Peru Tribal Project
Our vision is to aid in the establishing of viable, self-sufficient churches and healthy communities among isolated jungle tribal groups who have or will have the New Testament in their own language.
Since 1999, CPI has been co-laboring with missionaries from the Wycliffe Bible Translators to reach isolated tribal groups in the Amazon jungles of Peru, South America. Most of people in these tribes are functionally monolingual, speaking their own tribal languages. Some speak Spanish, but hardly any are able to understand the Gospel message in the Spanish language. There are hundreds of such tribes all over the Amazon region. Their villages have no stores of any kind. People depend on crops and hunting and fishing for their living. Many thousands of these villages all over the Amazon region need to be reached with the Gospel. While some villages do have churches, in many cases they do not endure due to a lack of effective leadership.
When contact was first made in 1969, the Matses — a tribal group of about 3,000 people — were known for their fierceness. They kidnapped and killed, worshipped the spirits of nature, and lived in darkness, fear and superstition. If twin babies were born, they thought it was due to evil spirits, so they would kill the babies. If someone died, they would bury the bodies under the home, burn the house and move to another area. Wives who did not please their husbands might be burned with sticks from the campfires. When the Matses received the Scriptures in their own language in 1994, they were receptive and began memorizing large portions of the New Testament. Many lives were transformed; destructive practices were set aside, churches planted and pastors called through the powerful working of God’s Word. In the villages where God’s Word spread, even unbelievers laid aside past destructive practices. In December 1999, CPI president, Steven Shepard, made an exploratory trip to the Matses, along with Dr. Logan Sparling of Christian Life Ministries, and Tom Hopkins, formerly of Food for the Hungry. The Wycliffe linguist, who had served among the Matses for over 30 years, was approaching the end of her work. She was greatly concerned for the long-term spiritual well being of the Matses and didn’t feel they were ready to be left on their own. Our exploratory team was invited to assess the needs and determine how to follow up. After the first trip, we returned every six months for many years to train Matses pastors. Training conferences lasted from three to seven days and included up to 80 leaders from 15 villages. Some traveled for two days in their motorized dugout canoes to receive training in Biblical truths, preaching, and pastoral ministry. As Matses leaders met regularly from the different villages a sense of unity developed. They appointed their own mission team to evangelize unreached Matses villages on the Brazil side where they planted churches; and eventually Matses leaders began holding their own conferences. CPI partners with the Matses by providing gasoline for their long river trips in motorized canoes.
In 2002, at the request of other Wycliffe Missionaries in Peru, our team adopted two additional jungle tribes, the Sharanahuas and the Yaminahuas. Even though linguists had worked for many years, there were almost no Christians and no functional churches among these tribes. Today, a church is meets in the largest Yaminahua village.
In 2007, CPI began working with the Shipibos, a large tribe that lives in numerous communities along the Ucayali River, including quite a few that are close by to the CPI Center in Pucallpa. Though there is currently a strong church amongst the Shipibos, there are still many unreached villages and there is also a great need for training. To respond to this need, in 2017 CPI opened the Word of Grace Bible Institute to train Shipibo pastors and church planters. Today we co-labor with our Shipibo students and other leaders to plant churches in unreached and needy Shipibo communities.
In 2014 CPI began to work with the Yora, an isolated tribe of about 600 people that live in a remote jungle village. Scripture portions are available in their language thanks to the efforts of Wycliffe Bible Translators. Because the Peruvian government has prohibited all outsiders from going to their villages, Wycliffe missionaries and CPI have flown representatives of the Yora tribe to the jungle city of Pucallpa on multiple occasions to attend weeklong conferences led by CPI. During each conference, Steven Shepard, along with a Peruvian coworker have taught through the key parts of the biblical narrative using an interpreter from Spanish to Yora. Upon hearing the Gospel for the first time, the first group of Yora to attend a CPI conference were filled with a sense of urgency. They asked to hear more and more stories and declared, “We want a church in our village. We are afraid we will forget. We want someone to come and teach us.” On one of the final days of our first conference with the Yora, we asked the Yora, “Who will say it is true? Who will say that Father God, not wanting to punish us, punished His Son, who died for our bad acts, and was brought back to life again? Who will say, ‘This is the truth – if we make Jesus our chief, then He will welcome us to where He is?’” (Since they have no word for “believe” in their language, this is how we preached). Then they all immediately and enthusiastically affirmed their faith in Christ. Years later in 2019 on the final day of the sixth Yora conference, nine Yora were baptized. Today, the Yora church meets in their community and more Yora have been baptized.
Follow-up is greatly needed for isolated Amazon tribal groups, which have the New Testament in their language or have a translation in progress. Bible translators typically spend 30 plus years learning the language, putting it into written form, teaching the people to read and write and translating the Scriptures. But after they leave, a void remains. In some cases, even after many years and the completion of the New Testament, there are few, if any, actual converts. Sometimes tribes are revisited after the linguists leave only to find a handful of weakened “believers” no longer meeting. This is often due to a lack of qualified leadership. The “leaders” are baby Christians themselves or just interested people who are willing to preside over the meetings. Often these leaders fall into sin or error and the people become discouraged. For strong churches to be established, leaders need to be trained and mentored. The monolingual tribes present a special challenge.
When a tribal group is functionally bilingual, there are many groups that will minister to them in the trade language. But there is a tremendous need for ministry to the isolated monolingual tribes after they receive their New Testament and the translators leave. The outside world sooner or later encroaches upon the tribes for good and for evil. Either the world will bring its evil influence of corruption, greed, cruelty, perversion and unbelief, or the Kingdom of God will bring its influence of righteousness and faith, preserving the well being of the people both physically and spiritually. These are often small tribes of between 500-3,000 people. Hardly anyone knows they are there, but God knows and cares. CPI believes that it is God’s purpose to call to Himself a good number from among these hidden peoples, that they may be conformed to the image of His Son and some day gather around God’s throne in Heaven to worship Him forever.
Before adopting a tribal group, the Peru Tribal Team conducts an exploratory trip to learn about the tribe, assessing the needs and considering ministry options. We seek to learn how they can best be helped spiritually, and whether God is calling the Peru Tribal Team to become involved. We make the exploratory trip only at the request of a linguist who has either completed or is working on a translation of the New Testament in the tribal language. In the past we have sought to recruit long-term, cross-cultural missionaries willing to make a 5 to 10-year commitment, learn the language and live with the people. None have been found. While we are still open to using long-term missionaries, our focus has shifted to sending South American Christians to minister to their own South American tribes and investing in training potential tribal leaders. Once it has been decided to adopt a tribe for church planting, the CPI Peru Tribal Project takes the following action steps:
1. CPI workers visit the tribes periodically to proclaim the Gospel, encourage the believers and train leaders.
2. CPI sends teams of Peruvian, Indian, and other South American Christians on training missions to the tribes, lasting from several days to about two months in duration.
3. CPI supports the training of potential tribal leaders in Bible schools.
4. CPI provides gasoline and other travel expenses to enable tribal leaders to evangelize their own people.
5. CPI engages in humanitarian efforts when appropriate and encourages indigenous community development and economic development projects.
How you can help
Your prayers and financial support will help CPI do the following:
• Pay for flights for our co-workers and us to go to the Amazon tribes to plant churches and conduct training.
• Pay for sending our native co-workers on river trips to villages.
• Pay for supplies and living expenses in the villages.
• Sponsor tribal leaders for training at CPI’s Word of Grace Bible Institute and at other Bible schools.