by Samuel Cueva
A look at the origins and structure of the first indigenous mission in Peru and its importance for missions in the third millennium.
This article is an attempt to study the origins and initial mission structure1 of the Asociación Misionera Evangélica Nacional (The National Evangelical Missionary Association, AMEN), the first indigenous Peruvian mission founded by Peruvian Juan C. Cueva Tafur (1909-2005). After considering the origins, structure, and name changes of AMEN, we will focus on its importance for mission in the third millennium.
Origins of AMEN
On August 5, 1946, in the city of Huancayo, a meeting was held of the First General Assembly of the Iglesia Evangélica Peruana (The Peruvian Evangelical Church, IEP) (see Kessler 1967, 272-273). Baltasar Rubio, pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in Chiclayo, was invited to give a mission report and spoke of the need for missionaries in the “campos blancos” (White fields) of the Peruvian jungle (Barrera 1993, 269). Thus, a call from the Lord sprang as he spoke of his work and the needs of the Aguaruna tribe in the northern region of the country (Cueva 1991, 103).
According to Saul Barrera, in that first assembly, the Missionary Society of the IEP was also organized (Barrera 1993, 271). The missionary vision emerged from the call made by Rubio. But while Barrera believed the Missionary Society belonged to the IEP, Cueva’s vision was to found an interdenominational mission—a notion not understood by leadership of the time.
Cueva’s vision was to contribute to the evangelization of Peru, and not simply to strengthen a denomination. He explained that “the call of God was in fact an invitation of the Holy Spirit to the Assembly of the IEP.” The response was silence, and the assembly did not respond to the call to support work among the Aguarunas (Cueva interview 2002).
The reason likely had to do with the fact that the IEP, as a nascent denomination, had from its beginning its own vision for mission work in the Peruvian jungle. This was an effort encouraged by the leadership of Scottish missionary John Ritchie, founder of the IEP. Consequently, it was difficult for them to support the work of the Church of the Nazarene among the Aguarunas, to say nothing of the IEP’s own internal concerns as a new denomination.
The IEP grew to 2,161 churches and is now the second largest denomination in Peru, after the Assemblies of God.
When the invitation to dedicate one’s life was given at the First General Assembly meeting, a number of young people responded. Cueva received his own call to stimulate the missionary effort in Peru. As the eldest among them at age 37, Cueva promoted times of prayer each morning at 5 a.m. During a time of prayer on August 16, 1946, the Lord gave Cueva two things regarding next steps: a word (“mission society”) and a concept (the notion of a spiral). Cueva recalls:
Right there, while I was on my knees, the Lord showed me a complete and perfect plan. It was to found a mission society whose aim would be to preach the gospel, following a spiral whose point of departure was Huancayo and whose radius of action would extend systematically and progressively throughout Peru—because at that time the mission only thought of evangelization within Peru. (Cueva interview 2002)
On the origins of AMEN, Cueva adds:
…with this clear answer from the Lord, I called those who were interested together and expounded what the Lord had showed to me: to found a missionary society which would go by the name of Sociedad Misionera Evangélica Peruana (The Peruvian Evangelical Missionary Society), whose purpose was to take up the missionary task, beginning in the city of Huancayo, and reaching out in spiral form so as to complete the evangelization of the country in the present generation. (Cueva interview 2002)
In this way, Cueva founded AMEN, the first missionary society begun and promoted by a Peruvian, on August 21, 1946. Among those who joined Cueva in founding AMEN were Margarita Alfaro, Nelly López, Delia Durand, Rubén Paredes, Manuel Segura, Edmundo Alfaro, Paulino Alfaro, Amadeo Reina, Víctor Posadas, and Clemente Paredes. However, each eventually left AMEN for different reasons. Many served faithfully in other spheres of ministry.
Cueva finally retired from AMEN in 1987 as a result of unresolved missionary tensions brought about by a new philosophy which was introduced in 1977. Still, Cueva’s original missionary vision continues to be developed through the Iglesia Misionera Evangelica (IME), a movement he founded on July 20, 1985, in Huancayo.
Could we interpret these movements and changes in personnel as a form of missiological fatigue? Or as the result of missionary growth with its own tensions of the age, as well as changes which had to be faced in carrying out an indigenous missiology?
We see evidence for the fact that the missionary calling, as Cueva conceived it, took the form of a sustained and fresh response to a conviction shared with few others who grasped a vision for a non-denominational effort in an initial stage of evangelization in Peru. According to oral tradition, Cueva was the person God used to understand and respond to the Macedonian Call of that time.
As Denton Lotz explains (1970, 2-17), Cueva understood his missionary vision in the same way that it was developed by the Student Volunteer Movement, which called for the evangelization of the world in that generation.
On January 16, 2006, following the opening ceremony of the 55th General Assembly of the IEP, Cueva was recognized posthumously for the work he carried out within the denomination. Integrity and love were evident in his service to the Lord. Eldest daughter Eva received a Diploma of Honor, awarded by the National Executive Council of the Iglesia Evangélica Peruana to Cueva for services rendered to the IEP, as well as a medallion on which the following was engraved: “Give honour unto Him, II Timothy 4:7-8.”
Cueva’s missionary work—which was controversial for some, novel for others, and inspiring for many—has only begun to be studied in the Western and Latin American academic worlds.
Mission Structure in the Early Years
According to Enrique Dusell (1981, 359-360), until the time when Cueva stimulated the missionary effort with AMEN, there were only 27,421 evangelicals—or 0.4% percent of a population of Peru. They were a minority looked down upon by a Peruvian society which was primarily Catholic. Compared with the Catholic missionary effort, which enjoyed the support of the Peruvian government, the Protestant evangelistic effort was small.
According to the 2007 census, those over the age of 12 who self-identified as evangelicals amounted to 12.5% of the country’s population. This new reality affords us with mission prospects for Peru which are quite different from those of 1946.
One of the oldest newsletters we have found has the header: “The Peruvian Evangelical Mission Society. Huancayo, Peru, Year 2, May 1948, Number 15, Secretariat. Box 87, Huancayo, Peru.” This missiological jewel contains five key points of a contextual missiology:
1. Doxological introduction. This was based on Jude 24-25, and read as follows:
We offer our newsletter number 15, as always in worship, praise and gratitude; “TO HIM WHO IS ABLE TO KEEP YOU FROM FALLING AND TO PRESENT YOU BEFORE HIS GLORIOUS PRESENCE WITHOUT FAULT AND WITH GREAT JOY, TO THE ONLY GOD OUR SAVIOUR BE GLORY, MAJESTY, POWER AND AUTHORITY, NOW AND FOR EVER MORE.” Amen. Jude 24 & 25.
This passage revealed the Christological implications of the eschatological thrust of Cueva’s missionary theology.
2. Prayer meeting. Cueva’s missiology stressed the need for a prayer meeting as a means to promote a missionary revival which represented a true manifestation of the Holy Spirit for the advancement of God’s kingdom.
3. Bible crusade. Cueva noted that many towns and homes had been visited. One note stated that the aim of Cueva’s mission was to bring all his work to the foot of the cross of Christ so that the seed of the gospel will bear fruit.
4. SMEP (Sociedad Misionera Evangelica Peruana, AMEN) discipline. This point contained the financial plan used to support candidates in Bible training, providing financial assistance during their training period.
5. Second anniversary of SMEP (AME). It is mentioned that the first evangelical mission society had been developing a substantial evangelistic outreach, but that more prayer and fewer arguments were required. The final part of the newsletter ended with a doxological mission statement based on 1 Timothy 1:17.
The plan of action proposed by Cueva was as follows (Cueva memoirs 1990, 1):
1. Prayer. To continue with the prayer meeting indefinitely.
2. Training. To prepare in order to carry out an effective task.
3. Action. To begin a Bible crusade from house to house.
In his memoirs, Cueva wrote that the foundation of a missionary calling is prayer, its complement training, and its essence action. Additionally, in his initial missionary action plan he proposed:
1. To obtain tracts, portions of scripture, New Testaments, Bibles, etc.
2. To sell literature in order to buy a vehicle for the work of the mission.
3. To edit a newsletter to disseminate information about the work and to seek out partners.
4. To send approved candidates to the Bible institute.
5. A voluntary offering for the mission.
This missionary plan can be defined as the philosophical and strategic basis of an indigenous missiology which Cueva proposed in 1946 without having had the benefit of formal academic training in missions.
This plan can be related to three questions regarding the missionary task which David Bosch raises (1991, 495-496):
1. What is mission for?
2. What is the Church for?
3. What is the purpose of the gospel?
Cueva reckoned that every mission has its own missionary plan. For instance, the Basel mission, founded in 1816, set before itself the aim of proclaiming the gospel of peace as a means to extend a civilization dedicated to helping others. Likewise, William Carey had a vision for India, and Hudson Taylor for China.
Scottish missiologist Stewart McIntosh believes that AMEN’s greatest contribution to an indigenous missiology was its conviction that Latin Americans can be missionaries, and that the Church in Latin America had to shift from being a receiving entity to one which sends (McIntosh questionnaire 2002).
Part of the tensions in the development of AMEN had to do with the fact that mission societies existed to establish churches, while local churches existed to be witnesses in their local areas.
AMEN Name Changes
The name of a mission society almost always defines its aim and scope. AMEN has had four different names.
1. Sociedad Misionera Evangélica Peruana (Peruvian Evangelical Mission Society). “Peruvian Evangelical” suggests the strong influence of the local church context, since part of the name of the denomination to which Cueva belonged was borrowed. “Mission Society” is applied as a result of that which Cueva received from God in a special time of private prayer.
First candidates of the mission were Manuel Segura and Delfín Flores. Amadeo Reina and Victor Posadas were added to work in the jungle of the nor-Peruvian orient.
2. Asociación Misionera Evangélica Nacional (National Evangelical Mission Association). AMEN was officially registered on October 3, 1977, with the name Asociación Misionera Evangélica Nacional. This reflected a name change that probably occurred between 1957 and 1959, adopting the acronym AMEN. The change resulted from the fact that part of the leadership of the IEP, together with missionaries who worked with the denomination, were reluctant to see the mission movement reach beyond the limits of the denomination.
AMEN had a board which was elected on a yearly basis. With regards to missionary vision, AMEN’s missionary aim was the evangelization of the most remote people groups in Peru. A reciprocal work accord was established with the Swiss mission, which worked in the Peruvian jungle.
3. Asociación Misionera Evangélica a las Naciones (Evangelical Mission Association to the Nations). This new change might be understood as the stage which reflected a missionary vision to reach beyond the nation’s borders (i.e., a missionary effort which was both local and global). Part of this vision resulted from Cueva’s first trip to Europe in 1973.
The name change took effect at the 32nd Annual Missions Conference of AMEN, held in 1978 in Talavera, a town located in the Peruvian highlands. With Cueva serving as president, it was decided that the acronym AMEN would be retained, but the name modified.
This decision was likely made as a result of a renewed and expanded vision which Cueva received. En route to Sweden, he stopped in Madrid, where he came to realize that Peruvians could also be sent abroad as missionaries. From then on, his focus was on a missionary effort that reached both Europe and the Muslim world.
The year 1973 was crucial, for it was then that preparations were begun to send Peruvian missionaries to Europe and North Africa. We observe the new name change in one of the important newsletters of AMEN, which noted Cueva’s plans for global mission, beginning in Spain, Morocco, and Bolivia. By 1977, an extension of AMEN was founded in London, with the participation of Eric Willett, a British missionary who had served in Peru.
Sent to Spain via London, in 1979 Edmundo Ravelo and his wife and family were AMEN’s first Peruvian missionaries to Europe. During 1977 to1979, many young people were incorporated into the mission.
In 1980, Cueva organized his second missionary trip to Europe to see new possibilities for missionary work in Spain, with plans to have an exploration into Morocco. In 1990, at the age of 80, he went to Spain as a missionary.
4. Asociación de Misioneros del Nuevo Mundo (New World Mission Association, NEWMA). In 1977, a group of young Methodists were incorporated into AMEN. These individuals sought to develop their talents amidst the new changes which AMEN began to undergo beginning in 1973.
Beginning in 1974, Ravelo became secretary of AMEN. The individuals who have carried on with this mission now administer it under the name NEWMA, which was introduced in 2002 and has operated as a legal entity since 2008.
This fourth name change reflected the most critical moment in AMEN’s early years, in which administrative and leadership tensions arose, culminating in Cueva stepping down.
The entire process of mission dynamism, together with the four name changes of the AMEN mission, give us keys to understanding that AMEN is an indigenous movement. There are four reasons for this.
1. It was founded by a Peruvian.
2. The movement arose as a result of the preaching of Baltazar Rubio, a Peruvian missionary working among the Aguaruna people in Peru.
3. All the original members of AMEN were Peruvians.
4. Juan Cueva was president of AMEN for many years, after which he was named lifetime president.
As founder of the first indigenous mission society in Peru, Cueva is, in the words of Peruvian anthropologist Tito Paredes, the “pioneer of Latin American missions.” Thus reads his epitaph since his death in November 2005 in Lima.
AMEN and Changes in a Globalized Mission
The value of a study on the origins of AMEN includes the need to learn from history in order to understand the development, strengths, and weaknesses that shape new mission models today.
Since 1946, AMEN has been defined as a movement of the Holy Spirit. Its annual mission conferences have been guided by a strong sense of the need for the local church to be involved in the missionary task. Cueva did not propose a dichotomy between the work of the local church and that of the mission society; he was interested in strengthening the work of both entities.
Throughout history, we find evidence that God’s mission is dynamic and that practitioners of the missio Dei seek to be innovative both in terms of strategy and theory, leading at times to name changes in organizations. Taken positively, this can be understood as resulting from a widening of vision, new mission strategies, or from the need for greater contextualization. Taken negatively, tensions are felt through poor administration, immature leadership, or an excess of unchecked power within the organization. To be sure, this double missiological tension has been felt in AMEN.
Within this tension we find various missions and networks which are seeking to innovate (and change their names) in order to face the challenges of mission in the third millennium. Examples include the Evangelical Union of South America (La Unión Evangélica de Sud-America, EUSA), which merged with The Regions Beyond Missionary Union (UK-RMBU) and is now called Latin Link; and the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF), which is now called The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).
There exists in every mission society a process of development in vision and structure which generates changes in philosophy, administration, and personnel. Consequently, the history of every mission movement is a history which must not be changed or altered, but rather recorded with the highest possible degree of faithfulness to the historical facts.
In this way, the foundation of every movement might be strengthened, particularly in the new processes of development of emerging missions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Samuel Escobar states clearly, “The twentieth century gives testimony to the continuous and stable growth of an intentional mission effort on the part of non-Western countries towards other countries of the world” (Escobar 2009, 192). In the midst of its strengths and weaknesses, AMEN is one example of this.
1. Note: Due to space, all the references consulted for this article cannot be listed. For a full list, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barrera C. Saúl. 1993. Orígenes y Desarrollo de la Iglesia Evangélica Peruana. 100 Años de Misión, Lima: C.B.T, CEDEPP.
Bosch, David.1991. Transforming Mission. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
Cueva, Juan. 1990. Personal Memoirs. Guadalajara, Spain, 15.
________. 2002. Personal Interview in the home of Edwin Jorge Castillo and Ruth Cueva de Castillo. Cassette recording,
Lima, Perú. December 24.
Cueva, Samuel. 1991. La iglesia Local en Misión Transcultural. Barcelona: CLIE.
Dussel, Enrique. 1981. A History of the Church in Latin America. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Escobar, Samuel. 2009. “Mission from Everywhere to Everyone: The Home Base in a New Century.” In Edinburgh 2010: Mission Then and Now. Eds. David A. Kerr and Kenneth R. Ross, 185-197. Oxford: Regnum.
Kessler Jr., John. 1967. A Study of the Older Protestant Missions and Churches in Peru and Chile, With Special Reference to the Problems of Division, Nationalism and Native Ministry. Goes: Oosterbaan and Le Cointre.
Lotz, Denton. 1970. “The Evangelization of the World in this Generation”: The Resurgence of a Missionary Idea among the Conservative Evangelicals. New York, Hamburg.
McIntosh, Estuardo. 2002. Questionnaire sent to the author. December 10.
Samuel Cueva is a Peruvian missiologist, developing mission in Europe for twenty years. He is founder of the Mission for the Third Millennium (MTM) movement that builds two-way mission bridges. He is currently pastoring a Spanish congregation in collaboration with St. James’ Church-Muswell Hill in London.
EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 2, pp. 140-147. Copyright © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.