Peruvian Mission Leader
A few weeks ago MISSION FRONTIERS interviewed perhaps the world's youngest (yet extremely capable) mission director Obed Alvarez from Peru. To find something similar to the agency under his direction, you would have to take Operation Mobilization, Youth With a Mission, Calvary Chapel Ministries, the Fuller Seminary Cross Cultural Studies Program, the Mobilization Department of the USCWM and NAM Associates (see Oct. issue) and thoroughly blend them. Only then will you come out with something that looks a bit like the agency known as AMEN and its associated school of missiology.
Ever since 1980, 'when Dr. Ralph Winter returned from teaching at a School of Missiology in Peru, staff at the U.S. Center for World Mission have been curious about this school. Dr. Winter reported that there were 100 or so students in his class. He commented on the beautiful songs they sang, their missionary enthusiasm and their dynamic, youthful leaders, including Obed Alvarez.
Last month, Alvarez visited Pasadena, and MF had an opportunity to interview him. Here is a rather quiet, serious young man, yet one who speaks with passion and confidence.
He is young, only 25, yet already for four years the General Director of a mission agency with more than 100 missionaries.
His mission, AMEN, was started in 1916 by a small band of Peru vian Christians led by Juan Cueva. For the next' 30 years it limped along, with 5 or 6 missionaries at the most, all married, with families, and all supported by the mission. Its vision was to reach Peru for Christ, as its full name implied: Associacion Misionera Evangelica Nacional (National Evangelical Missionary Association).
But in 1979 the mission took off. Suddenly it was swarming with recruits., Its name was changed to Associacion Misionera Evangelica a las Naciones (Evangelical Missionary Association to the Nations),, and its thrust was now to the whole world.
What, had happened?.:. That year Obed, Alvarez appeared,: withtwenty of his friends,; and the mission turned a corner.
MF: HOW COULD 20 NEW RECRUITS CHANGE A MISSION SO MUCH!
ALVAREZ: For some time I had been the head of the youth division of the Methodist Church in Peru, so when I decided to join a mission agency I as able to bring 20 others with me. But we were young and had no support. What's more, the churches didn't want to support us as missionaries. They asked us, "Well, are you missionaries or not? You don't know any theology; you haven't had seminary." So we each started studying theology with a pastor, and we helped in his church. We started evangelizing the community around about and to promote missions in the church.
Up to that time, after first joining the mission, we had made brochures to advertise for young people to become missionaries. But when the churches started to explode in growth because of our work, the pastors asked us if we would be willing to train their young people in evangelism.
All of a sudden we had so many young people to train that we had to get better organized.'. So we divided the country into regions, assigning each region to a team. We would take these young people sent to us by the churches for a:' year, training all of them to be', evangelists.' Each one was assigned ' five churches, where he would help . evangelize the community and instill missionary vision in the church By 1979 we had 2 250 young people in this program.'
MF: I UNDERSTAND THAT YOU HAD A MUSIC PROGRAM WHICH ALSO ATTRACTED PEOPLE.
ALVAREZ: 'Yes. About the time we began being noticed we discovered that we had real musical talent: in our team. So we organized singing and instrumental groups'. Some of us began composing new songs, usually missionary in theme.' And we were invited, to church after '. church to sing and play.
In fact, several years ago a grou of young Communists put on a musical contest which' some of group entered.' I don't, think they were too happy when we stole, the show, Christian songs and all!
MF: YOUR MUSIC MINISTRY REMINDS ME OF THE YOUNG SINGING GROUPS FROM CALVARY CHAPEL. THEY'VE ALSO COMPOSED MANY BEAUTIFUL NEW SONGS LIKE "FOR THOSE TEARS I DIED." YOURS, HOWEVER, ARE MAINLY ON MISSIONS. IN YOUR DISCIPLESHIP AND MISSIONS TRAINING YOUR ORGANIZATION ALSO REMINDS ME OF YOUTH WITH A MISSION AND OPERATION MOBILIZATION. HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF THEM?
ALVAREZ: Oh yes, actually we first heard about YWAM and CM in the. churches where we sang. We have good fellowship with them. They're doing a good work.
MF: I UNDERSTAND YOU ALSO HAVE A SCHOOL OF MISSIOLOGY.
ALVAREZ: Yes. In 1979, the year I became the director, we started a school of missiology. Three times a year we meet for one month of classes. in.Missiology. Dr. Winter taught in one of these, also Dr. Peter Wagner, from. Fuller Seminary I. think ours may be the earliest school of missiology in Latin America.
MF: SPEAKING ABOUT MISSIOLOGY, THE OVERSEAS WORK OF MANY THIRD WORLD AGENCIES IS ALMOST ENTIRELY WITH THEIR OWN PEOPLE WHO HAVE MOVED OVERSEAS. WE CALL THIS "DOMESTIC" MISSIONS, OR AT BEST "EVANGELISM." BUT IT IS NOT CROSS CULTURAL EVANGELISM, WHICH IS "MISSIONS." TELL ME, DO YOUR MISSIONARIES WORK CROSS¬CULTURALLY OR MAINLY DO EVANGELISM?
ALVAREZ: We have 20 missionaries (university students) who are. native speakers of Quechua. These established eleven new Quechua
churches a year and a half ago. Then in 1978 our mission was invited to participate in the National Congress of Peruvian Leaders, and I was allowed to speak for a few minutes. Perhaps because of this, the next year, in 1979, we were invited to attend CLADE II (The Latin American Congress on Evangelism) where 600 Christian leaders, both missionaries and church leaders, gathered from all over Latin America. Because of our participation there, we were asked to send missionaries to Bolivia, Chile, Brazil and Ecuador, which we did.
In that year, 1979, we decided we had to go international, not only to Latin America, but elsewhere as well. t was partly because of all these international contacts that we set up the School of Missiology. Since there wasn't any missiology textbook in Spanish, I wrote one for the school. And that year we sent someone to London enroute to Spain and Morocco to check out possible mission fields there. He stayed three months in London and started working with Spanish speakers there from both Spain and Morocco. Also, a year and a half ago, we bought a building in London for our, center there.
MF: IN LONDON?
ALVAREZ: Yes, in London. This man started working with a church of 30 people, which now has grown to. He has done a very effective piece of work. And the money to buy the Center has come from these people and from supporters back in Peru.
Last year we sent 3 people to look over MeIiIIa, the Spanishgoverned corner of the Muslim country of Morocco in North Africa. We have open doors with Muslims in London. We now have five Peruvians working full time in London, and we want to open another center in France to work with Muslims there. Right now we have a small church of eight families in Paris with which we are in relationship, and we'll be sending our first missionary there next week.
MF: HOW ARE THE MISSIONARIES IN EUROPE SUPPORTED?
ALVAREZ: It is very expensive to live in London. The economic situation right now is very difficult. Even so, our people there are being supported by the ones they minister to plus a little support from family and friends in Peru. People in the churches at home designate their money either "for Peru" or "for foreign work." And this helps support our missionaries.
MF: WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS AS A MISSION FOR THE. NEXT FEW YEARS?
ALVAREZ: We need to start another center in London. We also hope to get started in Spain. Already a family in Galicia has offered to give us a house. And we plan to start a Spanish¬speaking church in Switzerland.
Then we want to begin work with the 2 million Moroccans in France. I've been invited to several of their homes there. We're planning bases in Germany and Switzerland with a strategy for reaching Muslims in those areas. And then, of course, we hope to move into Muslim countries themselves.
MF: DO YOU ENVISION ADDING EUROPEAN YOUTH TO YOUR MISSIONARY TEAMS!
ALVAREZ : Our main concentration will probably come from Latin America. That is where our roots are. But a Swiss mission working in Peru has asked us to help them start a mission in Switzerland!
MF: I GUESS THAT'S WHAT YOU WOULD CALL COMING BACK FULL CIRCLE IT IS A NEW DAY WHEN AN OLD MISSION SUCH AS THE SWISS ASKS A YOUNGER MISSION TO TELL IT HOW TO START A MISSION WORK IN ITS OWN HOMELAND. OBVIOUSLY THEY ARE NOT ASKING FOR YOUR HELP MERELY OUT OF POLITENESS, NOR TO MAKE YOU FEEL NEEDED THEY FEEL YOU KNOW SOME¬
ALVAREZ:. By now we've had a lot of experience working with Spanish speaking people, not only Peruvians.Iike us, but people in other countries as well,, both in Latin America and in Europe. There are a great number of people from Spain who work in Switzerland. These are the ones we'll be reaching. However, there are also large numbers of Muslims from North Africa who have migrated to work in many of the countries of Europe today. No doubt many have gone to Switzerland and, as you know, we have a real burden to evangelize these people.
MF: IT IS SOMETIMES EASIER TO REACH MUSLIMS WHEN THEY ARE AWAY FROM HOME. IN EUROPE THEY CAN INVESTIGATE CHRISTIANITY SOMETHING WHICH IS ILLEGAL BACK IN NORTH AFRICA MOREOVER, SOCIAL PRESSURE FROM FAMILY AND FRIENDS AT. HOME MAKES IT ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO EVEN BUY A BIBLE AND READ IT. YET IN WESTERN EUROPE THERE IS FREEDOM TO EVANGELIZE.. THAT IS WHY. YOUR OUTREACH THERE IS SO IMPORTANT.
ALVAREZ: . Yes, we are really excited about the potential there.
MF; I UNDERSTAND THAT YOU HAVE MADE SEVERAL TRIPS TO THE UNITED STATES. A PASTOR FRIEND IN THE MIDWEST HAS INVITED YOU TO SPEAK IN HIS CHURCH, AND YOU HAVE SPOKEN
IN A NUMBER OF OTHER CHURCHES AS WELL. WE KNOW THAT. THE HEADS OF MANY NONWESTERN MISSION AGENCIES MAKE PERIODIC TRIPS TO. THE STATES TO RAISE FUNDS FOR THEIR MISSIONS. ARE YOU DOING THIS?
ALVAREZ: No. We do not do fundraising in the United States.. We expect our work to be supported by Latin Americans, especially Peruvians, and by the people to whom we minister. in other countries.
MF: YOU ARE A VERY.. WINSOME PERSON. I IMAGINE. THAT ON YOUR TRIPS HERE YOU HAVE.ATTRACTED ALL SORTS OF OFFERS. NO DOUBT SOME WOULD LIKE TO SEE YOU STAY HERE TO WORK OR TO STUDY, AND HAVE OFFERED TO PAY YOUR EXPENSES. THEY PROBABLY HAVE INSISTED THAT AS THE HEAD OF YOUR MISSION YOU NEED TO GET ADVANCED DEGREES, IS THAT TRUE? AND HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT? ALVAREZ: Well, I would be less than honest if I did not say I am tempted by such offers. And they have been made. But as the head of the mission I also have to think of what the mission needs. My own concerns must not come first. And if I have to choose between what is good for me.persohally and what mill also help everyone else in the mission, then I would unhesitatingly choose the latter. MF: I'M SURE GOD WILL BLESS YOU IN THIS DECISION. DOES THAT MEAN YOU ARE IN FACT SERIOUSLY CONSIDERING THE OFFER OF OUR UNIVERSITY (THE WILLIAM CAREV INTERNATIONAL. UNIVERSITY TO ESTABLISH % SATELLITE PROGRAM RIGHT THERE IN PERU WHICH WILL ALLOW YOUR PEOPLE TO BECOME INVOLVED PART TIME AND KEEP ON WORKING BOTH IN YOUR WORK AND TOWARD. A STANDARD DEGREE? ALVAREZ: Yes; I intend to explore, this offer as soon as I get back. If. this works out properly, our people will be able to work toward any degree, from the B.A. to the Ph.D., either in Peru or in most mission field locations.
MF: WELL, THAT'S JUST GREAT WE'LL CERTAINLY BE PRAYING FOR YOU AND THOSE WHO WORK WITH YOU; THAT GOD WILL CONTINUE TO GIVE YOU GREAT SUCCESS. IT'S EXCITING TO SEE WHAT GOD IS DOING THROUGH YOU.