Thursday, August 23, 2007

I Join a Doomsday Religious Sect

The Evangelical Association of the Israelite Mission of the New Universal Pact is a fundamentalist, Old Testament based Christian group that was founded in Peru forty years ago and preserves some of the most ancient of pre-Christian traditions. Every Saturday at their central temple in Cieneguilla, about two and a half hours from where I live, they hold a service at their central temple where the main event is the ¨holocaust¨: they slaughter a lamb and burn it along with other offerings on a large wooden pyre built of seven layers of seven logs each. (Sorry, I don´t have any pictures to show you other than the entrance to the temple because they wouldn´t allow me to take any photos inside.) The temple grounds has separate entrances for men and women, and in the temple itself the men sit on the right side of the main aisle and the women on the left. There are no statues or images other than a replica of the ten commandments. They believe that Machu Picchu is the ¨navel of the world¨ referenced by the Bible in Ezequiel 38:12, and that their founder (who was born in Cusco and died in 2000) was a messiah who was sent by God to bring people back to the correct path. Following the prescriptions of the Old Testament, they don´t consume anything that is made from grapes, the men don´t cut their hair or beards, and the women wear a veil over their hair.

You may have heard of this group about eight years ago, when the end of the millenium was approaching. They were the ones who built a copy of Noah´s ark in the Amazon region to save some animal species and a few of their own members from the terrible deluge that would finish off the earth before the end of the year 2000.

I´m not sure how the group survived that disappointment, but they impress me as a group of people who are extremely dedicated to doing something about poverty, and not by looking for solutions from the outside. In fact, when I first sat down to talk with a couple of members about how I might be able to help them economize on fuel usage in the soup kitchens that their members run, the very first thing they told me was that if I wanted to work as a volunteer and share my knowledge, that was fine, but they were not interested in working with either government or non-government aid organizations. They feel that financial and material aid contributes to the culture of dependency, and the process of distribution of the aid is a strong temptation to corruption. And I think they´re exactly right on both counts.

OK, so I didn´t actually become a member. I´ve only joined their effort to help create self-sustaining comedores to provide an inexpensive daily meal in the hundreds of communities where their members live. One of my neighbors, Anita, is a member of the group. I´ve known her for a couple of years because she and her kids run the internet cafe on my street, but I had never known anything about her group until another of my neighbors recently told me that she was involved in working with these comedores. These groups are ideal candidates for the kinds of energy-saving technologies that I teach, because they cook such large quantities of food and a significant percentage of their operating budget goes to purchase fuel. And they use almost every kind of fuel available -- propane, kerosene, wood, charcoal, sawdust, maybe others -- so it will be an interesting challenge to adapt these technologies to all of the different fuels.

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