time I think I’m going to read a verse or two, give a main thought, and be done.
Francisco Nuñez was there that night and was very encouraging to me after I finished. He did laugh about how much of the Bible I read, though, and said something like, “I thought you were going to read the whole book!” I laughed too because it was a bit ridiculous in hindsight.
Just a few days ago he was talking to Mauricio about it and jokingly said, “Yeah, he was supposed to preach for five minutes and he read through the whole book of Corinthians.”
“Philippians!” I shot back, laughing along with them.
It was good to see Pablo from Bolivia again! He got ten minutes to preach before the main speaker.
The next morning, Monday, I got up early to say goodbye to my friends from Bolivia before they left. Then I went and packed up the rest of my stuff for our return trip home. By about 8:00, we were on our way to the bus station. It had been a great week and I was expecting a relatively straightforward ride home.
And then a crazy turn of events occurred…
But that’ll have to wait for Part 3: “Mad Dash for the Border!”