Michael and Mary Foster were Australian missionaries to Peru who have worked with University students for many years. We have learnt a lot from their ministry and they have been an inspiration to us. Here they reflect on a time of persecution and a time of growth.
In the mid-eighties, a radical university student group known as the Shining Path started a movement on a campus in the highlands of Peru, targeting universities throughout the country. Their leftist teachings and demands for change caused a reign of terror and bloody revolution, which resulted in 63,000* deaths, including many university students.(* this statistic only released after a commission of Truth in 2003)
Christian Students on campus at the time when the Shining Path took over the university said that despite the difficult circumstances and persecution, the desire to share the gospel and proclaim its truth burned within her.
In fact this persecution was a major factor in the growth of a Christian groups on campuses throughout Peru. This student movement was started by Samuel Escobar in 1963. Samuel went on to be a well know Latin theologian and the group became known as the Association of Peruvian Evangelical University Students (AGEUP), a national student movement related to IFES.
Australian missionaries Michael and Mary Foster began SIM’s partnership with AGEUP in 1992 when they were accepted as staff workers. At the time they said, “It is an honour to be officially accepted as staff workers with these militant Christians who have counted the cost and strive to share the gospel in the light of Peruvian reality”.
In 1991 there were 12 AGEUP groups throughout the universities of Peru and by 2004 there were 64. Not only did God use persecution to grow the groups, but also the universities strategy of diversification. As satellite campuses were set up throughout the country, there were many more centres in which to plant Christian groups!
Dealing with Rapid Growth
As the movement grew rapidly, Michael, Mary and the four Peruvian staff workers couldn’t provide the training and pastoral care needed for leaders of all the groups and there were no finances available to employ more staff. They trained a team of 25 graduates who were committed to ministry and willing to work on a voluntary basis. This has been a vital key to facilitating growth and pastoral care on campuses throughout Peru.
The AGEUP groups are effective because they are based on student leadership and initiatives and are relevant to society. Social action and justice flow from evangelism empowered by bible teaching. They seek to have a prophetic voice in society in the Latin American context.
The incredible diversity of culture throughout the universities of Peru provides equally diverse challenges and opportunities. The prestigious private universities were virtually impenetrable to Christian work before 2001 when God miraculously opened a door for AGEUP to set up groups. By 2004 there were 5 groups in the prestiguious private universities, reaching out to students, many of whom will become future leaders within Peru and beyond. Students have even managed to maintain and evangelical witness on the large Catholic university campus in Lima!
AGEUP groups have already had a huge impact on the church and evangelical scene in Peru. The director of World Vision, director of Compassion and leaders of the Evangelical Alliance and other denominational leaders have all been part of the student movement.
Michael and Mary Foster and their son Camden returned to Australia for health reasons. They are still in regular contact with the students and staff who have been so much a part of their life and ministry for over thirteen years.
AGEUP is growing at an amazing rate and regional workers are working to capacity but finances continue to be a hindrance. A US-based foundation has helped AGEUP establish two Internet cafes in Lima, with the vision to raise funds to support much needed staff workers.
This is a strategic work, impacting generations of university students with the gospel and training young people for leadership. Jaime , a Peruvian-born Chinese architectural student, helps us bring sweeping statements of growth down to the level of strong personal testimony. Some years ago Jaime’s pastor came to the AGEUP office to discuss the change he had seen in Jamie’s life since his involvement with AGEUP. He was eager to know more about the student ministry because he had been impressed with Jamie’s maturity in the Word, zeal for the gospel and keenness to share his faith.
Before leaving Peru, Michael and Mary challenged Jamie to become a staff worker, even though they knew this would mean great personal cost for him. His honest response was that he couldn’t leave his career behind.
Recently Jamie wrote to say that God had been speaking to him and he could no longer say “No”. He is now working with AGEUP and is in charge of projects. This multi-talented young man is a tremendous asset to the student movement in Peru.
The Shining Path movement sought to bring change through revolution and a reign of terror. AGEUP seeks to bring change through the grace of God.
Quick Success Stories
Tanya is an amazing success story from a Compassion project in an inner city slum of Peru. She was studying law. One day she heard another law student crying in the university toilets. Tanya cared for her and introduced her to Jesus. Tanya is now totally convinced that the Word of God is applicable and helpful to all sorts of people in any circumstances. What a wonderful lesson to take with her into her career.
Joel’s involvement with AGEUP has helped him not only in his spiritual growth but also in many practical ways. He has learnt organisational skills and leadership qualities by training as a student group leader that have helped him establish his own computer business – abilities that his course didn’t provide. He is so grateful to the AGEUP leadership for this practical input.