Before my sister Sarah and her family left Peru in 2004, a mud slide had almost swept them off an Andean mountain (they were 1.5 miles straight up), they were traveling on roads so bad it took 24 hours to travel 800 miles, had broken down in places where they could not even buy food, much less lodging, and lived at the foot of the Andes in a house with no hot water.
For some of those years, Sarah, my brother-on-law Joel Purcell, and their three kids (who have now returned home, to The Woodlands, Texas), lived in Abancay, a majority-Indian town where the Purcell’s were the only Americans and the only English speakers.
Death by violence was a possibility.
For many years, the Shining Path guerrillas (Chinese-style Communists) killed off police officers and any kind of clergy.
Before they were stopped, the guerrillas had killed about 20,000 people, 1,000 of them Protestant pastors and Catholic priests.
But the Purcell’s kept working.
From 1991 to 1996, they raised money for, and delivered, almost 4,000 book sets for Peru’s Protestant pastors. The book sets (23 books per set) were scholarly theological works.
Christian publishers sold the books at 80 percent off, and the Purcell’s, in turn, sold them at cost; just enough to pay $17,000 in customs fees.
After the books came, the Purcell’s held 16 “preaching/teaching/ praying and explaining how to use the books” conferences.
Thereafter, “the word spread like wildfire” and all the Peruvian pastors wanted a set, Joel said, adding that any pastor who wanted a book set got one.
Congregations would usually help their pastors buy the books, Joel said, but “we wanted the pastors to participate (in buying the books) so they would feel ownership. If you just gave them away, they wouldn’t value them.”
At a Cusco conference, someone told Joel one of the pastors had traveled hours to get to the conference but he had been beaten and robbed on the way. His book set money was gone.
When Joel told the pastor he would give him the books free of charge, the man cried.
In 1998, Joel and Sarah began the second book project, and this time the books were about revival and renewal. The Purcell’s provided 5,000 book sets.
When the books came, the Purcell’s hosted 35 conferences, for which they had to travel 32,000 miles, both by plane and by four-wheel drive.
One conference was held in Yurimaguas, a city located on the Amazon River. To get there, Joel had to fly, then take a taxi for a six-hour ride through the Amazon Jungle.
In 1994, I went to visit sis and gang and this is my favorite memory from that trip.
We were driving through the desert on our way to Trujillo, where the Purcell’s then lived, when we were stopped by the Policia de Carreteras, the Peruvian highway patrol.
Because the Shining Path lived to kill policemen, those men were gunned up. They had machine guns, automatic pistols, and bandoliers filled with bullets strapped across their chests.
When Joel, who speaks fluent Spanish, presented his residency papers and El Capitan found out a temporary replacement for Joel’s papers had expired the previous day, El Capitan leered.
“So he had me. He thought he could squeeze a bribe out of me,” Joel said, adding the captain, using a big hint, finally said, “well, you need to collaborate in some way.”
Joel said okay, went to the truck where Sarah and I were anxiously waiting, and grabbed a handful of tracts written about Jesus.
Joel returned to El Capitan and his waiting men and quoted from the Book of Acts: “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, I give unto thee.”
“As I’m saying this,” Joel said, “I started handing tracts out and saying ‘In the name of Christ,’ and one of the guys in the back of the truck shouted ‘Hallelujah!'”
They let Joel leave without demanding a bribe.
Now, April, 2013, I’m proud of Sarah all over again. She’s written a Bible Study called To Know God, and you can buy it by going to store.thewoodlandsumc.org.
The address stands for The Woodlands United Methodist Church bookstore.
You can pay for the Bible study online.
Joel is on the church staff at The Woodlands UMC and Sarah is leading Bible study groups and writing Bible studies.
I’m proud of both of them.
And sometimes I remember Joel handing out the tracts and the policeman shouting “Hallelujah.”
Then I murmur to myself, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give unto thee.”
And I feel so happy.