Christina Lessman serves faithfully in Iquitos, Peru as a full-time missionary. Read below to see how God radically transformed her vision for her life into His, calling her to the jungles of South America.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Christina Lessman. I am 35 years old and am currently living in Iquitos, Peru. I was born in South Carolina, and I lived there until I was 12 years old when we moved to Ohio. I completed High School and my Music Education degree at the University of Akron before moving to Georgia in 2007 to begin teaching Elementary Music in the Muscogee County School District. I taught elementary music for 7 years before moving to Iquitos, Peru. I have now been living and working in Iquitos for 4 years.
How were you involved at CCC before going to Peru?
I first got connected with CCC because my aunt and uncle were attending at the time but stayed mainly because of the young adult ministry that was led by Mason and Meghan Stewart at the time. For the 2 years that I attended CCC before moving to Peru, I was very involved with Arise. I led a bible study at my house, and I also sang on the worship team for their Friday night gatherings.
When did you first visit Peru? What motivated you to go?
My connection with Peru started before my time at CCC while I was still at Morningside Baptist working with their youth. It was actually through a trip in 2012 with their youth to Iquitos, Peru that I became connected with Peru. As for what motivated me to go, the only answer I can give to that is God.
What made you decide to stay in Peru?
In the years leading up to my first trip, I remember hearing about the teams that the church sent down and clearly thinking that I never wanted to go. They didn’t even stay in hotels! They went out into the jungle and camped out in villages for a week. I wanted nothing to do with the heat, bugs, and lack of civilization that would be involved in a trip like that. I started working with the youth group at the beginning of 2012 and remember them starting to plan their summer trip to Peru. I still wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. One of the other leaders kept asking me to go because they needed another female chaperone. I remember praying one day and saying to God that if He really wanted me to go, I was going to need His help financially. A week later, my trip was fully paid for by unexpected blessings. I was going to Peru. Even now, I find it difficult in some ways to describe my feelings about my first experiences in Peru. The peace I felt about being out in the jungle with those people and their culture is something I couldn’t really understand at the time. I never thought at that time that it would be anything permanent, as I had my life planned out -- I had a good job, a car, a house, a good community of believers, practically everything I had ever been led to believe was needed in life.
The following year, I returned to Peru with the youth, and God miraculously provided the money for me to go. But this trip was different. We went to a youth service in Iquitos at the beginning of the trip (we had gone the year before, but it was at the end and not very well remembered in my mind after the events of the week). There I met the wife of the youth pastor. She is an American missionary who married a Peruvian and has been living and working in Iquitos for around 18 years now. We also took 2 young men from their pastors’ school with us on this trip. On the boat ride out to the villages, one of our translators asked me if I had ever considered being a full time missionary. I said that I had not. The thought had never occurred to me, and I didn’t really want to think about that.
The first village we stayed in was not a pleasant stay this time. We only stayed there one night because it was such a difficult time for all of us. Personally, I somehow managed to get over 300 (I stopped counting after 250 really) bites all over my body that were extremely itchy that first night. We moved to the slightly larger city the next night that had a hotel. I ended up with my own room, and I very clearly remember praying that night as I lay in bed waiting for the Benadryl to kick in so I could sleep. I knew there was so much left that we needed to do; we were at the beginning of our trip! I was in charge of the back-yard bible clubs and was so sure that my bites would make me so miserable that I wouldn’t be able to do what I needed to do. While I was praying, I said to the Lord that, if He would help me through that week, I would do whatever He asked me to do. I didn’t care if He healed me outright, or if He simply made it possible for me to get through the week. All I knew was that He had made it possible for me to be there to spread His Word, and I knew I needed His help to be able to do it.
For the rest of the week, my bites only itched when I was alone in my room. The entire rest of the time, it was as if I hadn’t gotten any. Throughout the week, three more people, including one of the pastors’ school students, asked me if I had ever considered being a full-time missionary. As far as I was concerned, God’s request of me couldn’t have been made any clearer. At the end of the week, I didn’t want to get on the boat back to the city. Even more, I really didn’t want to get back on the plane to the US. Once I got back, I knew in my heart what God was asking of me, but I had absolutely no idea how to do it.
At this point, the wife of the youth pastor comes back into the story. I friended her on Facebook and saw that their family was making the trip to the US to do their fundraising circuit. She had written a book about her experiences as a missionary in the Peruvian jungle. I bought it right away. The day it arrived, I read the whole thing that afternoon. I immediately wrote to her on Facebook explaining what I felt God was calling me to do and asking if she had any advice about how to go about it. She suggested staying for a period of a couple of months first to see if that was really what I felt God was calling me to do before I just left everything. So, after a bit more conversation, the plan was made, and I went to Iquitos in 2014 to stay two months with the Arimborgos. I knew within 4 days of arriving that it was where I was supposed to be, and God only continued to confirm that throughout the 2 months that I stayed with them. As I had already signed my contract for the following school year, I went back to the US and finished out that year while making all of the other necessary arrangements to make the move to Peru. At the end of June 2015, I moved in with the Arimborgos in Iquitos and have pretty much been here since.
What types of mission work are you currently doing there?
The majority of what I have been doing since I arrived in 2015 is help out in different ways at a school. It is a preschool through secondary private Christian school. In the 4 years I have been here, I have taught English to all the grade levels, been the coordinator for the Elementary and High School levels, worked as secretary, and helped out in general in the office. I have also taught some basic English off and on to the pastors’ school students. And I've helped Jennifer Arimborgo with bookkeeping and other aspects of her ministry Arimborgo Ministries.
How can people here get involved?
Interestingly enough, at the moment I am entering a point of transition with what I have been doing. I am planning on spending the majority of my time in the US next year with only a few months’ time spent here in Peru. Up to this point, I have been serving here in Peru basically without any support. I couldn’t express all that God has done through this time here in any sort of concise wording, but I will simply say that I know the time I have spent here so far was absolutely necessary for what will be done in the long term here. In the time I have been here so far; I have learned to speak Spanish, learned an intimate and personal experience of the culture and educational needs of the people here, and gone through a very deep and needed time of personal growth in the Lord. A major part of what I will be doing in the US next year will be starting a nonprofit to support the work I feel called to do here in the Jungle Region of Peru. What I do know about the nonprofit at this point is that it will be aimed mostly at the educational needs here in Peru, but not exactly limited to that. More than anything at the moment, I ask for prayer.
Prayer on how exactly this nonprofit is to be set up to meet the needs that God has shown me... prayer that everything will fall into alignment with what He has laid on my heart, and that the people He has already been speaking to about supporting this work will be ready and able to partner with the amazing things God is doing here in the Jungles of Peru. And I ask for prayer that the practical needs will also be miraculously met as I am moving through this process that He has been showing me. This includes, but is not limited to; getting all of the paperwork and foundational setup of the nonprofit done, selling my house, paying off debts, setting up partnerships with people, businesses, and churches for support of the nonprofit, and traveling at the end of next year to support that nonprofit that is being started.
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