Monday, February 23, 2009

Prayers avert riot

Campesinos with sticks
It's not every day that starts off with an army of men with sticks in your yard, but that's how Thursday started. We had gotten up early, cleaned the house and swept the steps. We were just getting ready for our devotional when I looked out the window and saw about thirty campesinos--the Quechua farmers--some with big sticks and other ones cutting down trees to use as sticks. This is the Andahuaylas equivalent of an angry mob with pitchforks, so Mike went to find out what was going on.

At the foot of our outside stairs he encountered Dr. Julio Gonzales, president of the Munay Association, talking on the phone saying "we don't expect any violence." The men with sticks said that they were there to "keep the police from coming in." And more of them were arriving--until there were about forty.

A bitter disagreement
The reason for all this is a split between the members of the Munay Association. The Munay (Caring ) Association is a secular Peruvian non-profit that was founded by a French doctor to do social work in Peru with funds raised in France. Because of an administrative squabble the Association split and lost its French support--and therefore the ability to do any work beyond provide free lodging for the poor subsistence farmers when they have to travel to Andahuaylas (the Casa Campesina--or Farmer's house). This is the reason that the property was available for use by Kawsay (Life--the association that we are working with. ) on a per-event rental basis (and our apartment here as well).

Early this year the squabble became more serious and bitter. A lawsuit was brought against Dr. Julio to demand that he give the property over to the ex-members of the Association. This lawsuit contains several false allegations against him personally and is supported by a some local political figures who have their own interests in the property. An unscrupulous judge could use the lawsuit to close the operations, perhaps for years, and the property would sit vacant until someone could get enough influence to get it. Or an unscrupulous judge partnered with an equally unscrupulous mayor or other political figure could confiscate it for "city use."

Almost any outcome would result in the property and buildings not being use for the improvement of lives in the Quechua community--their original purpose.

Kawsay receives rights
To avoid this ,the board of directors of Munay decided to turn all rights to use and administration of the property over to Kawsay for five years, taking the property out of play and giving it to Kawsay for five years for Bible Institute, conferences, and medical campaigns. The only stipulations were that the Casa Campesina (Farmer's house) continue to provide free lodging to the poor farmers when they need to travel to Andahuaylas, and to honor the agreements to allow a public kindergarten to use the school building and the dentist who uses the office to provide free dental care to the army.

Legally, there was no problem with the transaction because both are Peruvian non-profits with the aim of aiding the Quechua communities. The reason Dr. Julio thought of doing it is that the medical missions that come from the US always treat everyone without discrimination--Evangelicals, Catholics, country people, city people, men, women, and children.

On Wednesday Feb. 18, the official papers came out and the property was transferred for five years to Kawsay.

Hostilities intensify
On Wednesday, an obviously nervous Dr. Julio met with the members of Kawsay to give them the papers. He had heard that the ex-associates were asking for a police action to remove the Munay association people from the property--and that might include us. He called Cayo Vargas, the president of Kawsay, to tell him to hire a group of men to defend the property. Cayo refused, and instead, called several churches to request prayer for the next day.

Prayer Support
On Thursday morning, shortly after our discovery of the mob, men, women, and teenagers began to arrive from area churches. Several pastors, Mike, and the other members of Kawsay met with Dr. Julio, to explain that the evangelicals (this is the word here for Christians who are not Catholics) were going to pray, and did not want any sort of confrontation. If God was in it, then the property would stay with Kawsay. If not, then we did not want to be there. Dr. Julio was very impressed by this testimony, and even expressed that he wanted the peace that the evangelicals have. He left and all we Evangelicals gathered in one of the classrooms to pray.

A turn for the worse
A short time later, Martin (the Kawsay treasurer) arrived on his motorcycle to say that the police in nearby Talavera were coming to evict everyone from the premises. This would actually be illegal, just as it would be in the US, but law enforcement in Peru is often at the command of the highest bidder. These illegal evictions usually produce violent confrontations.

Prayer and peace
All of us agreed that the most important thing was to avoid violence. A delegation went to talk to the campesinos while the rest stayed praying for justice from the legal officials and a peaceful and loving reception of the police. The men agreed to lay aside their sticks and remain only as a display of solidarity. In true Peruvian style they started to play soccer.

Praise
We decided to take the prayer meeting outside to meet the police. We gathered in a circle with the men and prayed. Several of the church members testified. We told them about our future plans for the property--Bible Institute for campesinos and medical campaigns. We sang some songs and the men hesitantly joined in. Several times we stopped for cars arriving, but the police did not come.

A surprising answer
Instead, Dr. Julio arrived again with the leader of an agricultural activist group, a man named Braulio. This group is well known for an agricultural strike that paralyzed the city for 6 days in 2006. They also had news--the police were not coming. Braulio had spoken to the police in Andahuaylas, telling them that his group was not in favor of any attempt to shut down the Casa Campesina. They in turn had communicated with the police in Talavera, who decided not to proceed with the eviction action.

Dr. Julio at this point gave the permanent control of the property to the campesinos. He enrolled the presidents of the agricultural association as members of Munay. This did not change Kawsay's rights for the five years, but it did refute any claim that he was trying to retain the property for himself.

It did, however, cause us some concern. The pastors and we met with the leaders of the association, praying with them and explaining that we did not want to retain the property by force, that our aims were to bring medical campaigns and other physical assistance, but also that our main aim was to have a Bible Institute for the campesino pastors. They promised to respect our stand and stated they were glad to have Kawsay involved, and were happy to have the Bible Institute as part of the facility. They promised to keep their political actions completely separate from the Munay association.

Lunch with the campesinos
In the meantime some of the women from the local churches had been preparing a lunch of soup and potatoes. And so we all sat down --about 40 Evangelicals, 40 campesinos, and a dozen or so campesino activists. We shared some of our precious supply of Tony Cachere's seasoning for the potatoes, explaining that it was American aji (pepper) from the state of Louisiana. The fact that we ate potatoes (as finger food) and soup with them was very important to the activist campesinos. Several of them commented on the fact that the other foreigners had not done so. A friendly, celebratory atmosphere prevailed. Some people from the local churches, a few of whom had known nothing of Kawsay and the Bible Institute before today, decided to walk up and see the land (it nearly adjoins Munay) where the future Bible Institute will be constructed. The campesinos, instead of rioting and confronting the police as they had expected, had an impromptu holiday from farm work and spent the afternoon relaxing and playing soccer.

Evening meeting--the Power of God!
That evening we had a meeting of Kawsay at Martin's pizzeria to plan the Thompson Bible Conference that was coming up. Dr. Julio unexpectedly arrived to let us know that he and Cayo had spoken that afternoon with the judge who was over all the proceedings, and that she had given them plenty of time. She had been told by the other parties that Kawsay had paid Dr. Julio for the administrative rights. When Cayo explained that no money had changed hands and explained the plans of Kawsay, the judge said that there would be no trouble with the transfer, which was 100% legal and aboveboard, and thanked them for taking the time to explain to her.
Dr. Julio was amazed, as she had never explained or listened before, only allowing a few short minutes at a time.
Martin asked him what he thought had brought about the change. Dr. Julio said, "Brothers, I really believe it was the power of God!"

Prayer requests
Dear friends, we ask for your continued prayer about this situation. Specifically:
Praise God for his peaceful resolution of a delicate situation.
Pray for Dr. Julio and his family, who are under a lot of stress. Pray also that Dr. Julio would accept Christ--who would provide the peace that he is seeking.
Pray for a peaceful agreement among the members and ex-members of Munay--that all would accept Christ.
Pray for medical teams--both that more come from the US (more difficult in the current economy) and that those that are planning to come are able to overcome obstacles and keep their commitment. They are badly needed in the rural areas and this opens many doors for the gospel.
Pray that the new campesino members of Munay would keep their political agenda separate from their membership in Munay.
Pray for the continued honesty of the law enforcement and civil officials involved.
Praise God for the opportunity to testify to these diverse groups.