A Leap of Faith
Giving up everything she knew, Jennifer Arimborgo (MA '01) moved to Iquitos, Peru for full-time ministry at the age of 23. She was excited and eager to begin her work among the people of this city that she had come to love a few years earlier. Back in1996 when Jennifer's church sponsored a trip to Peru, she signed up without any specific expectations for the future. But during the trip, working among Iquitos' poor, she sensed God calling her to this place that would one day be her permanent home.
Even though Jennifer felt assured that God called her to Iquitos, she realized after ministering for a few months that there was still much to learn. "I didn't move with a missions agency so I didn't have anyone to teach me about the culture or mediate," she recalls. Jennifer continued to work there for a year but found it difficult, without training or support, to address some challenges that arose. As a result, she decided to seek more preparation.
Jennifer enrolled in the Cross-cultural Studies program at Fuller for training to help in her ministry. And she says, "The difference was night and day! I learned lots about relating to other cultures, spiritual gifts, church growth, and inner healing that is all useful here." Her practicum experience with professor David DeBord, who taught her about inner healing, also served as a foundation for working with those who have been wounded emotionally and spiritually.
Since returning to Iquitos, Jennifer has been busy. She and her husband, Israel, who grew up and pastored in Iquitos, work among the young people of the city through cell groups, discipleship, and leadership training. Iquitos has a population of close to 600,000, of which around 60 percent are under the age of 30. According to the Arimborgos, many of these young people come from broken homes where cohabitating, infidelity, child abuse, and domestic violence are rampant. Much of the city lives in poverty, and youth have little hope of a college education or a job to provide for their families. As a result, they grasp for anything that might give them a sense of security and acceptance. "When they hear about a God who loves them just the way they are, they are often ready to give him a chance," Jennifer says. Just 10 years ago, about six percent of the city's population consisted of born-again Christians, but today this number has grown to around 18 percent, the Arimborgos claim.
Their ministry is similarly growing, from a group that numbered 20 when they first started to one currently around 500. Using the G-12 model of growth, a relatively new way to evangelize and disciple others that was first used by a church in Bogota, Colombia, Jennifer and Israel have been expanding their ministry. The model focuses on discipling 12 people at a time and preparing them to take leadership roles after they have received adequate training.
This is particularly effective in the Peruvian culture for several reasons, Jennifer says. "The G-12 model requires a good deal of commitment on the part of members, especially with their time. The people of Iquitos are not as frantically busy as Americans tend to be," she observes, "and as a result there are plenty of young people willing to commit several nights a week and most of their weekend to prayer, discipleship, and evangelism."
In addition, Jennifer says that "many young people's parents are absent from their lives in this community, and the church family fills that large vacuum--though our ultimate goal would be to see the family unit restored, of course." Another factor she mentions is that "many of the people we've encountered respond well to strong leadership, and that helps a lot in the multiplication of groups where we're heading toward a common vision of discipleship."
The Arimborgos also teach courses several times a month at a Bible school they established to train young believers from all over the jungle for ministry to their town and neighbors. And they are seeing results: "So far," says Jennifer, "seven traditional churches plus eight house churches have been planted in the jungle through the work of the students we teach at our missions school!"
Their ministry is continuing to grow as they are also training local pastors and other believers to follow God's leading as they go into ministry. Jennifer and Israel have a vision to reach both Iquitos and the surrounding jungle area where they live with the gospel--and even though it often requires great faith, they are well on their way.