SPECIAL REPORTS

Passionately Serving Peru

Faith-based organization develops passion of 20-somethings to make a difference in the lives of youth throughout Peru

With a strong emphasis on clowns and having fun, Mission Center Peru goes into the poor neighborhoods of Paramonga and beyond to bring joy and talk about God. Here, as part of an outreach called Metro Kidz, one of the interns of the mission center gets a crowd of kids at the Las Delecias neighborhood fired up. © Adam R. Cole 2008

An intern of Mission Center Peru, Jhonatan Suarez Tapara, 19, acting here as a Jesus Christ-like character, poses at the conclusion of an drama performance at a local church. The performances, usually done as part of the outreach Action House, seek to teach youth about holy and righteous living, through Christ. © Adam R. Cole 2008

Their presence is like a circus coming to town, just in the excitement comes with it. With music blasting and balls laid out, neighborhood kids are immediately drawn in to what will be an afternoon of fun. Those that don’t wander in initially are given an invitation with a visit to their home. Anticipation builds as attendees begin to play with the balls or engage in other playful activity.

One of the group’s leaders comes over the loudspeakers to bring the gathered kids to a heightened excitement level and introduce the individuals (from the group) who will be leading the day’s program. A prayer then follows, led by a young child, and then the program officially begins.

Once the program official begins, kids get a big dose of laughter and an activity hosted primarily by clowns, Winnie the Pooh, and a purple monkey. The near two-hour program is filled with an assortment of games, a puppet show, and ultimately an invitation to accept Jesus Christ into their hearts. On this particular day, a couple days before Christmas, gifts (regalos) are passed out along with hot chocolate.

The special event, done weekly in poor communities like Las Delicias and Nueva Esperanz (meaning New Hope), is called Metro Kidz. It is sponsored and produced by the organization Mission Center Peru, which functions as sort of a headquarters for Metro Kidz and a youth outreach called Action House while also acting as a missionary training ground for 20-somethings hailing from all over Peru.

“[Our efforts are done to] create conviction in kids’ minds and hearts that there is a God and that He loves them,” said Pastor Jorge A. Meza Jaime, Mission Center Peru’s senior pastor and director, who hails from Paramonga, the home base of the Mission Center. “It is satisfying to know that we are creating those results in a lot of kids throughout Peru.”

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Jaime, 47, a towering figure who exhibits a stern but jovial demeanor, is an advocate for the power of God in people’s lives due to the major change in his life, through the acceptance of Jesus Christ. He was once a police officer that became corrupt and starting using drugs; he eventually lost his job and his family, taking on street life, selling small candy for money. But through a Lima-based ministry Victory Fellowship Centro de Victoria, he was given new life began to serve the Lord in that ministry for the next 12 years and then attended a Bible institute sponsored by the ministry.

Seeing a vision for reaching out to kids and youth throughout Peru, Jaime planted himself at Dream Center Peru (the original namesake of Mission Center Peru). Dream Center Peru was then based in Lima and overseen by American missionaries linked to Dream Center Los Angeles.

In April 2008, after a leadership change and a sense that there was need for change, Dream Center became Mission Center Peru, moved to Paramonga and now is run by Jaime with a small leadership team.

Though a new beginning has been challenging, Jaime feels Mission Center Peru is thriving and has much more room for growth. He counts the success in seeing the lives that have already touched, simply by spreading God’s truth to kids in a number of communities.

“Taking in the Word of God (la palabra de Dios),” says Karol, 9, of why she enjoys Metro Kidz; she is a part of the Las Delicias, living in a humble house steps away from the soccer (futbol) court where the program is held.

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Though Pastor Jorge, along with an American missionary Benjamin Gomez, officially runs Mission Center Peru, the lifeblood of the organization, the pistons of this engine come from the 20-somethings that put on the clown suits, haul the gear around and bring laughter to so many kids and truth to so many teens around Peru.

Eight individuals from the jungles, the mountains and the urban centers of Peru have uprooted themselves to become interns—their official title—at Mission Center Peru, committing to at least a full year of service. In addition to the ministry work they do, the interns must conform to a regimented environment inside the mission house that includes prayer, Bible study, cleaning, cooking, practicing Metro Kidz/Action House dramatizations and other outreach preps or activities. They arise at 5:30 a.m. and stay busy all the way up to dinner at 8 p.m.

Without receiving a single dime for their efforts, the motivation of these interns is based on their desire to serve the Lord and transform the lives of people in their country by creating a deeper connection with Him.

“I just want to give complete time for God, to serve Him, and to guide the youth [toward a better path],” said Neyser T. Sanancino, 23, who comes from the jungle of Peru, Juanjui, San Martin, and has been with Mission Center Peru for one year and two months.

Sanancino came to the Lord when he was 21 and had a terrible sickness. In his agony, he pleaded with God to restore him and promised that he would service Him if healed. When Sanancino was healed, he sought out a church and more about the Bible. One day his pastor gave him an application for Mission Center Peru, which he filled out and then was accepted into the program.

Everyone who comes to the mission center has a different story but a similar ending: choosing to serve with all their hearts.

Mirela T. Sobrado, 20, wandered into the Dream Center’s church (the church, along with the Lima center is no longer in existence) four years ago. She had been living a street life, coming from an abusive home and not liking the foster parents she was sent to live with. She was struggling to find acceptance to no avail. And then she began talking with Jaime and started listening about the love of God. She accepted Christ, became an intern when she was 17, and now leads Mission Center Peru’s Action House ministry.

“My desire is to give God my life and my time,” says Sobrado. “I feel very called to this, to work with girls, to inspire Christ in them, to help them come to a better path from what they’re on, like how I did.”

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He is the only go between, between a world of plenty and a world of poverty and hurt. Benjamin Gomez, 30, a former gang member in Compton, Calif., is the sole American component of Mission Center Peru; his presence provides a crucial link to funds and resources stateside, while also is also serving a role as a mentor to the interns and a role model for the neighborhood kids in the places Mission Center Peru ministers to.

Gomez got saved through a program called Born Again and Delivered Disciples, which was part rehabilitation and part biblical training. He not only grew from being lost and angered gang member, but developed a heart for the Lord and serving Him. When his pastor told him about going to Peru, he jumped at the opportunity.

He’s seen ministry go through transition, and had thoughts of returning home, but never did, persevering with the Lord, and now seeing His fruits by seeing light in the lives of youth.

“I know its all for them (the kids), that if at least one of them really gets it, really decides to walk upright with the Lord, then we’ve made a big difference,” said Gomez.

* * *

The sound of laughter fills the sky at the New Esperanza neighborhood. Kids are nearly in an uproar over one of the games being played—bobbing for candy—in conjunction with the clowns, Winnie the Pooh, and blue monkey instigating their joy. The revelry hits a peak when the kids are led in a conga line by the clowns.

Metro Kidz has built a bond with these children by bringing that joy week in and week out.

Besides laughter, the program provides important lessons. For the last 10 weeks, they have been studying the 10 commandments, imparting a different lesson from the Bible each week.

The teaching pays has made an impact, according to one mother of four, who commented that her kids are a little more respectful and more obedient since coming each week to Metro Kidz.

This impact, of children seizing onto the Lord’s wisdom and righteousness, is something that Mission Center Peru would like to spread throughout Peru. In the last 10 months, they’ve taken their drama performance of Action House on the road five different times, to three jungle venues and two mountain areas. Sites have included Tarma, Juanjui, San Bartolo y Pucallpa

Other outreaches included doing two different marches in Paramonga and just outside of it respectively, to build community bonds and to symbolically make a stand to live for God. The marches, which had upwards of 100 people at each, if not more, finished an Action House performance. Another successful outreach was the delivery of New Testament Bibles—more than 1,000—to area schools in early December.

Spreading more hope and unity, through Christ, is the grand vision of Mission Center Peru. Though they barely have the funds to both live and operate ministry, they continue on steadfast in faith, and know that the Lord will continue to lead a path.

“Everything is a test of faith,” said Jaime. “But he rewards that faith.

“We are raising up young leaders here and raising up disciples who hear His truth. It is a rippling effect that we feel strongly will grow…with more interns, more ministries, more ways that we can extend the love of God to people.”

* * *

The sun is setting. The hot chocolate is nearly out. Wrapping paper is strewn everywhere. Another Metro Kidz outreach is nearly complete.

One final gift is given to Daniel, 6, who humbly asks where his present is; all the names had been called already but he had yet to receive something. He’s attended to in the most caring of ways. A wrapped gift is brought out from a bag, which he opens enthusiastically. It is a truck. His face immediately lights up. He gives one of the Missoin Center Peru interns a big hug and runs off.

The interns know this season is not about the presents. And unlike many of the kids, they don’t expect gifts. To them, the greatest gift is watching kids find their way to the Lord.