The Good Zacchaeus

The Good Zacchaeus

The Amazon river, the thirsty town and the missionary money collector.

The missionary smiles as she collects money from the people of La Union, Nauta. This is a thirsty community surrounded by water. Nauta sits on the banks of the Marañòn River, a tributary of the Amazon, but its water is not safe to drink. And for the neighbourhood of La Union, the water is even more dangerous. The community gets water from wells, contaminated by run-off from nearby latrines. It’s impossible to feel safe when the water you’re drinking could kill you. It’s a life lived with unavoidable risk. But the missionary pockets the money, says thank you, and moves on to the next house.

A wooden building in the Amazon Rainforest.
The people of La Union, Nauta, live with the constant risk that they will drink contaminated water.

Her name is Laura-Lee Lovering. The money collector. She’s been in Peru for eight years. She is a BMS World Mission worker serving at a community and theology facility called Nauta Integral Mission Training Centre (NIMTC). A BMS-founded centre that, apart from all the theological and practical training it provides, helps the community of La Union feel safer. Laura-Lee and our local partners knew they had to work with the people of La Union to get them clean water.

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So they dug a new well together. A clean one, one they knew would be safe to drink. For the first time, people in La Union had water piped into their homes, and they didn’t have to worry about getting ill from drinking dangerous water. A community water committee was created to ensure the new system was properly looked after by the people in the neighbourhood. And the committee elected Laura-Lee as their modern-day Zacchaeus.

Three men digging a well
The community of La Union are working together to keep their water safe to drink.

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Alejandro runs the project like it was always his. He’s a retiree from La Union and Laura-Lee’s right hand man on the project. He knows how to fix things and he’s there every morning turning on the water and is on hand to help with the maintenance. “Just seeing his own sense of pride and ownership of the project is so satisfying,” says Laura. But you can’t fix a leaking pipe with a sense of ownership alone. And that’s where Laura-Lee the money collector comes in. To keep the project sustainable, and to make sure the people of La Union never have to go back to drinking dirty water, each participating household pays a small fee into a central pot. The money contributes to maintaining the pipes and pumps, and it’s cheaper than buying water from the shops. It builds a sense of ownership – the community is fully invested in the project. Literally.

This is why Laura-Lee goes door-to-door and collects the payments from her neighbours. She’s a good Zacchaeus, collecting money with their blessing and permission, and never taking too much. And it’s helped her get to know her neighbours. She’s not just going to collect their money, she’s laughing with them, chatting to them. Witnessing among them.

“It’s been really special to get to know the community and helping them get to know me as well,” says Laura-Lee. When she’s away, she knows the people of La Union won’t need to go back to drinking dirty water. She knows that the project is in the capable hands of the community, of people like Alejandro, and that, with the Christian community at NIMTC there, their access to living water will never run dry.

Whilst the people of La Union keep their water project going with their own funds, Laura-Lee and her team couldn’t be there without your generous giving. Thank you for sending Laura-Lee. Please share this story, and if you want to help Laura-Lee why not support her as a 24:7 Partner?

Words and video by Laura Durrant.

Flourishing: what growing cacao teaches us about world mission

Roasted cocoa beans.


what growing cacao teaches us about world mission

From bible teaching to running businesses, people in Peru are experiencing how following Jesus brings life in all its fullness.

A front-row seat to creation. This is the way that Laura-Lee Lovering, an environmental scientist serving with BMS World Mission in Peru describes life for her friends and neighbours deep in the Loreto region of Peru, a rainforest criss-crossed by rivers where pinapple, banana, guava and cacao thrive. Laura is describing why Loreto is one of the clearest places to see creation’s role in mission that brings every aspect of life under the transforming power of Christ. The land is intimately connected with daily life. The people of Iquitos farm it every day to support their families.

“Do you think the farming work you do is important?” Laura gently asks the pastors on her Creation Administration programme at the BMS-supported Nauta Integral Mission Training Centre (NIMTC). “How do you think God uses the work you do?” The feeling in response is often one of sheepishness, a sense that farming prevents the pastors from being in church all of the time.

The Nauta Integral Mission Training Centre on the banks of a river in Peru.
Pastors at the Nauta Integral Mission Training Centre are being encouraged that each aspect of life is an opportunity to bring God glory.

But, the pastors are encouraged to turn back to Genesis and see how the agricultural work they do gives glory to God. “It’s all a part of being a good witness in the world,” says Laura. When farming is the principal way that these pastors can support their families, and a large proportion of each day must be spent working hard in the fields, this teaching is transformational.

A Peruvian man crouches in a field cutting crops.
Pedro works at the BMS-supported NIMTC. Trained by the Ministry of Agriculture, he helped to set up a cacao-growing project.

Laura-Lee Lovering takes us on a tour of the agricultural project.

Mission is the link between chocolate-making and church; farming and theology. When a plot of land at the training centre needed to be cultivated, it was clear to BMS staff that it should be used to model the NIMTC’s theology of creation care – the Christian stewardship of natural resources. A few harvests later, and the crop of pineapples, banana, guava and excitingly, cacao, was being used to explore chocolate-making businesses, teach conservation and reaffirm local pastors’ belief that this too could glorify God.

Principles such as doing fair business, providing for families and looking after the land are taught and practised with each harvest. Two local women, Marisol and Mariset, have been investigating how to roast and grind the cacao beans and make traditional drinking chocolate to sell locally. The hope is that a small co-operative could be formed, with some of the profits feeding back into the NIMTC.

And while this chocolate harvest is ready for Easter, there are plans for Christmas time, too. Laura hopes to encourage local churches to build community by hosting the Peruvian festive celebration of eating panéton together and drinking hot chocolate. “You cannot separate life here from the environment,” says Laura. “I say to people, ‘Let’s read the Bible and see how important creation is to God. Let’s see how God wants to glorify and bless every aspect of life’.”

Your support is bringing blessing to Peruvian Christians, and encouragement to pastors receiving vital support and training at the NIMTC. Our Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are flourishing as they come into contact with BMS projects and workers. Your giving and prayers make all this possible. Thank you.

Two Peruvian women grind cocoa beans to make chocolate
Marisol and Mariset have been investigating how selling chocolate could help to support the NIMTC and their families.
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