Alex Donnelly is a missionary in Peru and a good friend of ours at Buckingham. He is visiting the UK with his son Jonathan for three months, and so now seemed an ideal time to catch up with him and find out a little more about the church in Peru.
Alex – it’s great to have you back in the UK for a few months, and we’re looking forward to hearing you preach in the coming weeks. But for those of us who don’t know you well, tell us a little more about yourself and exactly what it is that you do in Peru.
Well, I came to Buckingham with my parents, when I was in my teens, way back in 1973. Mrs Bradford taught me in the Bible class! I felt a call to serve God early on in my Christian life, so when I finished theological studies, I went to Peru as a missionary, in 1988. Over the years my work there has varied. At the moment I am engaged mainly in leadership training and Bible teaching, with the Christian and Missionary Alliance church in the city of Trujillo, in northern Peru. One of my main activities is teaching at conferences for pastors. I do this at local and regional level, with the occasional trips to other countries in Latin America (Ecuador and Bolivia).
You left the UK for the mission field 24 years ago. What were the key features of your call to this work? What led you to believe the Lord wanted you to serve Him overseas?
My call to missionary work came in three stages. First of all, when I came to know the Lord, I felt a very clear call to serve Him in full time work. That call was then clarified at university, when the Lord used a Marxist lecturer to challenge me regarding missionary work in Latin America. I saw how committed the lecturer was to the Marxist ideology (despite her recognition of its apparent failures, in countries like Cuba), and I felt the Lord saying to me, “If she is so committed to a flawed ideology, will you not be even more committed to the truth of the Gospel?” The third stage came when I was at Bible school, and the Lord indicated He wanted me to work in theological education in the Andean region of South America. That’s how I finally arrived in Peru!
Some people have the impression that there are far more Christians in Peru (as a percentage of the population) than there are in the UK, and that good men like yourself are more needed in this country than over there. How would you answer?
Well, it’s true; there are probably more evangelical Christians in Peru than in the UK. But that is precisely the reason why I am working there and not in Britain! You see, my gifting is in the area of Bible teaching and leadership training; and in a situation where the church is growing fast (as is the case in Peru), the great need is for people gifted in Bible teaching. In the UK the great need is for evangelists, and that is not my area of gifting. So I see the Lord´s wisdom in sending me to Peru.
What four words would you use to describe the church in Peru?
ENTHUSIASTIC, EVANGELISTIC, FLEXIBLE, TEACHABLE
Take us through a typical Sunday in the life of a missionary in Peru.
I am not sure there is such a thing as a ‘typical’ Sunday in the life of a missionary. For me, my ‘Sunday’ depends on where I am preaching, and how many services the church may have! In our own local church, a Sunday is easy, because we only have two services. I arrive at church at 9:45 am, and make sure things are ready for the 10:00 o’clock service. I pray with those who will take part in leading the service, and then the service starts. After the service I am available for people that may want to speak with me. I also distribute the daily Bible reading notes (once a month). At 5:00 pm, I return to church. Usually there is someone that needs counselling, and I use that time before the evening service for that. Then, just before 6 o’clock I pray again with those who will take part in the evening service. After the service, I stay around to chat with people; often beginning the process of planning for the following Sunday. Then, I head for home, usually about 9:00 pm.
We often think that life as a missionary must be exciting, and doubtless it often is, but what would you say has been your greatest challenge in mission work and how did the Lord bring you through it?
I think the greatest challenge in missionary work is very similar to that facing a pastor in the UK – it’s that of maintaining spiritual freshness, and avoiding the trap of ‘professionalism’ in the ministry. This is particularly the case when one has a heavy preaching and teaching schedule. The only way to meet this challenge is to maintain a close walk with the Lord, and that is a daily battle.
Working in a foreign country must offer you a good perspective on the state of the church and Christians in the UK. What have you noticed on this and recent visits and what do you think we most need to learn from Christians in Peru?
Over the years, I have noticed three features of evangelical Christians in Peru that challenge me as a believer, brought up in the UK. 1. Their ability and keenness to speak about the Lord to their family and friends. 2. The way their personal lives revolve around the life of the church. They don´t fit church life into their personal life, rather they fit their personal lives into the life of the church. 3. Their desire to learn. I am constantly amazed at the willingness of believers in Peru to attend all kinds of conferences and training workshops. One lady at our church is quite happy to get up at three in the morning, to get lunch ready for the family, in order to be at a conference at church all morning, and not miss any of the teaching. Evangelical believers in the UK have a lot to learn from the Peruvian evangelical churches.
You’ve returned only with Jonathan on this visit – why is that and how is he getting on?
I wanted more time to visit churches and friends, and this was easier to do on my own. Jonathan came along with me, as a reward for having finished well his secondary schooling, and as a break before he starts his university studies in March. He is appreciating the opportunity to perfect his English, as well as deepen his friendships at Buckingham. Even though he spends more time in Peru, he feels well identified with Buckingham, and loves being here. Giovanna has stayed in Peru with the girls (Linsey-Ruth and Katrina Grace); but they are happy, because they are staying with Giovanna’s parents, and being well looked after!
As you now look to the future, what do you see yourself doing over the next ten years, Lord-willing?
In the coming ten years I hope to press on with two particular challenges:
i.Working more at mentoring future Bible teachers. I will not live for ever, and the need is to train others who will do what I am doing when I am gone!
ii.Developing the web site for pastors and preachers. The site has already drawn much attention, and is being widely used. The more material I get onto the site, the more useful if will be for those who teach God’s Word. The advantage of the Spanish language, is that it makes the web site useful throughout Latin America (as well as in Spain, and the growing Spanish speaking population of United States).
Undoubtedly, the faithfulness of God! His faithfulness to His Word (keeping His promises); His faithfulness to the Gospel (saving men and women); His faithfulness to the Church (blessing her despite her many imperfections); and above all, His faithfulness to His servants (using us despite all our shortcomings and failures).