Fire destroys Peru church and homes

Adults and children on Isla Iquitos in Peru survey the damage at the site where their church and five houses burned to the ground Aug. 29. Children stand on the stairs that once led to their space for worship and learning. — Juan Carlos Moreno/MMN Adults and children on Isla Iquitos in Peru survey the damage at the site where their church and five houses burned to the ground Aug. 29. Children stand on the stairs that once led to their space for worship and learning. — Juan Carlos Moreno/MMN

A fire on an island along Peru’s Amazon River destroyed a recently constructed Mennonite church building and five neighboring houses on Aug. 29. Members of the congregation and nearby Mennonite churches are helping the families who lost their homes.

The church, built in early 2020, is located on Isla Iquitos, a small island near the city of Iquitos in northern Peru.

Neighbors believed the fire was likely caused by a candle the church caretaker had left burning.

The morning after the fire, Mennonite church leaders from Iquitos met with the five families who lost their homes. Thirteen adults, 11 children and a 3-day-old baby were left homeless. Pastor David Moreno said people were calm and accepting of what had happened.

The church had established trust with the families through its children’s ministries.

“We shared food with 70 families during times of scarcity due to COVID-19,” Moreno said.

The ministry team, children and their families are feeling great loss due to the fire. The church building was a simple wooden structure, built with labor provided by the local community and a team made up of Elena Satalaya’s family and friends.

Satalaya and her husband, Freddy, serve in the Isla Iquitos church’s ministries with children, youth and families. The priority now is helping the families rebuild.

People in three Mennonite churches in the neighboring city of Iquitos mobilized to help.

“The youth went door to door, asking for food, clothes and anything people would give for the survivors of the fire,” Moreno said.

The local government also offered to help provide building supplies, but it will take much more. One family lost their livelihood when their small store was destroyed.

The Isla Iquitos church hosted a united church service Sept. 5, with people from the city churches joining the congregation. Saturday children’s ministries will begin again soon, meeting wherever they are able. Some work will need to be done at the site of the church building, but the congregation won’t wait for the building to be complete before resuming their life together.

In an Aug. 30 Zoom call, Moreno and the Satalayas shared with Linda Shelly, Mennonite Mission Network director for Latin America, that they found encouragement in Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.”

They agreed the fire wasn’t God’s will, yet through God’s help, the families will have homes that meet their needs better than the ones they lost.

“God transforms and can do great and beautiful things, despite the difficulties and circumstances,” Elena Satalaya said.

Freddy Satalaya said: “All this unifies us, it makes us be together and eat together, seeing that we are brothers and sisters, sharing the little that we have.”

Contributions to help the church respond to priority needs can be sent to MMN marked “Iquitos fire recovery.”

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