I spent the second half of January in Peru. I often get asked why we work in Peru, since it’s not exactly well-known for being a place of serious religious persecution. I have to answer truthfully, that there is no active persecution going on today but ten, twenty years ago things were very different.

My work there is almost entirely dedicated to the dead: the six young men pulled out of a Presbyterian church in 1984 and shot and bayoneted to death by members of the military, the evangelical pastor who was crucified by the Shining Path in a remote part of Ayacucho, another evangelical pastor who was disappeared by the military, and then tortured and killed in 1989, the Christian population of Putis who sought the protection of the military after their mayor was murdered by the Shining Path only to then be slaughtered – 123 men, women and children.

The internal conflict in Peru that lasted for almost twenty years has never caught the media’s imagination the way that the plight of the disappeared in Argentina or Chile did. This is despite the fact that the estimated number of deaths as a result of the violence, upwards of 70,000, dwarfs what happened in either of those countries. Perhaps it’s the sheer scale that overwhelms those who try to explain it but there are other reasons too. One of the most important is that we are still, ten years after the restoration of democracy, and seven years after the publication of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, finding out what really happened.

Stories are still being told. The bulk of the violence occurred in remote parts of the country, in non-Spanish speaking, often illiterate communities. This, interestingly, is where some of the most impressive growth in the Church occurred over the past thirty years – but there is a massive disconnect between these people, many of whom live in the same way their ancestors lived 1000 years ago, and the educated middle and upper class who line the Peruvian coast.

The story of the Persecuted Church in Peru is still being revealed, little by little, as these communities are approached and asked to share their stories. The cases are being documented by our partners in the country – not only in the interest of justice but also in an effort to restore dignity to the victims and their loved ones – to affirm that their stories matter. God has always known these stories and He has never abandoned His people – but the worldwide, even the Peruvian Church have not been as faithful to our own. This wasn’t entirely our fault, but God has never accepted ignorance as an excuse. Surely now that we have the possibility to find out, to know, we can come along our Peruvian brothers and sisters whose suffering was hidden from us by fear, violence, language and geographic remoteness. It may be late but we can stand with them in prayer for healing and reconciliation, in their search for the truth, and in many cases the physical remains of their loved ones, their desire for justice.

Every time I go back to Peru and meet with these communities I am struck by the rawness of the wounds. I should know by now that time alone cannot and does not heal the pain of injustice or atrocities. The blood of the dead, so many of them our brothers and sisters, still cries out. Jorge de la Cruz Quispe, was sixteen years old when he was pulled out of an evening prayer service in the village of Callqui and shot and bayoneted to death just outside. To date no one has been held account for his murder – in fact the man thought to be responsible was declared dead a number of years ago in very suspicious circumstances (he’s been sighted several times since then) and as such cannot be tried. A trial of lower level officers thought to be involved has dragged through the courts since 2003 and still shows no sign of resolution.

I took part in a ceremony while I was in Peru. We visited the Ojo que Llora (the Eye that Cries) memorial to all the victims of the conflict. Each of us were handed a flower and asked to walk through the labyrinth of stones, where the names of the 70,000 victims are written. We were encouraged to read the names and when one called out to us, to lay our flower there. As I walked slowly, in silence, thousands of names slipping past me I wondered where I would lay my flower. There were so many. But then I got to the “C’s” and I remembered Jorge, the teenage boy whose life was brutally taken even as he worshiped and sought God and I looked to see if I’d find him. When I saw the stone that said Jorge de la Cruz Quispe – and the year 1984 – I knew I’d found my stone and I knelt to lay down my flower. I wasn’t prepared for the emotion that suddenly overwhelmed me – Jorge was my brother, he is my brother, and while he now rests with our Heavenly Father, his earthly father grieves for the son that was stolen from him. I grieve with him.

God does not want us to fixate on death or to become obsessed with those who have died – but the Bible is full of references to respect for the dead. The tombs of the patriarchs were important, even sacred places. Long after his death, Joseph’s bones were carried out of Egypt to rest with his people in the Promised Land. There is something to be said for honouring those who have gone before us – not to deify them or give them powers that belong only to God – but to remember them.