Long gone are the days when Seventh-day Adventist Church members living on the outskirts of Pucallpa, Peru, had to travel a long way to attend one of the few Adventist churches downtown.
“Those days were difficult,” a church member said. “We would have to travel for a long time to make it to church, often under heavy tropical rains.” Then, mid-week, members would rush from their jobs and try to attend the prayer meeting.
Eventually, as the city grew, church members stopped the long travel and began to meet in private homes, with the dream of having a close-by church building on the city’s outskirts. As more Adventists moved from other parts of Peru to the city considered the “Gateway to the Peruvian Amazon,” church members pooled their funds and collected the rest of what they needed to build basic structures in which to meet.
“Churches were often built in stages, as funds became available,” a church member explained. “Often, some of the members doubled as bricklayers.”
In one case, a member exchanged a plot of land for building services. “He donated a plot so we could build a church, and we built him his home,” a member said.
Nowadays, in that section of Pucallpa, seven Adventist congregations are situated within two miles of each other, and a total of 11 are in a district led by only one pastor.
Current State of Church Buildings
Despite the steady growth of the Adventist Church in the area, church members have mixed feelings about their current situation. While the newer buildings allowed them to meet under one roof, they also exposed the limitations of their well-meaning initiatives. After 15, 20, or more years, most of the structures are in decline. “During the rainy season, the water runs inside the church, covering our ankles,” a 3 de Noviembre Adventist church member said. “At the same time, water pours down from the roof.”
As the building is not sealed or insulated, members are also exposed to vermin. Many pews in the 3 de Noviembre church have become unsafe, as the termites keep eating through the members’ best efforts to protect their furniture. Sanitary services include just one outside latrine, consisting of an uncomfortable hole in the ground. And the only running water comes from a trickling faucet in a corner of the property, which comes from a neighbor who charges the church for the service. “Trying to fill a small pool with water to baptize a new member is almost impossible,” a member commented. “We need to start at least a day earlier.”
The 3 de Octubre Adventist church, another congregation in the area, is facing other dangers too. Since the groundwork and foundations were never finished according to code, the building is sinking. Dangerous cracks are progressively widening on the walls and floors. The structural integrity is compromised and has become unsafe.
One silver lining across these and other congregations is the number of children attending church every week. The 3 de Noviembre church has around 35 members and 27 children. The 3 de Octubre church, about 30 members and 20 children. Facilities for children, however, are poor or nonexistent. Outside the 3 de Octubre church, wooden stalls used as children’s Sabbath School classrooms are rotten and have muddy floors after repeated flooding. They also need to be bigger to seat the growing child population.
What Maranatha Plans to Do
In late October 2022, Elmer Barbosa, Peru country director of Maranatha Volunteers International, visited some congregations in Pucallpa. Unknown to local members, he was bringing good news: Maranatha had decided to support the regional church’s efforts to build or rebuild dozens of church buildings across the region.
“We have been praying for God to open a way when Elmer arrived,” a local member said. “He arrived in the middle of a tropical storm. It was raining hard, and water was coming into our building from all directions. But we enjoyed a joyful breakfast together because of the great news.”
Leaders of Maranatha, a lay-led supporting ministry of the Adventist Church, returned to Pucallpa in December 2022 to discuss concrete building initiatives in the area. Through a synergistic plan with the leaders of the corporate Adventist Church in Peru, Maranatha hopes to build scores of church buildings in Peru in 2023. Leaders said that several of those new structures will be erected in and around Pucallpa. In several cases, current structures will be demolished and new, more solid buildings will replace them.
Church members are hopeful. “Our church has many needs,” a founding member of the 3 de Noviembre Church said. "But we keep dreaming. We would love to have our own water well and eventually open an Adventist school.” And, she added, “we need to preach with more strength. May the Lord find us working and active.”