Rómulo Sauñe

Brave pastor in the Peruvian Andes

On June 23, 1992, the World Evangelical Fellowship gave its first-ever Religious Liberty Award to Rómulo Sauñe, a humble Quechua Indian pastor from the Peruvian Andes. Christians from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and North America gathered in Manila, Philippines, to honor him because of his courageous ministry while his life was threatened by Communist terrorists. These terrorists had already murdered his grandfather, assaulted and beaten his grandmother and left her for dead, burned down his family home twice, and destroyed his church.

In an attempt to take over the South American country of Peru, these same terrorists, calling themselves the Shining Path, murdered at least twenty-five thousand people according to the U. S. State Department (some estimates go as high as one hundred thousand). They massacred thousands of Christians, including some eight hundred pastors, often wiping out whole congregations. Thousands of other civilians (the U. S. State Department estimates ten thousand) were caught in the crossfire and killed as the Peruvian military-sometimes ruthlessly-tried to stop the terrorists and capture their leader, Abimael Guzmán Reynoso.

Ten weeks after Pastor Rómulo received his award in Manila, he traveled to his childhood mountain village of Chakiqpampa, where he encouraged the Christians and visited his grandfather's grave. On September 5, 1992, as Rómulo drove back down to the city of Ayacucho, the Shining Path set up a roadblock and attacked again, this time killing Rómulo, his brother, two nephews, and several other people. When the guerrillas checked the bodies and found that they had killed Rómulo Sauñe, one radioed to his commander, "We got him!" Then they left.

Rómulo Sauñe had been born on January 17, 1953, in Chakiqpampa, where as a young boy he herded sheep on the steep mountains and learned of his Inca ancestors. Through his mother's side of the family, he may have descended from the royal Inca priesthood. Nevertheless, first Rómulo's uncle and then his grandfather, Justiniano Quicaña, accepted the Gospel of Jesus and became Christians. Other family members followed, including young Rómulo, until there was a thriving church in their village, a church that sent out missionaries to all the surrounding villages.

In 1978, realizing that the denominational divisions between Christians introduced by various outside mission organizations hurt the Gospel witness, Rómulo led in the formation of TAWA, a joint mission association, which many churches joined to restore unity among the Christians. One of its first projects was to work on translating the Bible into the Quechua language. This task was completed on September 3, 1987, and within a short time forty thousand copies were sold to the people.

Whereas the early missionaries had taught the people old English hymns in Spanish, Rómulo worked on getting the churches to accept new Scripture songs in Quechua written to traditional music with flute, pipes, and guitars. Young people eagerly embraced the change.

In time, Rómulo became a pastor of the pastors, guiding and encouraging them as the Shining Path became more and more violent, especially persecuting Christians because they would not join them in their violence.

Rómulo's death, however, did not go unnoticed. Braving the threats of the Shining Path, two thousand people paraded through the streets of Ayacucho singing "Onward Christian Soldiers," and carrying banners declaring "Ayacucho for Christ" and the Bible verse, "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain."

One week later, government agents finally captured Guzmán and his top lieutenants, bringing an end to the worst of the Shining Path's reign of terror (though the organization still exists and sometimes launches terrorist attacks).

Since Rómulo Sauñe's death, his brother Joshua has stepped forward to pick up the ministry. Joshua is now the leader of an association of some two hundred Quechua Indian churches. In addition, Rómulo Sauñe Schools have been set up in the Ayacucho region to help care for some of the fifteen thousand orphans created by the Shining Path.

© 2002 Dave and Neta Jackson