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To Fail in Prayer Is to Fail in All Else

A young missionary supports indigenous pastors in Peru on his knees
  • Miriam Parrish
  • April 12, 2021

In the depths of the Amazon jungle of Peru, Samuel hacked through the undergrowth, clearing space for a new garden. An Ashéninka Bible translator, he planned to meet with Isaiah di Lorenzo ’12 and his ministry team to organize an event for equipping new Ashéninka believers to lead their communities to Christ.

Then Samuel felt something strike his knee and looked down to see a deadly fer-de-lance attacking him. After Sam destroyed the snake, his adult son, Pedro, and some nearby Ashéninkas transported him by hammock and boat to a city hospital a day’s travel away. On the journey Pedro was assaulted and robbed. Meanwhile, the Ashéninka woman in charge of organizing food for the training event had emergency surgery for a life-threatening gallbladder infection.

After Isaiah and his mentor, David Payne, arrived in Peru for the meeting, a stranger in the United States hacked into Isaiah’s bank account, making unauthorized purchases. During the training event in Peru, David learned that his mother-in-law had broken her leg—at the same time that his mother was dying after a five-year battle with Alzheimer’s.

When am I just going to have a normal year? Isaiah wondered, realizing that unbelievable events like these are common in the Amazon. Spiritual attack is the biggest obstacle Isaiah faces in his work with the Ashéninka, an indigenous, animistic people group living in the Amazon. “I’ve come to realize that it’s never really going to end,” Isaiah says. “It’s kind of like the book of Job. The enemy’s fighting so hard to stop everything that we’re trying to do. It’s really strengthened my faith and taught me how to rely more on the Lord.”

When Isaiah first started living among the Ashéninka in 2016, he wasn’t entirely new to ministering in a spiritually oppressive environment. While attending Moody Bible Institute, Isaiah got involved in Chicagoland Community Church’s ministry to street youth. “There were street kids and people who were involved in witchcraft and all kinds of things,” he explains. “Even in the city God was preparing me to work in the jungle.”

Isaiah’s desire to be a missionary started in childhood. Between regular missions trips to Mexico and his father’s work with migrant farmworkers, Isaiah had early exposure to Latino culture and the Spanish language. He also developed a strong interest in the Bible, thanks to his father’s emphasis on prayer and studying God’s Word. This combination pointed Isaiah to the missions field, and when the dean of his Christian high school recommended Moody, it seemed the natural choice.

Isaiah had always assumed that the only path in missions was Bible translation, but at Moody he learned there were many options—including church planting. Classes in theology and church history also broadened his view of the church, teaching him not to get embroiled in theological minutiae. “If we get hung up on too many little details and don’t even want to mix with people we disagree with, I think that’s ultimately detrimental,” he says. “I think the Lord really prefers His church to have unity, even though we are flawed and we have issues.”

As an Applied Linguistics major, Isaiah acquired the skills to analyze the world’s languages. “It’s good and helpful to have a basic understanding of grammar, and that was great, but I’m definitely not a nerd linguist,” he says with a smile. Isaiah also says that linguistics professor Stephen Clark was a huge influence. “I loved him, man,” he says. “The thing I liked the most about him is how much he really cared for all his students. You could just see it.” And, Isaiah adds, “His prayer life was really something.”

Richard Wilkinson ’80 also impressed upon Isaiah the value of prayer. The Intercultural Studies professor had a quote posted above his door: “To fail in prayer is to fail in all else.” “That quote always stuck with me,” Isaiah says.

“I just realized it was really true. If we don’t walk closely with the Lord and we don’t pray…we’re not going to be able to be successful spiritually, in our ministry or in any way.”

Since arriving in Peru with the support of Highland Baptist Church in Westminster, Colorado, Isaiah’s life and work have only deepened his passion for prayer. From the continued challenge of learning the Ashéninka language to the task of communicating the gospel within an animistic worldview, “It’s not easy living out in the jungle,” he says.

Isaiah’s work involves adapting the Ashéninka translation of the Bible—completed by Wycliffe Bible translators over a decade ago—as well as literacy training and distributing the Bible and other resources among Ashéninka communities. Isaiah expresses concern about the possibility of the Ashéninka language eventually going extinct, as is rapidly becoming the case with many indigenous languages in the Amazon. “There is a real kind of urgency to get the materials [out into the communities],” he says.

Isaiah is also involved in an Ashéninka radio program put on by a church in Puerto Bermudez, Peru. Already operating various Spanish programs, volunteers of La Iglesia de Dios del Perú wanted to reach the Ashéninka communities within their tower’s 50-mile radius. The program currently consists of recorded readings of the New Testament and praise songs in Ashéninka. Isaiah helps run live programs every Monday, as well as training Ashéninkas to get involved.

“The desire is that the Ashéninkas themselves will become interested in this radio program and teaching the Scriptures,” Isaiah says. “It hasn’t been totally successful yet.” Just when an Ashéninka woman had offered to host the radio program, her house burned down, requiring her and her husband to relocate to a second home deep in the jungle. “She doesn’t have the money to travel,” Isaiah explains. “Talking about how Satan always attacks—just another example.”

Despite his involvement in radio and Bible translation, Isaiah sees himself first and foremost as a church planter. “The best joy for me has been when we see new churches planted,” he says. “When I see people following the Lord and see the change, that’s just such a huge joy; seeing people come to know Jesus and follow Jesus and come to start learning about Him.”

He tells the story of Miguel, an Ashéninka man who expressed the desire to start a church in his community, one of eight unreached settlements along a remote river. Isaiah encouraged him to attend their training meetings but didn’t expect Miguel to follow through. “A lot of people are all talk—but he wasn’t,” Isaiah remembers. Miguel now pastors a church in his village. “He took all our lessons out there and started teaching all these people—and in the language, too.”

When Isaiah visited the same community six months later, an Ashéninka-style church had been erected and its members were thriving. Eventually church growth necessitated the move into a larger, government-built community center that had formerly housed drunken parties. The church has even sent missionaries to other communities in the area.

Stories like this illustrate why Isaiah is here. “Our goal as foreign missionaries is to use all our resources and everything that God’s given us to train up indigenous Ashéninka pastors and missionaries and leaders to reach their own people. Because they’re the ones who really know their people; they’re the ones who really know their culture; they’re the ones who really know their language.”

That’s why Isaiah, David Payne, and Ashéninka believers like Sam risk dangers like the fer-de-lance to train others in the Word. Thankfully, Sam survived the snakebite, but he and other Ashéninka Christians still face challenges—both physical and spiritual. “I travel in my mind to the different communities and think about the leaders who are there, and I pray for them,” Isaiah says. “Just that God will continue to keep them strong and protect them from the enemy.”

Despite the rigors of life in the Amazon, Isaiah says it’s all worth it. “The satisfaction of seeing people come to the Lord keeps you going,” he explains. “This is the best way to live my life.”

About the Author

  • Miriam Parrish

Miriam Parrish is an editorial assistant for Moody’s Marketing Communications team and a senior at Moody.