Natasha Schmale photo
Feature

Hugging the Book

An Eastern Apurímac Quechua pastor knows full well the value of the New Testament for his church. After all, he helped translate it.

(Above) Members of the Evangelical Church of Peru congregation in Abancay, Peru, fervently sing, worship and pray in their mother tongue. (This photo) Pastor Mario Valverde helped translate and enthusiastically uses the New Testament to nourish his rapidly growing flock.
(Photo: Natasha Schmale)

As Mario Valverde received his copy of the Eastern Apurímac Quechua New Testament in April 2013 in Peru, he did what only seemed natural—he clutched it to his chest.

“I received it with a huge hug, because I needed it as well,” says the pastor of the Quechua congregation at the Evangelical Church of Peru in Abancay. “I needed something to be able to read and give to the people.” 

As part of the Bible translation team, Valverde got his New Testament immediately when the shipment of 8,000 copies arrived in Peru from printers in Korea, ahead of the dedication ceremony in Abancay. He began preaching from it before the celebration.

“People would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, brother, where can we buy it?’ ” recalls Valverde. “I kept having to say, ‘You have to wait until April, at the dedication—then you can buy one.’

“They waited with hunger and thirst for that day.” 

Having led a growing flock of several hundred Quechua speakers since 2000, Valverde knows how indispensable the mother-tongue Scriptures are for 200,000-plus Quechuas living in the Apurímac region of south-central Peru.

Getting Prepared

Born to a Catholic family in a small town, Valverde came to know Christ at a house church service in a jungle community when he was 17. “From there I began to live for Christ and prepare myself. Pretty quickly I began to get trained to become a pastor.” 

“People kept asking me, ‘From what Bible are you reading?’ When I read it, people . . . really understood it well.” 
Pastor Mario Valverde

After preaching in rural communities in the Andes Mountains for several years, the Evangelical Church of Peru leadership asked Valverde to start leading a Quechua-speaking congregation in the regional capital of Abancay. It began with 14 people; today it has 250.

“The majority of them are from the countryside, but some are from the city as well,” Valverde says of his growing congregation, many of whom now work in the city market. “It all happened naturally through our language—the language that was given by our parents.”

Early on, Valverde faced the challenge of preaching in Eastern Apurímac Quechua without translations of Scriptures in the language. The best he could do to prepare sermons was to read a Spanish Bible and translate the Word into Quechua. “Quite often pastors will preach in Spanish and somebody will be translating it into Quechua.”

Valverde was introduced to the concepts and methods of Bible translation by Wycliffe’s David Coombs, who has since served as translation consultant with the Eastern Apurímac Quechua translation team. Having seen Valverde preach in Abancay, AIDIA invited him to several training workshops and then suggested he be part of a team of pastors/translators. Working half-time, Valverde slowly got equipped for the job, 

“When we began talking about translation in the first training event, it seemed really difficult,” recalls Valverde. “I knew that God would have to give me wisdom to be able to do this.”

Huge Blessing

Valverde was correct to expect the task of translating Scriptures would be challenging for him and the translation team.

“Sometimes we would get stuck for 30 minutes or an entire hour on one single verse, trying to get clarity on it. One person would say this, another person would say that.”

But persevering in the work brought a huge blessing to Valverde and his church. 

“Since I was analyzing the Word of God in the translation [process], I was able to preach really well, so that people could really understand. And because of that, the church started to grow,” says the 47-year-old pastor. “I always give thanks to God for being able to translate the Word of God.” 

The best the Eastern Apurímac Quechuas previously had were Bibles in neighbouring languages, Cusco Quechua and Ayacucho Quechua. Those are pronounced quite differently, use a number of different words and are not understood well by Eastern Apurímac Quechua speakers.

Pastor Mario lifts sand to add to a cement mixer, during construction work he does on the side to pay back a debt on which a member of his family has unfortunately defaulted.
(Photo: Natasha Schmale)

As the translation of their New Testament progressed, Valverde would read from print-outs of those sections in his church. “People kept asking me, ‘From what Bible are you reading?’ When I read it, people . . . really understood it well.” 

Valverde also printed out translated Scripture for the congregation’s leaders to study. The pastor quickly noticed that God’s Word in their mother tongue deeply touched those leading worship, deacons’ ministries and prayer and social assistance ministries.

“They began to understand better and they began to change,” says Valverde. “Their spiritual lives started to get better. Their married lives got better. And their ministry life would improve.

“Homes began to get better and you’d see whole families beginning to serve God with their whole hearts.”

Scriptures for Outreach

What’s more, the translated Scriptures have played an important role in two outreach efforts of the church. 

The church buys a time slot on local radio to minister entirely in Quechua for two hours each night, reaching well beyond the walls of its sanctuary.

Felicitas Coyori, an illiterate 51-year-old woman, began the radio programs in Quechua five years ago. 

“I would just pass on the teachings I had received from the Word of God, and sing songs and praises,” she says, adding that the popular program is now simultaneously distributed beyond the local airwaves. “Our programs are streamed through the Internet and we get notes from Quechua speakers all over the world.”

Others in the church have joined the radio ministry, now using the printed Eastern Apurímac Quechua New Testament. 

With help from fellow literate church member Isabel Hurtado, Coyori has turned to serve elsewhere: among the 360 inmates at the prison at Abancay. 

Scared But Protected

Coyori and Hurtado, 47, admit they were at first scared going into a men’s prison. But they simply talked with the inmates, were accepted and invited to return.

“Because we are going there with clean hearts to preach the Word,” says Hurtado, “God will protect us.”

Every Saturday, the women lead Bible studies with about 15 prisoners using the New Testament in Quechua (and also the Spanish Bible, since a few prisoners are not Quechua speakers). The group has prisoners serving jail time for such crimes as rape, drug-related offences, theft and fraud. 

“Inside the prison, it’s very, very sad. These men are always crying. Many of them don’t have any food,” Coyori says, explaining the Peru prison system. “[Outside] people have to bring it to them.”

The couple sometimes brings food, but knows the ultimate bread of life, God’s Word, is crucial for deeper life change. 

“Clearly, some in there are already believers . . . who need to repent again,” says Hurtado. “But many in there have never repented, and aren’t believers and need to repent.

“We need to help them open and understand the Word of God. They kept saying, ‘We need Bibles.’ So we brought them Bibles.”

The two women are thankful to be using the Scriptures in Eastern Apurímac Quechua as they minister. 

“We need it. It’s very good. People can comprehend it,” explains Hurtado. “For me, when I hear it, I comprehend it better, and am able to pass it on better.”

Coyori notes that one inmate, who had killed someone while driving, but surrendered his life to God while in prison, is now attending the Abancay congregation.

A Lingering Vision

Back at the church, Valverde is excited about the future impact among his people now that the New Testament is available in their mother tongue. And he looks back fondly on his seven years of service with the translation team. 

Unfortunately, however, he is no longer involved in the current Old Testament translation. This past summer, the former bricklayer was forced to resign from the translation committee and take up higher-paying construction work to pay back a debt on which a member of his family had defaulted.

But Valverde’s vision for Bible translation—which will likely take until 2022 for the Old Testament to be completed—has not died. 

“One day,” he says in faith, “I’ll find myself back in translation.” 

                                                                        •••••

Pastor Mario’s wife, Silvia, and church colleagues Felicitas Coyori and Isabel Hurtado, stroll by the prison at Abancay. Felicitas and Isabel minister to male inmates there, thankful they have Quechua Scriptures to use in weekly Bible studies with the prisoners.
(Photo: Natasha Schmale)

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