From a Cave to a Church

One congregation’s search for a permanent place of worship in Peru.

Julie Z. Lee, Maranatha Volunteers International
From a Cave to a Church
Papias Chipanamamani (right) prays with his fellow church members as they gather in the cave that once served as the Laraquere church. [Photo: Julie Z. Lee]

From churches built of scarves to skinny wooden sticks to grass and plastics, Maranatha Volunteers International has hundreds of stories about unusual places of worship. Each is unique in the individual struggles the congregation has had to overcome, and all are inspiring because they reveal a resilience and devotion to faith.

One of the more unusual stories Maranatha has come across in recent years is the story of the Laraquere Seventh-day Adventist congregation in Peru.

The Laraquere group didn’t intend to meet in a cave. But without a church building, the group was transient, shifting worship from place to place. First, they crammed into someone’s home. When that was too small, they met outside, suffering through variations of extreme heat or soaking rain.

Then, they found a cave. It was carved out of a large rock formation, pocked with interesting divots and holes, that rose out of the hills of the city of Puno. The hollow had once been used as a halfway house — a place for weary travelers to find rest. Overnight guests built fires to stay warm and cook food, as evidenced by the blackened interior walls. Now, the cave was to serve as a sanctuary, and it wasn’t perfect, but it was spacious and dry. So, the congregation scrubbed down the walls, built a door of piled rocks, and established a church. Nearly 30 people met there every Sabbath, walking in from all over the area for worship. And if the space was strange, no one cared.

“It wasn’t weird. They were all eager to hear the word of God,” Papias Chipanamamani, who remembers worshiping in the cave, says. He was among the original members when the church started in 1975.

Several years later, a church member donated a piece of property in the nearby town of Poquellani. The location was more central to the growing number of members, and it was a place where they could build a real structure.

“We moved out from [the cave] because the Gospel wasn’t just preached within a family. [The members] also spread it to their relatives and friends,” Chipanamamani says. Most of the growth came from a nearby town, located 8 kilometers away; people were having to travel a long distance to attend church. “The distance makes you tired if you have to walk.”

At the new site, the members worked tirelessly to build a structure. It was a community hall, designed to serve multiple purposes, including worship. The funds were scarce, but the congregation collaborated to construct a simple building that could serve their immediate needs, at least temporarily. The dream, of course, was to build a sturdier church in the future.

But the dream was always out of reach, and as the years ticked by, the poor quality of construction materials caught up to them.

“Because the church we had was made of rustic materials, it deteriorated over time. It wasn’t just the walls that were in bad condition. The ceiling was no longer the original ceiling. One time, the wind blew the roof off, and they had to reroof the building,” Chipanamamani says. “It was no longer in good condition. It was deteriorated. When it rained, the water came in. It came out of the ground as well. Everything got wet, so it was no longer a suitable place.”

With no choice, the congregation tore down the building. Chipanamamani opened up a humble space on his property for worship. But in the meantime, he and fellow church members strategized how they might afford a new structure. They knew it would be a long road ahead.

But then the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Peru invited Maranatha to work in Peru. And after a two-year delay due to the pandemic, the plan is for Maranatha to build them a new church.

“It’s a blessing from God because we didn’t expect this. It’s a great blessing from God,” Chipanamamani says.

Laraquere is just one of approximately 100 projects that Maranatha is committed to constructing in Peru in 2023. As membership keeps growing and spreading in this region and other parts of Peru, the need for proper places of worship grows too. It is a testament to the persistence of the Adventist Church in Peru and the dedication of its people.

The original version of this story was posted on Maranatha’s Volunteer magazine.

Julie Z. Lee, Maranatha Volunteers International