For over a month, we heard rumors of a potential strike by the people in our area who grow the coca plant. These people are called “Cocaleros.” Dependable news from the community was impossible. I don’t know how many times they scheduled the strike, canceled the strike, and then rescheduled it for a future date. It really seemed like the strike would never start. Some in town said it would never happen. Others said it would eventually happen and that it would last three days. And yet others said it would be indefinite. We never received anything close to consistent information.
Finally, we heard that the strike was set for the 7th or 8th of October and that at least we could be certain that it would definitely not start before then! We had received word from one of our church attenders. He’s not faithful to church, but it seemed like he really knew what was going on. Finally we could finally start making some needed travel plans. Our niece and her husband, who are part of our ministry team, were expecting their second child, and she needed to be in Cusco in order to make the preparations for the birth, especially since she would need to have a C-section. We urgently needed to get them to Cusco, in case the strike lasted longer than expected.
In light of what we thought was reliable news, Flor, Alex, their daughter Melody, and Bob planned to leave on Monday, October 5th at the reasonable time of 4am (ha!). They would head to the home of Becky’s sister in Arin, which is located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The trip is a grueling seven hours of jungle and mountain roads. Flor and Alex plan to stay there for about three months, for both the birth and the recovery process.
After the long, hard trip, they arrived in Arin and after unloading Flor and Alex’s belongings, Bob immediately drove another twenty minutes to Urubamba, where he would pick up our funds. Then he drove another hour and a half to the city of Cusco. He spent the day furiously making needed purchases for the jungle. He arrived back in Arin at nine that evening, where he spent the night.
The following morning, Tuesday, he left at 4:30am and drove as hard and fast as he could safely manage, in order to arrive home in Pilcopata, just in case the strike began early. He arrived into Patria, the closest town to Pilcopata, in a record time of 5 hours (usually 7 hours with stops). So, by now, it is only 9:30am and guess what he sees ahead. That’s right…a roadblock. He is only 15 minutes from home. Only 15 minutes from a good breakfast, a nice nap, and a wonderfully, cold shower!
Bob parked and immediately went over to the roadblock. As of yet, everyone was calm. He asked for the church attender who had given us the dates for the strike. He was not at this roadblock but was rather at the roadblock in Pilcopata. Bob spent a few minutes joking with some people in the crowd and told them that he was the pastor of the Baptist church in Pilcopata. He asked if they would make an exception for a preacher of God’s Word and allow him to pass the roadblock and go home. He was met with this response from a large and very vocal Quechua lady, “You’re a pastor? Then pastor us here at the strike!” So he asked her, “Are you ready and willing to obey the Word of God and all that God says in His Word?” She stared at him for what seemed like forever and then replied, “You cannot pass! Nobody can pass!!!” She then stormed off down the street.
After much searching, Bob was able to get the phone number for the church attender, our “reliable source” for the strike and called him. He asked why he hadn’t informed us of the changes, as he knew of the importance of our trip to Cusco. Bob asked for his help, as he had purchased a lot of perishables which are now in the hot truck. These items included a large amount of fresh meat, that he purchased in Cusco. All of this food was going to spoil, if left for too long. The man said he would help get Bob through the roadblocks. Bob would just need to wait. Over an hour later, Bob called him back and heard the words he dreaded once again, “You cannot go through. You will just have to wait with everyone else.” He then hung up on Bob.
So, there’s Bob, stuck with no water and no food and because of all the travels, he hadn’t slept more than three hours over the last two days. He was exhausted. He had to keep reminding himself, “I’m a pastor here. HERE, you are a pastor!”
A few minutes later, a police truck pulled up and five officers got out of the truck. Now, the 50-60 people sitting near the roadblock started getting a little worked up. After five minutes or so of this, the policemen got back into the truck and just sat there. The crowd calmed down and went back to sitting in the shade. Bob decided to approach the police truck and introduced himself as Pastor Roberto of the Baptist church in Pilcopata. He explained his situation to them and that he has responsibilities to his church in Pilcopata. They explained that they, too, are from Pilcopata. The Sr. Officer told Bob, “Pastor, right now, we cannot do anything without causing a riot and people WILL get hurt. We will be back at 6 this afternoon to help get you through. If we can’t get everyone through, we will at least get you through. Please just be patient, Pastor. This situation is going to be hard on everyone.”
So, Bob followed their example, and returned to sit in his truck, only to find that the extreme temperatures of over 100* had converted the truck into an oven! He had to find some way to keep cool! He’s now starting to get hungry, too. So, during one of the many meetings held by the Cocaleros that morning, Bob nonchalantly crossed the roadblock, in order to look for food and water. He walked over two kilometers around the whole town, but each and every store was boarded up and if the store owner happened to be there, he or she wouldn’t sell anything for fear they would be attacked. That’s when he learned that during the strikes, no one is allowed to sell food or water at all.
Finally sick from the heat, Bob convinced one fearful store owner to sell him some water, although she would only do so after a large group of protestors passed by the store. After they passed, she lifted her store door, which looks like a small garage door that raises and lowers like a scroll. She quickly ducked down to tell Bob the price for the water through the small opening. She then threw the bottle of water under the door and reached her hand out to receive payment. It was a stark realization of how serious the situation really was.
Bob and I had been able to talk throughout the day, as the events unfolded. However, I was able to do so from the safety and comfort of our house in Pilcopata. I was able to contact one of our church members and pleaded with him to take Bob a large bottle of water. So, at great risk to himself, this man got on his motorcycle and ran through the roadblock of Pilcopata and made it to Patria, where he had to leave his motorcycle at a different roadblock at the southern end of Patria. He then had to walk a full kilometer to where Bob was waiting at the truck.
After taking a few gulps of water, Bob and this kind man carried the cooler full of meat on the verge of spoiling, all the way back through town, dodging the angry protesters, to the motorcycle. Thankfully, all they received along the way were a few angry shouts. They quickly secured the large cooler to the back of his motorcycle and Bob watched him speed away, as Bob stood in the middle of the street. Suddenly he realized he was not alone but had been standing in front of about 100 protesters, who were keeping cool in the shade. Quickly, and with singular focus, he began his quick return to his truck. He marched right through the middle of the street, all the way through town, almost in an attitude of defiance of the protesters who had already caused so much discomfort both to himself and to the other people in the community.
As he walked through town this time, he realized that the attitude of people was changing. Things were heating up and I don’t mean the weather. People were getting riled up. So, he made a quick, deliberate dash to the ditch and pushed his way through the thick jungle grass that stood about seven feet tall. He made it all the way to the other side of the roadblock before he reentered the road, startling a driver who was sleeping on the side of the road in the shade of the grass.
It was now one in the afternoon and the sun was beating down everyone. One of our other church members, who lives in Patria, emerged from the crowd. She exclaimed, “Pastor, lock up your truck and come with me. My mom (who is also a member of the church, along with her husband) has prepared lunch for you. You are also welcome to take a cool shower to get refreshed!” By this point, Bob was literally at the point of heat exhaustion, so he quickly obeyed her orders! They passed back through town, once again without harm, as her father has considerable pull in the community. This, however, would not protect him during later events.
Bob spent the next three house in the house of some of the dearest believers we know here! They fed Bob so well and allowed Bob to drink all the clean water he needed. He said he probably drank a gallon of water, during his short time at their home. He also stood under the cold shower for well over thirty minutes. He was beginning to feel human again!
Feeling well-fed and refreshed, he returned to the blockade somewhere around four that afternoon. For the next hour and a half, he was able to get to know some of the other people who were also trapped at the same roadblock. He got to ask them about where they lived, what they do for work, and about how each of them got caught at the strike. They all commented about how glad they were that a pastor was with them. Bob remembers thinking that he was not really sure whether he was glad about it but that it was nice to hear that they thought so!
The conversations were good, but they kept getting distracted by the protesters, who were again getting frazzled. Then a few police officers show up from Paucartambo, a town about four hours away from us, traveling toward Cusco. As soon as the policemen saw Bob, they made a bee-line for him. They didn’t know him personally, but recognized that he was a gringo. They wanted to know why he was there and asked to see some identification. Bob showed them his Peruvian ID, called a 'Carnet de Extranjería,' which also states that Bob has a religious visa. Bob quickly told them that he is a pastor in the neighboring town. They, too, agreed that the protesters should let Bob through, so that he can return to his important job of seeing to people’s spiritual needs. The policemen quickly move forward to the mob, who is increasingly growing more angry, because their leader has decided to permit the caravan of vehicles, including Bob, to go through the roadblock. The mob decide to replace the leader with someone else and negotiations between the mob and the police start from scratch.
Much to Bob’s surprise, the police from our town, Pilcopata, returned as promised at six that evening. This time eight officers came, probably the entirety of the police force, and were sporting long rifles and hand guns. The protesters were not happy about this. All of a sudden, out from nowhere, the Sr. Officer cried out, “Where’s the Gringo Baptist Pastor from Pilcopata?” Bob steps out from the crowd, where the officer could see him and waves at him. The officer pushed through the crowd to make it over to where Bob was standing. He took his hand and gave him a firm handshake. The officer asked if Bob was ok, to which Bob could honestly say he was doing well, thanks to our church members. The officer replied, “Give us a few minutes. We are taking everyone through the roadblocks.” Bob quickly spread the word to the other drivers and they slowly retreat, each to their own vehicle.
At about seven, Bob heard one officer loudly exclaim, “Well, there ARE consequences for your actions!” Bob can’t see what is going on, because of the crowd; however, the police suddenly turn on their lights and everyone in the caravan started to move. Slowly but deliberately, the caravan of vehicles crept along, as if in a parade, leaving minimal space between each vehicle. They pass the first roadblock and drove the kilometer through town to the next roadblock, where they were met with a much larger number of people, whom are also much angrier that the first group. The caravan of vehicles had no option but to stop, as the road was full of debris and burning tires. The group quickly realize that the police are no longer there and were replaced by angry shouts by the protesters at their windows. They had to endure this horror for about twenty minutes, each minute wondering whose window would be smashed first. Most of the drivers abandoned their vehicles and retreated together into the darkness of the night.
For some odd reason, the crowd dispersed and returned to the blockade, where a very large and very drunk woman was yelling loudly. Honestly, Bob nor his comrades-in-arms could understand anything she was saying. Moments later, one police truck with two officers appeared to speak with those of who were stuck at the roadblock. They admitted that they were not going to be able to break up this second group of protesters enough to get the caravan of vehicles through the roadblock that night. The crowd was just too crazy!
One of the officers, a small, young negotiator, entered into the middle of the crowd in order to talk to them. Bob thought the large, vocal, angry woman might eat him alive, but he finally emerged from the crowd, about an hour later, shaking his head. He said, “Well, that didn’t go well. We will definitely not be getting through the roadblock tonight. They are already way too drunk to reason with.” The crowd began lighting more tires on fire, this time close to the police truck. Bob asked the officers if it would be safe for him, a gringo, to stay there or should he take his truck to a safer place in town. The officers told Bob that if he decided to stay there, the police would have to stay by his truck the whole night, to ensure that the group would not attack Bob. It was not a safe situation. Bob decided immediately to give the officers an opportunity to sleep that night and drove the truck to the church family’s home where he would park it for the night. He grabbed a few things and headed back down the cross the blockade in order to head home to Pilcopata. He knew his options were walking all the way home or riding a motorcycle with someone, which was a much preferable method!
When he made it to the town center, about half a kilometer from the roadblock, he encountered a group of about 300 people chanting and running through the street. Bob ducked into the shadows and stood next to a man sitting on a park wall, who seemed to trying to be discrete, as well. He briefly looked at Bob and then looked back at the crowd and asked Bob where he was trying to go that night. Bob told him that he was trying to get home in Pilcopata, where he is a pastor. The man grimaced a bit and told Bob to sit down on the wall with him for a minute, so Bob sat down. All of a sudden the crowd decided to attack a store that had opened to sell some food and water to people. The man leaned over and told Bob that he should leave immediately and that he should stay in the shadows. Bob agreed. The man quietly said, “God bless you, Pastor!”
Bob takes the man’s advice and walked against the building to stay as hidden as possible until he reached the point where the other drivers remain trapped. Bob explained to them where he was going and that if he made it home that night, he would return in the morning with food and water. They explained that several of them had tried to cross the blockade in order to purchase food in Pilcopata, but that the protesters would not let them through. Together they decide to create a diversion, in order to help Bob get across. They made a human wall with Bob hidden behind them and a few of them began arguing with the protesters. All the attention was drawn to the two sneaky drivers and the other drivers shoved Bob across the blockade.
As he was briskly walked in the darkness, he realized that someone was following closely behind him. The man quickly caught up with Bob and Bob asked him if he had a motorcycle. He said that he did, to which Bob asked if he was going to Pilcopata. The man shook his head in agreement and Bob quickly pled for a ride home. The man agreed and they headed down to Pilcopata! At this point, Bob has a large flashlight in his hand, his backpack, and a small knife in his pocket. He started to wonder if the man was part of the group of protestors and that he might try to kidnap Bob. So to ease his mind, Bob began to talk with the man. Bob told him that he is the pastor of the Baptist church in Pilcopata and asked the man where he is from. The man replied that he was from Puerto Maldonado. Bob asked if he was in town for the strike and the man immediately exclaimed, “No!!!” He, too, was frustrated because the strike was keeping him from going home. At his moment, Bob felt comfortable enough to put his pocket knife away!
The two weary travelers finally arrive into Pilcopata and were surprised that the roadblock in Pilcopata had been abandoned. The streets were quiet and calm. Bob got home just in time to get a good meal, some cool water, a shower, and finally fell into bed!
Early the next morning, Tuesday, the 6th, Bob went to our friendly neighborhood store owner, who decided to risk opening her store for a few minutes. Bob bought almost all the bread she had. At home, he packed his backpack with the bread, several Bibles, as well as some water and immediately headed back to Patria. As he was on the edge of town, he was met by a group of about 60 people, blocking the road and protesting. They were not letting any motorcycles leave town and as Bob tried to pass, they grabbed him and started yelling, “TOURISTS CAN’T PASS! GRINGOS CAN’T PASS!” Bob pulled arms from their hands and told them, “I live here. I’m your neighbor and I’m the pastor of the Baptist church in town. You will let me pass!” He then walked right passed them.
As he walked out of town, Bob noticed that there were no signs of any motorcycles coming or going. So determined to deliver what he had promised to the other drivers, he began the six kilometer walk to Patria. He arrived about two hours later, exhausted and thirsty himself, and now faced with an even bigger and angrier crowd. Unfortunately, there is no brush to duck into in order to avoid the crowd. Besides, they had already seen him. He quickly prayed and asked God to protect him. He put his head down and head right into the middle of the crowd. He doesn’t even get passed the first person before several people grabbed him. The protesters started pushing Bob and holding onto both arms. They yanked on his backpack, demanding to see what was inside. He knew they would confiscate the bag’s contents, so he refused to show them. He is now fully expecting to be beat for refusing their demands, but praise God that did not happen.
Instead, they continued yelling, as he sternly informed them that he is a pastor and that he has church members in town that he needs to attend to them, as well as others. He says he is there to do his pastoral duties and that they WILL let him pass! Everyone except one person let go of him, but that one man’s grip continued to get tighter and tighter around Bob’s arm. Bob can still smell the foul stench of the homemade liquor on his breath and can see in his eyes that he is still drunk from the night before. Bob looked him straight into the eyes and almost yelled, in order for the whole crowd to hear, “You’re going to attack a pastor, a preacher of the Word of God, a man of God? How dare you! Shame on you!” Bob then yanked his arm from his death grip and with great determination, marched right through the middle of the angry mob. No one else laid a hand on Bob, but rather looked on silently as he passed by.
Right on the other side of the roadblock, Bob encountered the first truck driver and asked if he had eaten anything yet. He quietly answered that he had not yet been able to get anything to eat. So Bob opened his backpack in front of the entire group and handed the driver some food and water. Bob told him to then get into his truck to eat. No one from the angry mob said a word. Bob went from truck to truck until each person had received something to eat and drink.
After eating, the drivers, along with Bob, sat down in a shady area together. The whole time, Bob had been looking for an opportunity to speak about spiritual things and had been praying that God would show him the right time to do so! Out of nowhere, one of the men said, “Well, pastor, you fed us and gave us water. You met our physical need. Now all we are missing is to be fed spiritually.” Smiling, Bob replied, “Well, I came prepared for that, too!” Once again he opened his backpack, but this time, he pulled out the Word of God, the Bread of Life, and gave one to each person there. Before accepting the Bible, one person in the group asked how much the Bible cost. Bob stated that they were a free gift, which was a perfect segue into Ephesians 2:8-10!
Bob spent the next two hours preaching to these ten lost souls on the love of God, about the sacrifice He gave for their sins. He explained how the free gift of God is available to all mankind, if we would only accept it by faith! He talked together with them about how Jesus IS God and how the Bible is our final and ultimate authority. He also shared with them that works cannot save a person. As this special, God-ordained meeting was going on, there were hundreds of protesters behind them who were yelling, marching, and running around chaotically. This did not deter these ten from intently listening. They were glued, fixed, as Bob shared the Word with them. At the end, God saw fit to save seven souls, one a Mormon and one a Seventh-Day Adventist.
A short time after this blessed event, the driver that was first in the line of the caravan was simply at his limit and he jumped in his truck and broke the roadblock. Bob and the other drivers quickly got into their vehicles and followed the first driver. They had been freed. Not only had they been freed physically but for those seven new brothers and sisters in Christ, they had been freed spiritually.
Through this experience, we now have contacts deep into tribal areas of the jungle, where a person must have an invitation in order to enter. We also have contact into our local municipality and police departments. The Lord has already allowed us to have one of them into our home for dinner and we pray we have many more opportunities like this one!
God allowed us to be a part of this amazing experience, to be a part of His great work. This is not Bob and Becky’s doing. This is the work of an Almighty God! As the missionaries of old would give God all the honor and glory for the victories won, may we do the same!
PRAISE BE TO GOD!!!