The Powerful Story of Joshua Saune from Peru

In his latest feature, international journalist Dan Wooding interviews Joshua Saune, the leader of 200 Quechua churches scattered amongst the war-ravaged Andes mountains and learns how he coped with the savage murder of his grandfather and his two brothers at the hands of the Shining Path guerillas.

Joshua Saune looks like a warrior. When you are first confronted by his bronzed Quechua face and his erect figure, you know you are in the presence of a fighter. But what kind of battle is he involved in back in his native Peru, where he lives high up in the Andes Mountains along with 13 million of his people?

There was a time when Joshua, who was living in Phoenix, Arizona, with his Native American wife, was ready to avenge the deaths of his two brothers, his grandfather and nine other relatives, by taking up arms against the Shining Path, or Sendero Luminoso, a Maoist guerilla movement that has been responsible for the deaths of 100,000 people in Peru, including many Quechua Indians. Shining Path was founded in 1970 by Abimael Guzm Reynoso, a philosophy professor at the University of Huamanga in Ayacucho, and emerged in the 1980s and 1990s as the deadliest insurgency in the Western Hemisphere.

When we met recently during a visit to the United States, Joshua recalled for me the time when he was going to lead an army of his people to avenge the killings.

“It was in 1992, when I heard the news that my two dear brothers, Romulo and Ruben Saune, who were great leaders of my people, had been murdered,” he said. “They had been working in Peru among my people and they had traveled to the mountains of Ayacucho to take the gospel and fellowship to the people, because then the Quechua Christians were in despair, living in caves, with no food, just hiding from the guerillas. My brothers knew that they had to do something for them. They decided to fellowship with them and show them that our great God really wanted to take care of them.  Identifying with them was a great thing for them to do. 

“However, when Romulo, Rueben and my other relatives were coming back from the mountains, they were killed. There was an ambush set up on the road they were returning home on and they were shot by Shining Path guerillas.  My mother and father were with them; my brothers and three of my nephews died two yards away from them.

“I got the call from my sister-in-law, Donna, the wife of Romulo, who was the translator of the Bible in my language. She was in Atlanta in the time and she said, ‘Joshua, your brothers were killed yesterday’ and she added, ‘Could you go with me to Peru.’ I did go back, but with one desire – to avenge my brothers. To fight for my people. To kill people.

“I was really angry at first with God. I asked Him, ‘Why, God, did You allow this to happen? You say You are great, but what were your angels doing? Perhaps they were cowards and they were hiding behind the mountains when Your people were slaughtered. If you are not going to do it, I’m going to do it. I’m going to fight for my people. For many years my people have cried and shed their blood and now I am going to avenge those actions.'”

He paused briefly, then went on to say, “But our God is great. Our Jesus, His love is so great. He changed my heart. I was looking at the bodies of my brothers and my family when God changed my heart. For the first time in my life I understood that it wasn’t the terrorists – the Shining Path – who were the enemy of my people. It was Satan and I knew  that I must fight against Satan and not the Shining Path.”


Before explaining what he is now doing in Peru, he then described the death of his Grandfather, Justiniano. 

“By 1950, the true Gospel had reached my country from missionaries who came from the United States and I am privileged to say I am a third generation Christian,” he said. “My grandfather was one of the first ones to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior and he walked with the Lord until 1989.

“One Sunday, standing before his people, he told them, ‘This is the last Sunday that I am before you. Next Sunday, I’m not going to be here because the Lord has called me home.’

“The next day, he was pulled from his house. Many times before the Lord had warned him to escape as Shining Path were coming to kill him, and he did escape. But now the Lord told him, ‘This time they are coming to take your life, and you’re coming with me.’

“The Shining Path got him and they were going to ask him questions about his faith. For them, the Gospel is a wall that must come down. Since my grandfather told them that the solution for our country is found in Jesus Christ, they started to kill him right there. He was killed in a horrendous way. His eyes were taken out, his tongue was cut out and his heart was pulled out while he was still alive. That’s how he died at the age of 85 years old, defending the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

He said that the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) — often referred to as “Sendero Luminoso” or “Shining Path” by the media wants to overthrow the government in Peru. “The Christians have been for many years caught in between because they chose to follow Christ and to love one another and not to kill our fellow men. So for them, Christians were a wall that must come down. According to the government, there have been 800 pastors who have been killed. Many thousands of men, women and children, Christians, close to 30,000 have been killed. Entire congregations have been murdered.

“All together, approximately 100,000 people have been killed in the nation of Peru because of these atrocities, but what I can tell you is the Quechua, especially the evangelical people and I myself have lost half of my family because we chose to follow Christ.”

Joshua is now the President of the Quechua Church, which has more than 200 indigenous churches in fellowship and also linked with CHIEF (Christian Hope Indian Eskimo Fellowship). “We teach and disciple in our own language,” he said.

He explained that one huge problem he is trying to deal with is the care of some 5,000 widows and 15,000 orphans in the Ayacucho region, all victims of the Shining Path terrorism. “I am here in the United States, talking on behalf of my church and also the children, because there is no care whatsoever from the government for these children,” he said.

“Three years ago, we started a school and named it after my brother, Romulo Saune,” he said. “We did that so that, when the children ask why we chose this name, I can tell them the great story of this young Quechua man who grew up as a servant of the Lord, so the children can relate themselves to his story and can also grow up to be great servants of the Lord.

“At first we had ten students. We cannot do it for 15,000 as we don’t have the resources, we don’t have funds. We are all alone, but the Lord has blessed us in a mighty way. Last year we completed the year with nearly 50 students. And this year we are expanding to another school, but we need sponsors. I know that the Body of Christ is big and strong and I know that we can get the sponsors. It costs just $25.00 a month to support each student and we hope and pray that people in the United States will help us take care of these orphans. The orphans are living with families who are very poor – they are refugees themselves – and often the children don’t get any food. So we are providing them with one hot meal a day.”

After having met this man, it is easy to see that he is a true warrior — not of hate, but love – the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. To get more information on how to help the “Children of Ayacucho,” contact: Dr. Dale W. Kietzman at (626) 398-2105 or (626) 795-0902 or write to Latin American Indian Ministries, PO Box 2050, Orange, CA 92850, USA.