Here’s the last of three blogs about San Felipe Mission, Cabanaconde, written to commemorate its 10-year anniversary.
The vision for San Felipe Mission arose during a humanitarian visit to the remote Andean village of Choco after it suffered a terrible natural disaster. An earthquake-caused landslide had dammed up a nearby river. And one night in the midst of heavy rains, the dam broke. The village flooded, and a third of the population died. As one woman recounted, she was asleep in bed next to her husband when water swept him away, together with their two children.
Bishop Godfrey and Father Alejandro Mesgo, then a priest in Arequipa, reached out to the survivors with blankets, medicine, and other basic needs.
It soon became clear that God was calling the Anglican church to be a constant presence in that region of Peru. Bishop Godfrey asked Father Alejandro to start a mission in Cabanaconde. An Inca town of a few thousand people on the rim of the Colca Canyon, Cabanaconde is not a large town by any means but offered the advantage of being accessible by car (although the current six-hour journey from Arequipa on fully paved roads took much longer in the early years traveling over dirt), and it was best situated to serve as a base to reach the dozen or so small villages, like Choco, on the far side of the canyon.
Father Alejandro was an ideal choice, since he speaks Quechua (the native language of that area), had a history of success in establishing a church in Arequipa, and has an engaging personality that draws people to him and transparently reflects the love of Christ.
He also possessed the physical fortitude required for the frequent two- to three-day hikes down and up the canyon at altitudes of 12,000 feet to pastor the remote villages unreachable by car.
The church purchased a large plot of land on the outskirts of the town. Over the course of ten years, it constructed the original chapel, a kitchen and upstairs living area for the priest, sleeping rooms with bathrooms and showers where visitors can bunk, a guard’s house at the base of the property, and most recently the current chapel. It even has a radio tower so it can broadcast God’s Word and encouragement across the canyon.
God surely blessed the church with this particular property!
It is just a short walk from the church to the edge of the Colca Canyon, and mission teams frequently hold morning prayer there, balancing Bibles in their laps while sitting on any available rock and glancing up at the magnificent views and an occasional condor.
And because it is high at the rim of the valley that Cabanaconde sits in, it can be seen by the whole town and serve as a steady reminder of the loving presence of God.
The congregation of San Felipe has grown significantly in the past few years. One member explained why she likes the church: the services are long (two hours, she said, which she considers a good thing!), and the priest takes time to explain the Bible. Another member spoke of the love the town has for the church and observed that even the townspeople who do not attend the church feel they are loved by it.
Father Alejandro has returned to Arequipa, but Father Justo Maqque is continuing the good work that God has started in San Felipe.
May God continue to bless the church and the people of Cabanaconde.