For more than a decade, God has been using a homegrown ministry in South Peru to strengthen rural churches and families. Based in the tourism mecca of Cusco, the small partner organization of Wycliffe Bible Translators has distributed thousands of copies of mother-tongue Scripture, established literacy programs throughout the region, and trained hundreds of Quechua [KETCH-wa] pastors and Sunday school teachers.
Through the ministries of ATEK—an acronym that means “the association that shines the gospel to the Quechua-speaking world”—poor and marginalized Quechua people are improving their lives through literacy, and growing in their understanding and application of God’s Word.
Ironically, the former pastor who now directs the dynamic ministry could barely speak or read his parents’ Cusco Quechua language when he first began serving with ATEK in 2003. But since then, Fredi Quintanilla has become a fluent speaker of the language, as well as a friend and mentor to hundreds of Quechua church leaders throughout the region.
Former Wycliffe Canada staff members Larry and Carol Sagert, and current staff, Justin and Tammy Hettinga, helped form ATEK by bringing together pastors and church leaders from several denominations in the Cusco area. When ATEK’s first director stepped down in 2007, board members appointed Fredi to lead the organization.
Although the 44-year-old now lives in Cusco with his wife Judith and their three children, he grew up in a jungle area northwest of the ancient city. He was in his teens when his family moved to Cusco, but neither he nor his siblings had ever learned to speak their parents’ Quechua language.
“They tried to have us kids forget Quechua,” Fredi recalls through an interpreter, “and wanted us to only learn Spanish.
“They thought the only way for us to be successful in life would be to learn Spanish and live in the Spanish-speaking world.”
When he was 22, Fredi became a follower of Christ through the influence of his older sister. He began attending the youth group at her church and before long, he was joining the pastor on his Saturday visits to various Quechua communities surrounding the city.
Because the pastor didn’t have a car, Fredi offered to be his personal driver.
“From that point on, I began to accompany him on these trips. We would show gospel videos and he would preach.”
Eventually, the pastor moved to a different area. For Fredi, it was a defining moment.
“When he decided to go, I thought, What’s going to happen with these Quechua folks, now that we have become friends and built relationships?
“I ended up staying involved, because I was quite concerned for these people. . . . After I got married, my wife started coming out with me. I felt a call on my life to ministry and I began by planting a church in a community called Chincheros [cheen-CHAIR-ose].”
While pastoring in that community, Fredi experienced another defining moment in his life. It happened after he struck up a conversation with a Quechua woman as she sat outdoors, weaving a blanket on her loom.
“I began sharing the gospel with her in Spanish and we had a very good conversation,” recalls Fredi. “Then she said, ‘What you are explaining to me is wonderful, but now can you explain it to me in Quechua?’
“So I tried so hard to explain my ideas in Quechua, but I couldn’t. That was a huge frustration for me that day . . . so when I returned to Cusco, I began searching for a place to study the Quechua language.”
Comfortable in two cultures
Providentially, in 2001 Fredi also began searching for a Quechua Bible to give to the woman in Chincheros. His inquiries led him to a Bible school in Cusco where Hettinga, Sagert and other staff from SIL, Wycliffe’s main partner organization, were teaching a course on the Quechua language.
“That’s where my whole experience in speaking and reading Quechua started,” says Fredi.
As Fredi and other church leaders continued visiting remote towns and villages high in the Andes surrounding Cusco, he became convinced that the Cusco Quechua language held the key to his people’s spiritual growth.
“Observing the problems and difficulties they had,” says Fredi, “made me think a big part of it was because they didn’t understand the gospel.
“They were doing the same thing I used to do—
“From that point on,” adds Fredi, “my passion to promote the use of the Quechua Bible began to grow.”
Personnel serving with SIL in Cusco soon noticed Fredi’s growing enthusiasm for the Quechua language and people. So in 2002 when SIL staff brought Quechua pastors together to discuss how they could help their churches begin to use the Cusco Quechua Bible, Fredi was included.
The meeting resulted in the pastors forming a committee—which led to the formation of ATEK more than a year later. By 2007, when ATEK’s board began looking for someone to replace the outgoing director, Fredi was a natural choice.
“Fredi had been part of the ATEK board from the beginning,” says Hettinga. “He had demonstrated a deep passion for the Quechua people—his people.
“One of the things Fredi had going for him was that he was not only a respected leader, but he was quite bi-cultural. He was very comfortable in national Peruvian culture as well as Quechua culture. This made him well positioned to be a bridge between the two cultures as well as to lead this growing non-government organization that needed to not only minister to Quechuas, but also raise money, communicate with government institutions, and relate to donors.”
These days, Fredi is praying for more donors to partner with ATEK as well as its 10 staff and handful of volunteers. Although it receives some funding from donations through Wycliffe Canada, ATEK recently lost significant funding after a major funding partner made cutbacks. Fredi was forced to lay off two staff members—including one long-time staff member who now volunteers his time to assist a Quechua community devastated by an earthquake this past September.
“These are the times I don’t like,” says Fredi, “but I know they are the best times to experience God in a deeper way.”
Despite the lack of adequate funding, Fredi still believes that God will find ways to see His work accomplished—as He did when He led Beach Corner Evangelical Free Church in Stony Plain, Alta., to partner with ATEK in serving one Quechua church high in the Andes Mountains. Beach Corner has trained Quechua pastors and church members, and provided funds for a new church building.
“God will continue to move people’s hearts because I know He has a purpose for the Quechua people,” says Fredi. “We dream, we hope that one day the Quechua people will stand up and be a great people in God’s timing. It will be the greatest time in their history, a time that God will use them to advance the gospel in this region.
“We want to see the Quechua people of God stand up and take their place in furthering His kingdom.”