Team Arequipa finds itself now, at Shiloh Road church, in a place that is both natural and strange. So much has changed since the beginning, and although it has not been too awfully long in the grand scheme of things, that beginning seems quite distant now. Onlookers might imagine that the team has always been more or less like it is now, but hopefully a short journey into Team Arequipa’s history will reveal something of the refinement we have experienced.
It is not exactly fair to focus on any one member’s story, as God has led all of us here on paths that ought to be revisited. Yet, you will see, I think, that the team’s story comes full circle when we begin with my chapter at Shiloh. As I graduated and left Shiloh for Harding U, I went to pursue a degree I had decided upon more than a year before. I went to study missions and pursue a missionary career. Undoubtedly, many expected the same fickleness in me that plagues so many that age, but I had set my sights out of a God- given conviction. Shiloh, the youth group, special mentors--all of it had been the hand of God to set my course.
I went with and roomed with three other Shiloh grads., but we all found different niches. God began opening doors for the future team immediately. I was alphabetically assigned an academic advisor in the Bible department, Dr. Bill Richardson, the Latin American missions professor. I’ll save the details of that first meeting for another time, but suffice it to say that my focus quickly narrowed from missions to Latin American missions, as God used Bill to guide my way.
Bill hosted a Latin American Interest Group for those students considering missions in Central or South America. A wide diversity of interest was present at every meeting, from passing curiosity to high commitment. Late in the fall semester of 2001, as some of the more serious talked hopefully of team formation, Bill suggested to us that if even one person would commit to forming a team, others would as well, but it would require a committed core. So just before Christmas that year, a group of about twenty students met for the first time and decided unanimously that they would form a team for a South American mission among an unchurched urban population of 500,000 or more.
The following semester saw the return of over half of the initial group. A group composed of a dozen or so single college students was bound to have a great degree of turnover, but the majority was still on board by the end of spring 2002, and based upon the group’s estimated date of readiness for departure, Team 2007 was born. Bryan and Eralda Tarpley joined the team at this time as well, Bryan being one of my Shiloh suite-mates. The following summer Bill led the first Latin American Urban Research Project, designed to make appropriate data on Latin American cities available to prospective missionaries for the purpose of informed field selection. The team decided to select a target city based upon this research rather than choose randomly. The Project investigated three large cities, and various Team 2007 members participated.
The following semester, I attended a study abroad program where I met Megan Bills, my future wife and teammate. The team’s decision about a destination was postponed until the following semester. Kyle Smith, another of the Shiloh suite-mates, had transferred to ACU to pursue his future wife, Larissa Litton (also a Shiloh grad.). Kyle and Larissa took interest in Team 2007 and joined officially in Spring 2003. After a retreat weekend, Arequipa was picked from among the cities researched. Team 2007 morphed at last into Team Arequipa.
In the course of the previous years, the Tarpleys and the Smiths had joined the team, but many others had left to follow different paths--mostly school or marriage. As the last of the team members graduated in May 2004, four of the original interest group remained-- Ingrid Esparza, Marisol Rosas, Angela Rusk, and myself. The Smiths, the Tarpleys, and my fiance Megan comprised the remainder of the team. Marisol shortly removed herself from the team, having become involved in a work in China. The team had set a 100% commitment deadline for October 2004, and it was rapidly approaching. Angela was the only one to step down when that moment came.
Each member having formally committed, Team Arequipa was now three couples and Ingrid. Ultimately, Ingrid would meet her true love and pursue a family in the States as well, leaving the McKinzies, the Smiths, and the Tarpleys, four of six being Shiloh kids. Although we hardly planned or imagined this scenario when that first meeting of over twenty took place years before, here we found ourselves.
The McKinzies and the Smiths moved to Memphis, and subsequently the Tarpleys moved to Nacogdotchez, TX to be near family before departure. The team continued meeting as regularly as possible for formation and began the fundraising process.
After some major disappointments on the fundraising front, our most significant loss occurred. The Tarpleys decided that, for family reasons, they would have to withdraw from the team. This was a blow, but we understood and respected their decision.
As the team has dwindled, we have lamented the loss of synergy and resources represented by each former member. Traditionally, two families do not constitute a mission team, but we are grateful to have each other nonetheless. The situation has occasioned a paradigm shift: we now consider ourselves to be merely the field workers of Team Arequipa. We are asking our sending churches to join the team rather than just fund it.
The remaining two families have made the move from Memphis to Shiloh Road church in Tyler, TX. Shiloh has funded the remainder of 2007, so that we could quit our secular jobs and shift solely to team preparation. We are participating in various ministries at Shiloh and continuing the process that will get us to Arequipa. Our most recent news is that the church of Christ at Cedar Lane in Tullahoma, TN has accepted oversight of the work. This is Megan’s home congregation, and we are very excited about and confident in this relationship. Our prayer during this phase of team formation is that God will continue to add sending churches to Team Arequipa.