Cullowhee, North Carolina (July 28, 1999)-The Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship (PEF), which has sponsored missionaries in many countries around the world, is now embarking on a new venture. The organization is cooperating with Mississippi Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America to send a team to labor with the Iglesia Evangelica Presbyteriana del Peru (IEPP), a denomination founded earlier this century through the efforts of the Free Church of Scotland (FCS).
Leading the team will be the Rev. Mr. S. Wesley Baker, Jr., who had pastored the Lebanon Presbyterian Church, Learned, Mississippi, since his ordination in 1996. Raised in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Mr. Baker graduated from Texas A&M University with a double degree in animal science and philosophy. He received his M.Div. from Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson in 1995. Pastor Baker indicates that his church, a PCA congregation, has been supportive of his desire to minister in Latin America.
The missionary sees the ministry to the Peruvians to consist of four parts: church planting, a university ministry, leadership training (including seminary), and the printing of literature.
The church planting effort is being first concentrated in Cajamarca, in the north of Peru, where the base of ministry operations is being laid. Right now, approximately 60 people are crowding into a room to sit under the preaching of Alonzo Ramirez, a native pastor who had studied at the Free Church College in Edinburgh, before graduating from Reformed Seminary in Jackson with a Master of Theology. While there in Mississippi, he and Wes Baker met each other four years ago.
The effort in Cajamarca represents a revitalization of the work begun by the Scottish church many years ago-an effort which still evokes respect among the Peruvians. In the city is a monument honoring Sarah McDougall, pioneer Free Church missionary. In contrast to the treatment of other Protestant groups in Cajamarca, even the Roman Catholic Church respects the Presbyterians, and does not regard the Presbyterian Church as a sect.
The measure of respect is seen in that the PEF team has been invited onto the local university campus. The hope is to establish an outreach similar to that of Reformed University Ministries, the national campus organization of the PCA.
In terms of leadership training, Mr. Baker notes that native leadership for the IEPP has been largely lacking. The few pastors of the denomination are, for the most part, not well trained, and not many opportunities exist for furthering their education. Like the people to whom they minister, they are very, very poor. "Our poor people in this country [America] are filthy rich compared to them," said Mr. Baker.
The lack of trained leadership has been one of the reasons why the IEPP has declined from its original commitment to historic Presbyterian worship. "Pentecostalism has wreaked havoc in Latin America, and no less in the IEPP," Wes Baker noted. Deviations in practice include women leading in prayer, speaking in tongues, and contemporary praise songs.
However, under the leadership of Pastor Ramirez, the IEPP congregation in the capital city of Lima, Los Olivos, has experienced very encouraging reforms, including a renewed appreciation of the importance of Biblical psalmody.
The Peruvians, however, do not possess a full psalter. Only about 40 or so of the shorter psalms, and pieces of longer ones, are available for singing. The reason for this is that the psalms are not metrical, and therefore irregular tunes have to be used. But that does not change the gusto with which these South Americans sing. Wes Baker says: "They love the psalms. You should go to the Los Olivos congregation and hear them sing the psalms."
Mr. Baker is himself convinced of the historic Presbyterian position on worship music, although not everyone on the PEF team has come to the same conclusions. However, they are all willing to work with Pastor Ramirez and his convictions.
The IEPP is committed to the Westminster Standards. Wes Baker has a slightly different vision for worship. "Worship is very close to the Westminster Directory, though we're bending it in the direction of Knox's Liturgy," declared the Mississippi pastor. He wants to rediscover a "very clear distinct Reformed liturgy" which he says stretches "from Bucer to Knox." This perspective reflects that represented in the PCA by, for example, Terry Johnson, Pastor of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah.
Indeed, Mr. Johnson and two other PCA ministers were ministering in Peru this summer. The other PCA teaching elders were Dr. Duncan Rankin, Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi; and Dr. Ligon Duncan, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Jackson. Also assisting this summer was Mr. Stanley Pace, a former assistant at Savannah's Independent Presbyterian Church, who is studying at the Free Church College in Edinburgh.
Mr. Baker is planning to move to Peru around the first of the year. Although not going under the auspices of Mission to the World (MTW), the denominational world missions arm of the PCA, he is "very hopeful for a close relationship with MTW."
Historically, the missionaries affiliated with MTW and a predecessor, World Presbyterian Missions of the former Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, have worked in the southern part of Peru. A few years ago, a merger was consummated between the IEPP and the denomination with which MTW works. However, for a variety of reasons, the union only lasted for about a year, and the two denominations went their separate ways. That ecclesiastical-political scenario prevented Mr. Baker from having MTW credentials. He remarked: "We very much regret the political situation in the churches that kept us from going with MTW to work with the churches in Cajamarca." He added: "We consider Bob Woodson, Tim McKeon, and Keith Powlison to be good friends, and look forward to working with them and the other MTW folks in the area."
The Bill Bradfords have been in Peru since February 1999. Following the Bakers will be at least one more family, the Brad Balls. The whole budget for each family on the team is $60,000. This includes ministry expenses, and the support of native pastors.
One of the particular needs which the team has is for the ability to print their own literature. Funds for a printing press, costing $15,000, have recently been donated by Sharon Presbyterian Church, Magee, Mississippi. Another $5,000 has been given by Covenant Presbyterian Church, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for bookbinding equipment. However, an additional $5,000 is needed in order for the printing operation to be fully functional. Monies are also needed for building projects and for support for training men for the ministry. Besides money, personnel are also welcome, including short-term missionaries. "We've been asked to head up the English department at a Roman Catholic school," Mr. Baker said. "Anyone wishing to come and help with that would be appreciated."
Those interested in more information, or in supporting this effort, may contact PEF at (404)244-0740, or Wes Baker at (601)885-9843; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.