Peru


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I wrote something! I really, really wrote something!

Please excuse my giddiness… after a couple of rather long years (longer than they should have been) I am finally able to announce the publication in electronic version of the biography of my good friend, Julio Cusihuaman Ccorahua.

Julio was my first ever “case” at CSW; a case which turned quickly into a life long friend, and gave me a new Peruvian family. He and his wife call me sister and named me goddaughter to their beautiful daughter Candy, an honor which still overwhelms me.

I met Julio in a remote Peruvian prison more than ten years ago. He was innocent of the charges against him and we were sure he’d be getting out, but a year later I returned to only to find him still inside. We toured the maximum security prison with him as he introduced us to brother after brother… all members of the church he’d planted during his time as a prisoner. We laughed together, prayed together, sang together and I still clearly remember the emotional disconnect it was to walk out of that place, heavy metal doors slamming shut behind us, leaving him behind. I carry an image in my memory of his face, behind dark metal bars in a tiny window, smiling at us, as he called to us to remind us to pray for him, his family and his ministry.

He is without a doubt one of the most impressive and at the same time, most humble, people I’ve ever met.

If you want to be inspired, need a story to help you put your own life in perspective, are looking for a good (cheap) gift for a friend or yourself, please consider buying this book. We’ve kept the price low in the hopes that more people will read it; for the same reason, it’s also available for free rental if you are a member of Amazon Prime. All proceeds will go to support Julio’s ministry. If you’re wondering, yes, they’re still poor and living at or below the poverty line, yet he and his wife are dedicated to this taxing but rewarding work, so everything helps.

*Please note that this is a true story, and as such deals with some difficult themes. There are scenes involving torture and other severe human rights atrocities. They aren’t gratuitous but they are honest – so it’s probably a good idea to exercise some caution when sharing with younger readers. I’m not necessarily of the mind that teenagers shouldn’t read it (quite the opposite, as I think it might challenge them to think about some of the injustices in the world and what they can do about it), but I do think it might be a good idea for the adult in their life to read it first in order to be able to discuss some of these issues and events with them.

The link and the book description are below – please read, review, recommend. Thank you and a very very Merry Christmas to you!

A Light in the Darkest Corner

The extraordinary and inspiring story of a young man raised in poverty and violence in the highlands of Peru, A Light in the Darkest Corner, is the testimony of Julio Cusihuaman Ccorahua. After his father died from complications related to alcoholism and his mother spiraled into addiction, Julio and his chronically ill sister were left to fend for themselves in the town of Ayacucho, the epicenter of Shining Path terrorist violence. As a teenager he was falsely accused of terrorism, tortured and imprisoned but after a miraculous escape, Julio fled to the city of Lima where he followed his parents’ example, immersing himself in alcohol and parties to bury his pain and anger. A young woman helped lead him to Christ and later became his wife. The pair started a family and a vibrant new ministry only to be hit by a series of tragedies. In 1999, Julio found himself in prison again facing the same false charges as before but this time with a wife, two small children and mounting debts. Instead of succumbing to bitterness, Julio realized God had brought him to a new mission field. Putting aside agonizing questions about his future and the welfare of his family, he began to share Christ’s love with the most despised and rejected of all society, working to transform a nation from the bottom up by bringing God’s light to some of the darkest places on earth.

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For anyone looking for things to do this weekend, the Guardian has published a couple of great articles on a couple of countries where I work – all worth reading and situations definitely worth praying for:

On questions of justice, stolen land, NGOs and the importance of long-term solidarity in Colombia, specifically Uraba which was one of the regions I visited in August, and where the Church has suffered enormously but continues to carry out important prophetic work despite the risks: As Colombia Jails Army General, NGO’s Combating Land Grabs Should Take Note

On the insanity of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan (as a rule, blasphemy laws are nuts, even in countries in Europe where many are still shockingly on the books, but Pakistan has made their prosecution and implementation a special art form) and their impact on religious minorities, including Christians but also on non-Sunni Muslims and others: How to Commit Blasphemy in Pakistan

On the real impact of the drug war in Mexico (and other countries, including Colombia and Peru, though Mexico is the focus of this article), touching upon the actual real life effects of the North American and European recreational drug habit and political policies on actual real life people in those South American countries. For those wondering what this has to do with religious freedom – consider that in 2010 over 1000 Catholic priests in Mexico reported being under threat from organized crime involved in the drug trade; rates are probably similar for the Protestant churches though no comprehensive study has been possible, mostly because people are so afraid of the consequences of speaking out: Breaking Bad Doesn’t Show You the Real Drug War Drama

The increasing marginalization of women from the political transition and reform in Egypt. This is particularly on my heart as one year ago I was in Egypt running a training on human rights advocacy to a large group of young Christians, the majority of whom were young women, who love their country and were so hopeful for a future that included inclusion and the active participation of women and religious minorities: From Virginity Test to Power

I spent this past week doing other people’s writing, or rather, taking what they had already written and transforming it, translating it into English. Though they are around the same age and they speak a common language, the two men whose writing I was working on are very different. They live in different hemispheres under different economic systems and forms of government, come from vastly different backgrounds and their stories and testimonies reflect very different experiences. They share the same faith, however, and hold a strong belief that God has put them where they are and allowed them to experience what they have lived through “for such a time as this”. Both have taken their experiences and their contexts, along with the gifts God has given them, and are using them to further His kingdom in their countries.

They are not nationally, much less internationally famous Christian speakers or writers. Both live and provide for their families on almost no income – in what most of my peers would consider to be poverty. Though respected by those to whom they minister, they receive no real recognition from the larger Church. Despite all of this, however, and like so many other of God’s invisible servants, they get on with their work, changing lives and bring His light into some of the most hopeless places on earth.

As I worked on translating their writing I found myself challenged again and again by the lives they both lead. They are both living their lives in total dependence on God though they face serious obstacles and active opposition to what they do. They depend on Him to provide the material and economic means to carry out the ministry to which He has called them. They depend on Him for physical protection from hostile individuals and a system that hates what they are doing. They depend on Him to watch over their wives and children and they depend on Him to refresh and guide them constantly with His Spirit. And according to them, He does!

Translating their work is a project I have been doing on my own free time. This past week I’ve been on vacation and it may seem odd to some that I chose to use my time in this way. Although the translation and editing that I’ve been doing is definitely “work” and is both challenging and tiring, it’s also one of the most fulfilling and inspiring things I’ve done in a long time. I’m excited to see where their stories will reach now that they are in English and can be understood by many more people around the world. I know that their words will touch, humble and challenge others, just as they have me.

The phrase “a voice for the voiceless” is one that is often used at my organisation. It’s an important calling, especially because there are so many suffering people around the world who have no way to tell their stories. Every so often, however, through my work I come across people who don’t need me to be their voice. They can tell their stories themselves, far better than I ever could. What they need however, is an amplifier to send their stories out, to disseminate them as far and wide as possible. Putting their words into English helps to do that and though I’ve spent much of it at my desk or on my couch, this week has been an exciting one, collaborating with them, in a small way, and the literally life or death work they are doing.

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.