Photo:Natasha Schmale

Deeper Instead of Wider

A church in B.C. pursues a relationship-based missions partnership with AIDIA, to advance Bible translation and use in Peru.

Ten members from Chilliwack Alliance Church in B.C. have finally arrived in the Apurímac region of south-central Peru. Tired and looking a bit disoriented, they are the only white faces emerging from a regional bus into the darkness of Abancay city on an early evening this past September. 

The group has been winding their way for five hours with other local passengers along the switchback-laden highway from Cusco. One Chilliwackian is rubbing his stomach, trying to shake off motion sickness from the rocking and rolling bus trip. Warm rubber and hot brake odours wafting from the bus tires provide evidence of the mechanically taxing trip. 

(Above) Sheila Denis greets a welcoming Quechua woman while on a stroll through the village of Quillabamba (Key-a-BAHM-bah) in Peru. With her husband Chris, Sheila has helped lead several groups from Chilliwack Alliance Church in B.C. on visits to Peru. The encounters help deepen a direct partnership the church has with AIDIA, a local agency translating God’s Word and encouraging Scripture use among the 200,000-plus Eastern Apurímac Quechua people. (This photo) The Chilliwack Alliance team walks to a Sunday morning service at a church where AIDIA director Luis Cervantes serves as a pastor, in Abancay, Peru, home to AIDIA’s translation and training centre.
(Photo: Natasha Schmale)

The bus ride was the group’s final stretch of travel, which got off to a rough start the previous day when their passenger van blew a tire en route to Vancouver International Airport. But that is literally thousands of kilometres behind the excited Canadians. Across town they unload luggage and sit down for supper at the headquarters of AIDIA, the “Interdenominational Association for the Holistic Development of Apurímac.”

Before praying for the meal prepared by the AIDIA cook, Rosa Zapana, team leader Chris Denis pulls a book from one of dozens of nearby boxes labelled, “APURIMAC QUECHUA NT (BLACK) 32 COPIES  MADE IN KOREA.” He shows the New Testament, translated by AIDIA, to the church group. 

“This is what it’s all about, guys,” he emphasizes to the group, consisting of men and women ranging from 20-somethings to retired couples. 

These Eastern Apurímac Quechua Scriptures are a direct link to why the Chilliwack church team is here. The congregation is a key partner supporting, praying for and financially equipping AIDIA to do its multi-faceted ministry. 

“God, I believe, is moving in the hearts of what I call ‘normal’ people, ordinary people, like myself . . .  I’m not what you’d call your typical theological missionary.”
Chris Denis

Busy Schedule

Craving a much-needed night’s sleep after being fed, the Chilliwack group heads to bed; women bunk in one large room, men in another. These Fraser Valley believers can use the rest. Over the next 10 days or so, the Chilliwack group members will be busy, meeting with dedicated AIDIA staff, doing maintenance work around the headquarters and participating in a New Testament dedication ceremony in a mountain village. (They will also re-connect with and encourage their brothers and sisters at the Abancay Alliance Church.)

Their visit is designed to deepen a type of partnership that Wycliffe Canada calls “Kingdom Friendships”—personal, two-way, long-term missions relationships it sees as the way forward for global-minded Canadian churches. 

The Chilliwackians rise refreshed the next morning, despite the all-night choir of barking dogs and crowing roosters in the city. After the group eats breakfast and shares in the half-hour morning devotional time with AIDIA staff, Denis sits down to explain Chilliwack Alliance’s missions strategy. 

Personal Connection

Cervantes (standing, left) joins team members on a tour through AIDIA’s various departments, where they are impressed with the dynamic and multi-faceted ministries of the local church-based agency that Chilliwack Alliance supports to the tune of nearly $25,000 annually. In this case, the Chilliwackians see what audio/video specialist Cirilo Vásquez is working on to reach his people with biblical truth in their heart language.
(Photo: Natasha Schmale)
Cervantes and team leader Chris Denis exchange notes, further building the crucial administrative side of the two-way, long-term AIDIA-Chilliwack Alliance relationship. Wycliffe Canada sees this Kingdom Friendship as the way forward for global-minded Canadian churches wanting more personal missions relationships with minority language groups around the world.
(Photo: Natasha Schmale)

The multi-generational church of 900, with a sizable number of people serving in several dozen para-church agencies, has had a personal connection with Peru for several decades. The strongest link was forged through members Larry and Carol Sagert, a manager and nurse whom the church sent out as Wycliffe missionaries to the South American nation 32 years previously. During their last five years in Peru, the Sagerts mentored AIDIA staff in management, planning, training, funding, reporting and accountability. 

“I first met Larry Sagert when I was a kid in Boys’ Brigade in Chilliwack Alliance Church,” says Denis, 51. “He is much more than just a fellow partner, a fellow worker; he’s been a spiritual mentor to me all my life.” 

The Chilliwack church, says Denis, has been happy to send and support people around the globe like the Sagerts, driven by the strong missions heritage of its denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance. But the Chilliwack congregation is in a transition, from just sending professional missionaries to engaging persons in the pew more directly in global outreach.

“God, I believe, is moving in the hearts of what I call ‘normal’ people, ordinary people, like myself,” explains Denis. “I’m the vice-president of a construction-development company, so I’m not what you’d call your typical theological missionary.” 

In 2005, the church began to look at how it could move beyond financially supporting missionaries and sending groups for short-term, one-off missions trips of a few weeks at a time, he says. “People were asking, ‘How can we get involved?’ ”

Plan and Pathway

In 2009, after more thought, the church adopted what it called
a “vision tree,” says Denis. “It is a strategic plan, the soil being the healthy church and the tree growing out of that having various branches.”

The branches are the wide-ranging ministries of the church, including missions, which has four limbs. They are the denominational missions program plus other projects in three places: Poland, Quebec, and Peru with AIDIA and Abancay Alliance. 

“If it’s going to be sustainable, and multi-generationally sustainable, you’ve got to connect their hearts. So we are really trying to create a relationship.”
Chris Denis

Denis reads aloud the church’s mission statement for Peru: “Chilliwack Alliance Church in partnership with Abancay Alliance [Church] and AIDIA, working in concert to build up and strengthen and grow the local church, promoting the use of the Quechua Scriptures and biblically solid leadership for effectual advancement of God’s Kingdom in Eastern Apurímac, Peru.” To make it happen, the congregation has “a sustainable partnership plan and pathway” from 2011 to 2016.

“Really what we’re trying to do is go deeper instead of wider,” explains Denis, who directs the Peru mission.

Chilliwack Alliance and AIDIA have a formal agreement, with built-in reporting and accountability. The congregation has specifically chosen to fund the agency’s pastoral/leadership development and Sunday school/children’s ministries to the tune of nearly $25,000 annually. 

More than Cheques

But the partnership is not about Chilliwack Alliance just sending cheques to AIDIA; it’s about relationships between actual people on both sides.

“If it’s going to be sustainable, and multi-generationally sustainable, you’ve got to connect their hearts,” Denis stresses. “So we are really trying to create a relationship. Everything we are doing in this program is trying to connect Chilliwack Alliance Church members with AIDIA and Abancay Alliance Church.”

To that end, Chilliwack church sends groups of different people to Peru (this past September was the third trip) to experience firsthand what AIDIA does and help serve where possible. Logistics are handled on this trip by Kelly Edgeley, international communications and team leader for Hungry for Life International. The Christian organization comes alongside churches, directly engaging them in projects that help alleviate suffering throughout the world (

Eastern Apurímac Quechua speakers at a church gathering in Quillabamba purchase copies of the New Testament in their language after it is dedicated. Their eagerness for God’s Word impresses the Chilliwack Alliance team attending the event (below). In the case of missions pastor Holly Duke, the scene overwhelms her to tears: It's so great for these people, but it's so great for me as an individual--that He [God] would want me to . . . know that love He has for these people is the same love that He has for me."
(Photo: Natasha Schmale)

Over the course of three decades, about 45 Chilliwack Alliance members have travelled to Peru, and so far, 21 different members have visited AIDIA in Peru on three actual AIDIA project trips. Also on these trips, the groups interact with the Abancay Alliance Church, connecting its pastors with AIDIA, since they both have the vision to get God’s Word to the people to whom they are ministering, just as Wycliffe does.

In turn, local leaders in Peru visit the church in Chilliwack. They preach in Sunday services, attend Sunday school classes, visit small groups and meet church leaders. This May, AIDIA director Luis Cervantes travelled to B.C. to spend time and interact with the Chilliwack Alliance church-goers.

(Photo: Natasha Schmale)

With visits going both ways, Denis says upwards of 400 people in Chilliwack Alliance have connected directly with their Peruvian partners. “We really want to try and get as many people meeting with each other as possible.” 

Moreover, regular reports come to the church several times a year so people can be praying knowledgeably for their partners, he says. “Because this is an ongoing project and longer term, it’s talked about a lot.”

Those who actually visit Peru go back to the congregation truly understanding the work and impact of AIDIA, and enthusiastically chatting up its ministries to fellow churchgoers, says Denis. “Until you’ve been here, it’s just another place on the map and names, right?”

Opening Eyes

Awareness in the group begins to build quickly in the first days of this past fall’s visit. 

Denis starts meeting with the AIDIA director, sorting out a whole range of ongoing administrative issues related to the AIDIA-Chilliwack Alliance partnership. Justin Hettinga, Wycliffe Canada’s vice-president of engagement and strategy, also attends to translate and provide his insights from previous years serving AIDIA in Peru. 

The rest of the team, including Chris’ wife Sheila, take a day-long tour through the ministries housed in AIDIA’s headquarters. 

In the literacy department, they hear of eight-hour bus trips and multi-hour hikes by AIDIA facilitators before they even reach an isolated Quechua village to train literacy volunteer teachers. In the children’s ministry area, the group is told about trying to meet the huge need to promote usually overlooked ministry to youngsters by area churches.

In Quillabamba village, retired teacher Erma Vietorisz leads a children’s lesson in the local church while adults meet outside.
(Photo: Natasha Schmale)

Eyes open even wider in the room where five local pastors are translating the Old Testament into Eastern Apurímac Quechua. The complexity of the task becomes apparent as the team does a careful review of their draft translation in Numbers, via Skype with Wycliffe’s David Coombs, the project’s translation consultant working in California. 

“What these people do here is unimaginable,” Adrian Koppjan, a retired musical organ builder, says after the tour. “I had no idea. I am really impressed when I see the work they do.

“I’m excited to be on the trip to see God’s grace and His work continuing wherever it is in the world—and we are just part of it.”

Big Things for the Kingdom

Holly Duke, the church’s missions pastor, is delighted that the AIDIA staff dream and want big things for God’s kingdom. 

“These people are . . . being missional to their own people, because they recognize the need in their people,” she says. “It’s an overwhelming project and their dedication is just so humbling.”

Back in Abancay, church team leaders sit down for lunch with AIDIA director Luis Cervantes and the pastor of Abancay Alliance Church, which is also part of the relationship Chilliwack Alliance has with brethren in Peru.
(Photo: Natasha Schmale)

AIDIA staff dedication is a common characteristic noticed by the church group members, including 69-year-old retired engineer, Dennis Vietorisz, visiting with his wife Erma. 

“I can’t believe it—it’s amazing!” he says, with a voice rising with emphasis. “The work, the effort and the insight they have in what they do—it’s fabulous.”

Erma, a 63-year-old retired school teacher, expresses surprise at the low literacy rate among the Quechuas and amazement at the children’s ministries effort led by AIDIA’s Roció Villegas. 

“Of course, because I’m a teacher, my heart goes to the kids. What Roció is doing is mind-boggling to me. My heart goes out to her,” says Erma, struggling with emotion. “Sorry, I’m going to get teared up.”

Chilliwack Alliance’s trips aren’t work projects per se. One year, for example, the visiting group served by leading a biblical marriage seminar for 50 Quechuas. However, on this trip, team members roll up sleeves to tackle maintenance tasks listed by AIDIA director Cervantes. “Whatever gaps need to be filled,” says Denis, “we’re willing to do it.”

For several days at the AIDIA headquarters, the Chilliwackians trim the lawn, work in plant beds, reorganize the tool shed, paint exterior walls and fix a leaky bathtub. Several men led by sledge hammer-swinging David Clow, who is here without his wife, knock out an exterior wall to make space for a door to a bathroom. 

Into the Andes

Several days later, the group joins AIDIA staff in two Toyota mini-buses for the highlight of their stay: a visit to a Quechua village for an outdoor church gathering and New Testament dedication ceremony. The buses bounce along for five hours to the community of Quillabamba (Key-a-BAHM-bah), navigating through heavy construction on a road that clings to steep Andes mountain slopes. 

“What these people do here is unimaginable. I had no idea. I am really impressed when I see the work they do.”
Adrian Koppjan

Welcomed by local Christians under blue tarps—blocking a glaring sun at an altitude of 2,900 metres—the visitors are served a late 10:30 a.m. breakfast of sweetened, watery lima bean porridge and bread. They then settle into nearly two days of sermons and worship, much of which is broadcast live over a nearby FM radio station run by the church. As more Quechuas arrive from their farm work, they greet the Canadians as is customary by shaking with one hand and tapping a shoulder with the other.

After some vibrant singing, it is time for the Chilliwack group to be introduced. Translation is done by Eastern Apurímac Quechua-speaker Irma Phelps, who has for several decades served various Quechua groups in Peru through Wycliffe with her American husband, Conrad. 

“We are very excited . . . that you are going to receive God’s Word in your own language,” says Denis, through Irma. “It is a light to our path and God wants us to know it personally.”

Chris Denis examines the progress that hammer-swinging David Clow is making, as several of the men create an opening in an outside wall of AIDIA headquarters for a new, more accessible bathroom door.
(Photo: Natasha Schmale)

Sitting through sermons in Quechua that last up to three hours, the Chilliwack team members participate occasionally by giving devotionals. Travis Wesley, a 28-year-old bank manager, shares about his personal pursuit of godliness. Erma and Dennis Vietorisz act out a scenario of finding someone else’s lost wallet, reminding the believers that they must respond using Bible principles of honesty to return the item to its owner, instead of keeping it. Adrian and his wife Coby talk about faithfulness, as some Quechuas take notes. “God has been faithful to you Quechua,” she says. “The Bible is in your own language, which is wonderful.”

When the Quechua believers are separated into groups to dramatize the teaching of submission between husbands and wives taught in Eph. 5:21-25, the Canadians join right in with their own groups. They act out examples of couples interacting successfully and unsuccessfully, their animated antics drawing laughter and applause from the Quechua audience.

It’s So Good

“I can’t believe it—it’s amazing! The work, the effort and the insight they have in what they do—it’s fabulous.”
Dennis Vietorisz

When it comes time for the Scripture dedication, Cervantes first gives an overview of the effort by the AIDIA translation team. “It’s not a work we can do in a month,” he stresses to the assembled Quechuas, some of whom are already asking for the Old Testament. “We have to think well, and with much fear we do this work because it’s a big responsibility to do a good job.”

An open copy of the New Testament, surrounded by flowers, is brought forward on a wooden platter. Cervantes explains that the flowers are symbols of what bees need to make honey. “God’s Word is sweet to our hearts like the honey . . . because it’s in our own words. When we are a church in heaven from all nations, from all languages, from all kinds of people, we Quechua speakers will also be in that big gathering.”

After the ceremonial New Testament is given to local pastor, Jacob Huaman, he prays: “Dear Lord, you gave wisdom and knowledge to your children so they can translate this. Bless this Bible. Help us use it. . . . May it be like good food for our souls. Thank you that you are giving us your Word for every day to nourish our souls.”

Within minutes, 65 copies are sold to Quechua men and women eagerly buying their copies at the front. 

Pastor Holly from Chilliwack is overwhelmed by the scene and bursts into tears. “It’s so good,” she assures team members concerned about her reaction. “It’s good.

Chilliwack Alliance team members join AIDIA staff for a five-hour mini-bus drive on roads that cling to towering Andes mountain slopes. Their destination is Quillabamba, a Quechua village, to attend an outdoor church gathering and dedication ceremony for the Eastern Apurímac Quechua New Testament, which has been available since April 2013.
(Photo: Natasha Schmale)

“It was really a beautiful moment,” she explains later, “seeing people excited and passionate about having the ability to have the Word of God themselves. I remember when somebody gave me my first Bible . . . so to see people being able to have their own Bible was very moving.” 

Beyond usual culture shocks—hair-raising travel, country squat toilets, constantly changing schedules, adobe dirt-walled sleeping quarters—all the team members carry their own personal impressions from the village. 

Quechua believers assembled at the Quillabamba church gathering act out skits illustrating biblical concepts they learned during one of many sermons—some lasting three hours. Ministering together, the Chilliwack church team members also dramatized some of the teachings.
(Photo: Natasha Schmale)

On three trips to Peru helping her husband lead the church groups, Sheila Denis says she has been touched by the same thing: the desire that Quechuas have for Christian teaching. “It was definitely presented to us with the three-hour sermon. They will sit there,” she explains. “The hunger is there . . . they will go back time and time again.”

For Travis, a highlight was his devotional translated into Quechua. “I started to get an actual emotional connection just realizing that I was sharing the Word with them and getting to speak to them in a language which they understand, and just actually how powerful that was.”

Coby says it will be difficult to convey to people back home all that she has experienced, but she was deeply impressed by how hard the Quechuas work in fields on high up mountain slopes. “With just a pick to work the ground. They are old before their time, and that’s really hard [to see].”

David was impacted by the breadth of what AIDIA does. “I thought it was just a Bible translation organization. And here they’re teaching people how to read and write in their own language. They’re teaching people about abuse and how wrong it is, and how to raise a family. . . . That, to me, is really good to see.”

A New Type of Partnership

Whatever their personal memories, everyone on the trip is convinced that the type of relationship their church has with its Peru partners is the way to go, reinforcing their team leader’s excitement.

“I started to get an actual emotional connection just realizing that I was sharing the Word with them and getting to speak to them in a language which they understand. . . .”

“It’s really about God bringing a new type of partnership together,” says Denis. “We’re not just going and doing—we’re going and partnering, and enabling and helping each other grow, and helping each other develop.”

In his interpretation of the book of Acts, Denis says, that’s always what God intended the Church to be. “It’s not denominational. It’s not cultural. It’s under Christ’s leadership.

“Someday that will be a reality on earth, but until that point we have to struggle to get there,” he adds. “I think that’s really what we’re trying to do here.”

Chilliwack Alliance teams visiting AIDIA, especially the women, have developed a special relationship with cook Rosa Zapana. On the most recent visit, they went to her house and prayed for her and her severely handicapped son, Alexadra. Previous team members are also paying the nursing school tuition for Rosa’s daughter.
(Photo: Natasha Schmale)

Two Wycliffe couples—Larry and Carol Sagert (left foreground), and Justin and Tammy Hettinga (the Sagerts’ daughter), in this photo taken nearly a decade ago—worked with the Quechua people for years, assisting AIDIA and its staff through mentoring and training.
(Photo: Dave Crough)

Where Wycliffe Fits In

Wycliffe personnel, including some Canadians, have long been supportive of Bible translation and related ministries in Eastern Apurímac Quechua.

As early as 1996, speakers of the language contacted Wycliffe’s Peter Landerman (serving in Peru with Wycliffe’s key field partner, SIL), expressing a desire for God’s Word. Two years later, Conrad and Irma Phelps visited Abancay to meet with these and other Quechua speakers, who made some early attempts at adapting Scripture from the New Testament in Ayacucho, a related language.

Around 2000, a Wycliffe team worked in southern Peru to promote distribution of the Cusco Quechua Bible. They discovered that it was not as understandable as expected in the neighbouring Apurímac region. Wycliffe’s Chana Franchy was sent to investigate Apurímac’s language situation and subsequently began meeting with a group interested in translating God’s Word. Various Wycliffe staff presented linguistics studies and grammar workshops to the group, and Chana continued helping. 

A translation committee of Eastern Apurímac Quechua speakers was created in 2002, and they started to translate various materials into their language. A year later, the committee formed AIDIA as a legal organization. It continued to produce and distribute to churches various Quechua materials, including a hymnbook and a Life of Christ booklet.

Training and Mentoring

In 2004, Wycliffe’s David Coombs was invited to teach a Bible translation introduction course to various church leaders, which helped AIDIA choose the first members of its Bible translation team. AIDIA leaders invited David and his wife Heidi—who had spent several decades working on another Quechua New Testament project— to help with translation of the whole Bible. In 2005, the Coombses moved to Abancay and began training AIDIA’s five translation team members. The Coombses now work with the team remotely.

In 2006, the team began translating the New Testament, published this past year, and in 2012 they began the Old Testament. Although motivated by Bible translation, right from the beginning AIDIA realized the need to minister holistically and expanded into a variety of ministries.

Various Wycliffe personnel have taught workshops for AIDIA workers in translation, linguistics, grammar, computers, ethnomusicology, literacy, writing and publishing, radio, children’s ministries, etc. 

Two Canadian Wycliffe couples—Larry and Carol Sagert, and Justin and Tammy Hettinga (daughter of Larry and Carol)—worked with the Quechuas for five and 10 years, respectively. They mentored AIDIA staff, helping them to learn to manage the organization wisely and develop skills in planning, training, funding, reporting and accountability. 

From Canada and Beyond

Canadian churches and believers have financially supported AIDIA from its beginning, through Wycliffe Canada project funding and partner agencies, including OneBook. Designating AIDIA as a focus project, Wycliffe Canada is committed to supporting the remaining Old Testament translation and related ministries, now that the New Testament is finished. Wycliffe U.S.A. also helps fund AIDIA.

Other organizations have also encouraged and assisted AIDIA over the years. Wycliffe Associates, a lay technical partner of Wycliffe, sponsored a construction project to expand a house, formerly owned by an SIM (Serving in Mission) missionary, into AIDIA’s translation and training centre. SIM has provided financial support and personnel to AIDIA. Campus Crusade sent a team to help record The "JESUS" film into Quechua. Faith Comes By Hearing provided a team to help AIDIA record the entire New Testament and put it on The Proclaimer digital audio player for use in the countryside. The Peruvian Bible Society sends offerings to support literacy publications. 


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