Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, and there are the people! Have you heard that children’s rhyme and finger game before? Or how about- Here is the ground, here is the tent, the family of God says, come and join in! The latter would be a more accurate description of a little community of God that meets in a shantytown, under a tent on a small property lovingly tended by Maty. Maty is a Peruvian woman whom God reached through the ministry of our SAMS missionaries Juan and María Marentes. As María shared the Gospel with members of a shantytown south of Lima, Peru, Maty began shadowing her and helping her tell people the Good News, even before she had clearly confessed Christ. In the Marentes’ words:
“In 2005 we met Maty when she came to be a volunteer at the weekly breakfast for the children in the “pueblo joven” (shantytown) of San Francisco, south of Lima. She was a woman without any schooling, she had suffered a lot in her life. She looked about 10 years older than her real age. She had prodigious hands to knit by hand.
Once the weekly women’s ministry was started by María Isabel, Maty never missed a gathering. She was always attentive and willing to help. Little by little she began to join the evangelistic visits to the surrounding homes. She gave her very simple testimony, but always coming from her soul: ‘Although I don’t know how to read or write, I tell you that the most wonderful thing in my life has been accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior. That has made me a new and a happy person.’”
María, with funds from supporters, found an opportunity to give a small piece of property to the Diocese of Peru for the purpose of hosting a Christian community. Years after the Marentes left Peru to do ministry elsewhere, the Bishop of Peru reported that Maty faithfully defended from “invaders” that piece of land, and now she and a youth group tend the property and draw people into this small church in the San Francisco shantytown, Peru.
We at SAMS are deeply grateful for Juan and María’s faithful service to God’s call in 33 years on the mission field. Originally from Colombia, they retire in Jacksonvile, FL this year after decades of service in Ecuador, Honduras, Peru, Belize, and California. Yet, we know that God’s servants don’t truly retire as much as they take on a different shape of ministry, encouraging us as we all press on toward the goal of knowing Christ and making him known.
“From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 6:14 NIV
Jacky Lowe woke up in terror. Never before had she experienced a nightmare like this one. She had just returned to Madagascar from a visit to the United States. In this dark Thursday night, deeply disturbed in her spirit, she struggled to find the peace she needed to return to sleep. She got up from her bed and paced her home in prayer for two hours before returning to her bed. She continued to pray to the Lord as she fell back asleep.
Jacky is not the only Christian in her Madagascar community to experience such a disturbing dream this past year. Her fellow SAMS missionary Patsy McGregor has also suffered from a nightmare the first night returning from a trip – on a Thursday as well. This is hardly a coincidence: Jacky and Patsy have received reports that a local group of witch doctors prays against Christians, marriages, and families every Thursday night. “Why would witches pray against marriages?” I asked Patsy. “Because marriages are strong,” she replied. In the words of last week’s New Wineskins for Global Mission Conference theme (September 26-29), God’s people are #BetterTogether.
The Anglican Diocese of Toliara, of which Patsy’s husband, Todd, is the bishop, ordained and commissioned ten leaders on August 25: one priest, three deacons, and six evangelists. With such growth, I am not surprised that the devil is nervous. “Spiritual attack is ongoing on a daily and weekly basis. It’s very heavy,” says Patsy. “We have done a lot of ‘spiritual sweeping’ to get the darkness away. God is stronger and breaking through!”
Here in the West we rarely encounter such obvious spiritual warfare. One could say this is because our senses are dulled by entertainment and comfort, and the devil has an easier time distracting us from God. Whatever the reason, we can respond in two ways to this story.First, we can pray for spiritual protection over Jacky Lowe, Patsy and Todd McGregor, and their community near Toliara on Thursday afternoons Eastern Standard Time (Thursday night in Madagascar). We can pray in Jesus’ name that the witch doctors would be freed from the forces of evil. Second, we can live daily with deeper assurance that the spiritual world is real and the material world is not all there is. St. Paul’s words are true: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:12 – 13 NIV)