Reaching the Unreached Tribes of Peru

by Peter Hocking


The apostle Paul had the strategy of taking the gospel 'where Christ was not known' (Rom. 15:20). Similarly in this article we will consider as 'unreached' any tribe that does not have an evangelical church of any kind.



The years 1930-1940 saw the first mission work in the jungles of Peru, which focused on evangelising Spanish-speaking people. Progress was slow, but the Lord blessed the work and a number of small churches were established. From 1940 mission workers arrived with a call to reach tribal people. They began the work among tribes that were open to engaging with outsiders. As more workers arrived, progress was made in establishing relationships with tribal groups that previously had been hostile to foreigners. By 2000, most of Peru's tribes had at least a few groups of believers and parts of God's Word in their own language. At this stage, some mission groups felt that their task had been completed and began to phase out their work among the tribes of Peru. However, from field research we realise that there is still much to be done and so our concern remains. We hope to see a healthy church, capable of reproducing itself, in every tribal group.


In Peru, tribes can be classified as follows:

- Tribes that have numerous churches - 19 tribes, including: the Machiguengas and the Shipibo Conibo in the Amazon Basin. Most of these have formed their own association of churches and several have Bible institutes, as well as the New Testament and some books of the Old Testament in their own language.

- Tribes that have a few weak churches - 22 tribes, including: the Amarakaeri, along the Madre de Dios and Colorado Rivers; the Kulina, in south-eastern Peru; and the Piro or Yine, living in the Cusco, Loreto and Ucayali Regions. These tribes have a few churches and some sections of the Bible, but are weak due to syncretism and a lack of spiritual leadership. Mission workers are needed to work with them, to encourage, teach and improve their understanding of how to apply the Scriptures to their lives.

- Unreached tribes who have no church - 16 tribes, including: the Maijuna, found in the north-eastern Peruvian Amazon; and the Yora, in the Madre de Dios and Ucayali Regions. As yet ten of these tribes have no gospel contact.1



From this third group, there are six unreached tribes that have had some outside contact and have formed small villages. Among these are the Maijunas, the Chitonahuas and the Yaminahuas. They plant crops, speak a little Spanish and trade farm produce with travelling merchants. The ten other tribes live as families scattered in the jungle and depend on hunting and gathering wild fruit. They are primitive, nomadic people, almost entirely naked and possess very few tools.


These tribes have a long history of being exploited and mistreated either by a powerful neighbouring tribe or the Mestizo, those from the Spanish-speaking culture. When the lumber industry invades their territory, the natives who protest at the cutting down of their trees are then killed.


Members of these tribes believe that everything is controlled by spirits, most of which are evil. However, they also believe that there are good spirits that protect and heal them. The shaman is the most important person in their community, as they believe he understands how to bring protection from evil spirits and how to engage good spirits. They think that all sickness is caused by a form of witchcraft and consequently are beholden to the shaman.


These tribes are animist, living in constant dread of the jungle's evil spirits. They fear death, believing that in the next life their spirits will spend their existence wandering around unable to find rest. Drunkenness and immorality are endemic in their culture. They have no concept of sin or the power of Christ, who defeated evil through His death on the cross.


Due to their negative experiences with the timber industry, the tribes fear strangers and attack mission workers who penetrate their territory uninvited. However, some of these nomads are beginning to emerge from the jungle of their own accord, cautiously seeking peaceful contact with neighbouring tribes. This gives hope for sharing the gospel with them.



When the Lord first led us, and our Peruvian co-workers, to evangelise the Yanesha tribe 30 years ago, we limited each visit to a duration of two weeks. Based in the Peruvian Amazon, the tribe had weak churches and had asked for our help in training local leadership. The Yanesha are bilingual so we taught in Spanish, sometimes requesting that one of the church leaders explain to others what we were teaching. However, it appeared that believers were not taking the teaching seriously and were failing to put it into practice in their lives. We prayed more and provided clearer teaching, but there was no significant change. Some of our co-workers decided to stay and live in one of their villages; this revealed that 'Christians' still went to the shaman with their health problems, would get drunk at village feasts and were unfaithful to their wives. Outwardly they seemed to be good Christians, but in their private lives they were no different from other tribal people. This was because of their animistic world view. They had embraced Christianity and had added it to their other beliefs but what really ruled their lives was animism. They had become syncretistic.



We changed our pattern of teaching and began to lay a solid foundation of Old Testament truth that would enable people to better understand the gospel. Previously, people believed in Christ as the 'Powerful One', but not as their Lord and Saviour. They did not understand the seriousness of sin, or the holiness and justice of God. They could not recognise that the spirits, whose help they sought, were demonic, bent on deceiving and destroying them.



From experience, it is necessary to teach the Old Testament chronologically, beginning with Genesis Chapter 1, explaining the nature of God, how He views sin and the need of a substitutionary sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Through providing a foundation, people begin to understand their lost condition, understand the person of Jesus Christ and have a genuine conversion experience. Several years ago, we began teaching in this way to the Christians we were working with in the Asháninka tribe, based in the rainforests of Peru. Encouraging changes are now evident in their lives. After a teacher-training seminar, one of the Christian leaders testified: "I have come to realise that I have been preaching about God without really knowing Him! With what I have learned now, I cannot continue doing some of the things that I have been doing!"


It is our prayer that the unreached tribes of Peru, and of the world, may receive and gain an understanding of the gospel, leading to their salvation and laying a firm foundation for church growth.



1. For more information on this ministry, see the Asosiación Segadores (Segadores Association) website:

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