Promoting Physical and Spiritual Health in Peru
A Mercy Medical Team traveled to Lima, Peru, in February to assist Lutheran pastors as they connect with the community.
“What does this word ‘grace’ mean?” a man asked GEO missionary Courtney Zalmanoff, who serves as assistant volunteer coordinator for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region.
The man had just read a flyer from the Peru Lutheran mission in the Los Olivos district of Lima, Peru. He received the handout after he attended a public health education class hosted by the Lutheran church in Los Olivos and led by LCMS laypeople from Illinois and Iowa and LCMS missionaries.
Over 80 people showed up and learned about how to eat a balanced diet and the importance of hand hygiene. The team also presented on basic wound treatment and gave the children dental supplies.
This health instruction class afforded the Rev. Walterson Siewert, an LCMS alliance missionary from Paraguay who is the pastor of La Misión Luterana del Perú in Los Olivos, and Vicar Elvis Carrera, who is studying at the LCMS seminary in the Dominican Republic, the opportunity to connect with the community.
The pastor opened with a prayer, and the vicar closed with a discussion of God’s role as our creator and sustainer, pointing to His provision for not only our physical needs but, most importantly, our need for salvation. As people were leaving, the team handed out flyers explaining the teachings of the Lutheran church and gave out a number for further information.
As the man continued to ask questions of Zalmanoff, Siewert joined the conversation. The man was concerned that he would never be good enough to earn salvation. Siewert shared the Good News of God’s grace in Christ.
“People here are so open to hearing the truth. They want it,” explained Siewert. Within hours of the health class, others contacted Carrera seeking more information about the church.
Urban Latino outreach? Check. Over 10 million people in one locale? Absolutely. People who claim to be Christians but don’t attend worship? Yup. Christians who struggle to identify the truth of the Scripture? In abundance. Atheists? Plenty. People who long for truth and hope in the midst of a life proliferated by daily struggles to survive? More than you can count. Parents who want better for their children but are ill-equipped to enable that desire? In spades. But most of all, sinners who need a Savior, and a small church with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? By God’s provision, yes.
The constituent elements make for both fruitful labor and challenging work. With the Lord’s promises to work through His Word and Sacraments, the Peru mission operates to fulfill the prayer of God’s kingdom come and His will done. The mission currently works in two primary locations. Siewert and Carrera work in Los Olivos. The Rev. Osmel Soliz Bernal, an LCMS alliance missionary from Bolivia, is pastor of La Iglesia Luterana de La Victoria.
In Los Olivos
Siewert described the primary work of the congregation at Los Olivos as “[teaching] our Lutheran heritage … [teaching] the grace of God in Christ for our salvation.
“There are a lot of religions out there. People here are very open to hearing as we teach the truth about salvation by God in Christ.”
Lima is largely Roman Catholic, but like most large cities, many are lost in a web of false teachings and sin. Into this situation, the Gospel goes forth, shining the light of Christ and drawing people to His love and salvation.
Like every congregation, the saints at Los Olivos gather each weekend to receive God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament. Siewert and Carrera visit their members throughout the week and provide opportunities to hear the Word: midweek Bible study, youth group, women’s prayer meeting and Sunday school/Bible study. The church also works to reach out to the community, especially sharing the Gospel and giving information about the church to those who walk by on the street.
“I look forward to serving as a national pastor in the future,” said Carrera, who will be ordained this summer and will serve in Peru. Carrera grew up in Los Olivos and is a son of the congregation. “I’ve seen these neighborhoods my whole life. They are getting to know the Lutheran church and learning about the faith.”
In La Victoria
In the La Victoria district of Lima, Soliz, who previously served as a vicar in La Victoria, continues the work begun by LCMS missionaries. In addition to serving the congregation, he works with Castillo Fuerte: Casa de Misericordia (A Mighty Fortress: Mercy House). “I like teaching and being with the children,” Soliz explained
In addition to free after-school care, tutoring, outdoor activities and food, Castillo Fuerte instructs children in the Scriptures and the catechism. Soliz leads the children through the entire Bible every two years; holds chapel twice a week, where they focus on the catechism; and teaches confirmation to the older children. He is working to establish a youth group and other activities for the children who are too old for the Castillo Fuerte program.
This work is continuing to bear fruit. Soliz has baptized several children who come to Castillo Fuerte and confirmed a few of them. He has also reached out to the children’s families and has instructed many adults in the faith.
Like most urban congregations, La Victoria faces difficulties. Although the community is marked by its poverty, the price of real estate — including rental facilities — is astronomical. “The community is receptive, but this area is industrial and dangerous, therefore not very optimal for a church. … but the field is ripe for sowing,” Soliz continued. “The people don’t have a lot of resources, but the Word of God is still heard and received.”
Community Health Education
“The pastors asked us to come help present first aid for the home … since a lot of people just don’t have the knowledge to treat simple things,” said LCMS career missionary Erin Mackenzie, who serves the LAC region as volunteer coordinator.
The LCMS Office of International Mission assembled a small team from Illinois and Iowa to travel to Lima as a Community Health Education (CHE) Mercy Medical Team (MMT). The team provided support for the pastors in Lima through medical education opportunities and by accompanying the pastors and vicar on visits.
“Short-term teams work alongside the pastors and vicars to support the church,” explained Zalmanoff. “Teams from America help the pastors as they form [the] relationships needed to go forward to bring people into the church.”
“They help us in the work we are doing. They give a lot of good advice about nutrition and how to take care of the body. People want to learn this, so it helps us talk to these people and tell them about the church,” said Siewert. “The mission is pretty small, so when we have a bigger group, they feel larger, part of the Body of Christ.”
The CHE MMT went out with Siewert and Carrera to visit members. “My house is quite small, but my heart is very large. You are very welcome,” George declared, as he welcomed Carrera and members of the CHE MMT. George, a professor of mathematics at the local university, learned on the internet about Luther and his strength to stand up and fight for what is right. George wants to ensure that his family learns the truth about God and belongs to a community of people with values. After conversations with Siewert, George and his family started attending worship.
The presence of the CHE MMT also afforded Carrera an opportunity for further conversation. During this time together, George expressed his appreciation for the church and took advantage of the vicar’s presence to ask questions people everywhere have — inquiries about the Trinity, Christian symbolism, and faith and grace.
“So many of the members and parishioners here are so full of love and are soaking in God’s grace and love,” said Ginger Diven, a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, East Dundee, Ill. “We are all here to worship our Lord — that’s the main thing.”
Siewert began a home visit with a young mother by reading Psalm 127 and thanking God for her son. The following conversation would sound familiar to all new mothers. Angela had questions for the medical professionals about how to care for her 10-month-old son, Eliam. She also expressed the common worry about her inability to be the perfect mother. After providing some tips, the people of the CHE MMT encouraged Angela and, along with Siewert, prayed with her.
“This MMT is all about education. As a doctor, I can bring in the details that laypeople don’t know, especially in the home visits,” said Dr. Jennifer Olson, a member of the CHE MMT from Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, Indianola, Iowa. “To give that same peace, hope and love that God gives, and to share that with others through health care is a big blessing.”
In another visit, the CHE MMT members traveled with Carrera to visit a family who were refugees from Venezuela.
“I can’t promise you roses. But I can promise that God will be faithful to His Word,” explained Carrera after reading from Matthew 6. Following confession of the Creed and readings from Scripture, Carrera encouraged the family to share how God brought them to Lima. After recounting the harrowing tale of roadblocks and near disasters, the husband (whose name cannot be used) summarized by saying that God has truly blessed his family. Looking at the group, he smiled largely and said (in Spanish), “We need to be in the Word constantly so that God can feed us.”
The husband took this opportunity to express his desire to have a better relationship with his son than he had with his father. Carrera encouraged him to find the root of that improved relationship in the church, reminding the family that God welcomes us into His house each Sunday to give His gifts of forgiveness and salvation.
“We were able to visit members that Pastor hasn’t been able to visit yet, because they are single women or women who are at home during the day,” said LCMS missionary Jamielynn Tinkey, human life coordinator for LAC. “Our Savior, when He was on earth, took care of physical needs as He provided for the most important need, the spiritual need. We are trying to do the same thing here. … The Lord is at work as the CHE team is making connections with people, and we pray that will result in those people coming to church.”
Coming Together to Share Christ
“Even though there is a language barrier and a culture barrier … we can show them that they are loved and they are not alone,” said CHE MMT member Samantha Hoyt, who served in the Lutheran Young Adult Corps in 2019. “People feel like they have to struggle to make ends meet. People told us that the fact that you are here right now shows us the love of God.”
Whether from Los Olivos; Indianola, Iowa; or East Dundee, Ill., Lutherans worked together in the ongoing mission to witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus. “I just love the people … we all want truth, and that is Christ,” said Mel Schroeder, a member of Immanuel, East Dundee, Ill. “I grew up thinking that missionaries were only the people who start churches, but anyone can be a missionary — you live out your life and you love people as Christ loved you.”
“Not speaking the language has forced me to look at how people interact,” said CHE MMT member Douglas Hoyt. “At church on Sunday … I could follow the liturgy even though I didn’t understand the words. … I felt like I belonged with that group, because we are all doing the same thing I have done my whole life … the liturgy … Communion. And then at dinner, we all interacted, even though we don’t speak the same language. … To be part of it is phenomenal — beyond words.”
“Our goal is still the same. Our work is still the same,” observed Zalmanoff. “Our goal is to spread the Gospel, plant Lutheran churches and show mercy. And that is what the church is doing here and throughout Latin America.”
- Read about mission work in Peru.
- Learn more about Mercy Medical Teams.
- Support the Mercy Medical Team program.
Pray with Us
O Lord God, You are the great physician of body and soul. Even as we live each day facing unknown trials and attacks that assault us physically and spiritually, so be our strength and our shield. Turn, we pray, the hearts and minds of those so afflicted to You, that they might find hope and rescue in Christ alone. Bless the work of alliance missionaries and short-term teams, that the Body of Christ might be edified through the sharing of Your Word and that those who do not know You might hear the saving truth of Jesus Christ. In His name. Amen.
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Dr. Kevin Armbrust
Director of Editorial for LCMS Communications.