Memory and Mission in Peru

by Savannah Weiler

As I was going through the financial records for the Regions Beyond Missionary union, which includes records for the RBMU run Evangelical Hospital at Lamas, Peru, an internet search of the Evangelical Hospital of Lamas led me to a Facebook group called Bienvenido a Lamas. Posted on here are some wonderful photographs from the 1950s and 60s submitted by one of Lamas’s residents of the mission post of the Peruvian Inland Mission (PIM), later the Regions Beyond Missionary Union (RBMU).

These images mostly show snapshots of everyday life at Lamas – sports matches, dinners, and weddings, amongst others. There are also some photographs of the old Evangelical Hospital and its staff, which is what originally led me to finding this page. Many people have commented under these photos, identifying the people, pets and horses shown in the photos. I recognise many of these names, as they have come up in the files I have catalogued so far. Take for example, this photograph, posted to Bienvenido a Lamas:

Figure 1 Bienvenido a Lamas. Facebook, June 11, 2020.
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=3163945540310697&set=a.3163945280310723

Link to original post: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=3163945540310697&set=a.3163945280310723

The many comments under this photograph say that this is a photograph of Vicente Coral, who, according to a commenter under the photo, went to study theology at the Costa Rica Bible Institute. My first blogpost on some index cards amongst the contents of one of the earlier files relating to the PIM includes a photograph of A.G Soper with some students who went to the Costa Rica Bible Institute with her. The caption to this photograph identifies one of the young men on this photograph as Señor V. Coral! Coral also has his own index card and is mentioned many times amongst the meeting minutes of the PIM or was himself present at these meetings.

Figure 2 Photograph taken at the Costa Rica Bible Institute showing Miss Soper, Senor V. Coral, Don Alejandro Castillo, Don Hildebrando Tello, Señora Hortensia de Pina and Señorita Rosa Portacarrero.
CSWC 33/39/3, Archives of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union, Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh.

Hildebrando Tello is also amongst the group photographed at the Costa Rica Bible Institute. A photo posted to the Lamas Facebook group shows him, identified as ‘pastor Hildebrando Tello’ with his students at the Lamas Bible College.

Figure 3 Bienvenido a Lamas. “alumnos del estudio biblico.” Facebook, June 11, 2020.
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=3163947886977129&set=a.3163945280310723

Link to original post: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=3163947886977129&set=a.3163945280310723

Many other names of missionaries identified by the commenters under the photos are mentioned amongst the records of the PIM in the index cards. One of the index cards I came across while writing the first blogpost notes the details of a Megan Jones. A photo on the Lamas Facebook page shows a ‘Dra Miss Megan’ smiling next to ‘Miss Pat’. The names Megan Jones and Patricia Greening frequently feature in the financial records receiving donations for their work at the hospital in Lamas. Commenters under the photos on Facebook share memories of their childhoods at the missionary schools or hospital in Lamas, some even sharing that they were born at the missionary hospital.

Figure 4 Figure 3 Bienvenido a Lamas. “1959, en la mision en Lamas, Miss Pat y Miss Megan, la enfermera doctora.” Facebook, June 14, 2020.
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=3175135389191712&set=a.3163945280310723

Link to original post: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=3175135389191712&set=a.3163945280310723

Seeing these photos and the comments on social media brings these stories closer to the present, and helps create perspective on the establishment and development of the mission. The memories shared in the comments under these photos on Facebook adds so much more meaning and depth to the images, as well as to the materials housed in Edinburgh, such as the photo of Vicente Coral, Hildebrando Teller and Miss Soper at the Costa Rica Bible Institute. When I showed these photos to Kirsty Stewart, the archivist helping me as an intern, she commented how seeing these photos reminded her of the importance of the work we are doing. Making the collections housed at the University’s archives accessible to researchers around the world is so important, because this history pertains to many more people than those with physical access to the collections. Cataloguing and digitising these resources makes them accessible to the people in Lamas who have shared their own memories and photographs of the mission online with us. We hold a part of history in our archives that was experienced by many people around the globe. As such, our resources and records deserve to be shared, including with the relatives of the those featuring in the photos posted on Bienvenido a Lamas and in the archives of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union at the Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh.

Index Cards of the Peruvian Inland Mission

by Savannah Weiler

The Peruvian Inland Mission (PIM) was founded by Miss Annie G. Soper in 1930 and was active in the area around Lamas, northern Peru until 1948. Index cards form part of the large collection of records of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union (ref. CSWC 33/39/3), which took over operation of the Peruvian Inland Mission. Members of the mission had taken the care to note down on small cards the details of missionaries who came to work for the mission, people they met in Peru, new converts, as well as villages in the area where the mission had spread to. These cards give a quick overview of decades worth of missionary activity in this part of Peru and give a fascinating glimpse into the lives of those involved with the PIM.

There are cards for Lamas and other places in the north of Peru, such as Moyobamba and Iquitos, as well as for Lima. Each card details the activities of the mission in these areas, such as new buildings constructed, amount of converts through the mission, and sometimes the religions of those living in these areas. The card for Lamas (see figure 1), where the mission was based, shows that they built a school, hospital, a Bible School, and a Church. The area they operated in is quite expansive and is highlighted by these index cards. Reading through letters, meeting minutes and journal articles that form part of the PIM’s records, it becomes clear what difficulties individuals faced when travelling in this area, with travel between villages sometimes taking days due to poor infrastructure and frequent rainstorms. The cards tell us where each missionary was stationed and provide details about the important journeys they made, showing the determination of these individuals to carry out their work.

Figure 1, Some of the index cards giving information on missionaries in the field. Ca. 1930-1950.

CSWC 33/39/3, Archives of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union, Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh

Individual cards documenting Peruvians the missionaries met further show how far the mission spanned and the network the PIM formed with other missions and institutions. People travelled as far as the Costa Rica Bible Institute and the United Kingdom to further their education once they had completed their initial training at schools built by the mission. Martina is one of the girls who grew up in the mission (see figure 2). Her cards note that she travelled to Edinburgh and England to further her education and then returned to Lima, where she trained as a nurse. Details are given on her family and how far she travelled, and give a glimpse into what she was like, quoting her ‘rebellious spirit’ and ‘nursing gifts’. We also come to hear more unfortunate stories, such as when she lost nearly all her belongings to the disastrous 1940 Lima earthquake. The next card gives details of her brother, and through this we come to know an entire family.

Figure 2, Martina’s index card and the card for Lamas, giving details on the progress of the mission there and key people and dates involved.

CSWC 33/39/3, Archives of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union, Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh.

A photograph (see figure 3), taken at the Costa Rica Bible Institute shows Miss Soper and five of her students, who travelled with her from Lamas to Costa Rica to complete their missionary education there. The photo lists the names of these people, who also have their own index cards that give us details of their personalities, education, and life. This photo helps attach faces to names and gives an even more colourful idea of what life was like for those at the Lamas mission, and the impact the PIM had on various peoples’ lives.

Figure 3, Photograph taken at the Costa Rica Bible Institute showing Miss Soper, Senor V. Coral, Don Alejandro Castillo, Don Hildebrando Tello, Señora Hortensia de Pina and Señorita Rosa Portacarrero.

CSWC 33/39/3, Archives of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union, Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh.

These cards are a wonderful summary of documents that would take hours to read through to get the same detailed information. They show the dedication of many of the missionaries involved with the PIM, travelling long distances between various villages just to spend a few days in each, and facing other obstacles along the way too. The cards show the reach of the mission in Peru, and its wider networks in Latin America and Britain. Lastly, reading these cards gives an intimate view of what life was like for the people involved with the mission. We are granted insight into their personalities as well as a snapshot of the highs and lows they faced in life. The photograph of Miss Soper and her students adds even more colour to the stories of those we have got to know in the index cards.