“Peruvian Skies” – A Transgenerational Story

Last Sunday, an average summer day, I was driving with my family from Florence to the Tyrrhenian sea, in the beautiful Tuscany landscape. My thoughts were absorbed in organizing my weekly schedule when suddenly Daniel, my oldest son, put music on for his submissive audience in the car. It was Dream Theather's song, “Peruvian Skies”. Similar to E. De Amicis’ well known novel “From the Apennines to the Andes”, I mentally started traveling in imagination from Florence to Peru, and my attention focused on a particular story.

Max Hans Kuczynski, a clever and gifted German boy, grew up in the culturally prolific and scientifically intense Berlin of the beginning of the 20th century. He earned his first doctorate in Natural Sciences in 1913, with research in parasitology. And his second doctorate in medicine in 1919. He began his scientific career at the University of Berlin’s Institute of Pathology and was also a visiting professor of pathology at the Medical Institute of the University of Omsk (Siberia). While there he conducted several medical and scientific expeditions to Central Asia (Soviet Union, Mongolia, China) to investigate the complex relationship between disease and socio-cultural-geographical factors – especially among nomadic populations of the Asian steppes. His book, "Steppe and Man" (Steppe und Mensch, Leipzig 1925), studying Kyrgyz nomads, became a classic in the social and geographic medicine of his time.

But, much like his contemporary Albert Schweitzer, Max Hans unexpectedly left Europe with his wife Madeleine Godard (aunt of “Nouvelle vague” French film-maker Jean-Luc Godard) to go to Peru, and never came back. In Lima he immediately contacted the Institute of Social Medicine at the National University of San Marcos (America's oldest university) and began working with prominent Dr. Carlos Enrique Paz Soldan. But he didn't stay in Lima. He chose to practice medicine in the harsh Peruvian jungle of Iquitos, where his two children subsequently grew up. There he began his fight against leprosy and especially the stigmatization of its sufferers. As chief medical officer of the San Pablo leper colony, where the sick were kept in isolation and almost without medical help, he opened the gates and reorganized health care and living conditions – both within the institution and outside, implementing an innovative and visionary outpatient treatment. But Max Hans also had strong civic and political convictions and became a Peruvian citizen. He subsequently criticized the Nation's leadership, denouncing then Peruvian president Manuel Odria for his despotism and for the unilateral benefits given to rich Peruvian families, in detriment to the large population. Consequently, in 1948 he was imprisoned for almost a year. On release he devoted himself to clinical practice in Lima, until his death in 1967 at the age of 77, while probably thinking of the intrinsic limits and inevitable paradoxes of our most generous acts and decisions.

Now, why might I recall this story? For three reasons Peruvian (and all) Adventists should keep in mind.

First, a religious reason. At that same time an Adventist missionary was also working in the Peruvian jungle – Ferdinand Stahl. Stahl's work in Peru was intense, generous and far-sighted – initially in the Altiplano and afterwards in the Jungle. Adventist Peruvians will always be grateful for that marvelous service freely offered. My personal pastoral ministry is still, indirectly, a fruit of that work because Stahl chose my grandfather, Isaias Salazar, and other young people of Chanchamayo, to work with him. As a missionary, 30 year-old Isaias had to be married. Among the young local Adventist girls, Stahl found 15 year-old Rosa for him. She was pushed to marry Isaias – to benefit the mission. My grandmother used to say she never loved her husband. Despite his own greatness, Stahl's service had some limits. It was disconnected from other similar initiatives because his American Adventist background pushed him in that direction. Following a shared and diffuse idea among us, Adventist mission is unique. It can't easily be mixed with other initiatives and we usually stand alone against everybody else. Stahl's ministry also had strong vertical and authoritarian traits that allowed him to be efficient and pragmatic but that prevented him from introducing and developing a necessary new ethos, attitude of dialogue and search for consensus. And finally, his service was essentially a-political.

Second, a political reason. Altruism and charity can't be implemented only based on philanthropy. Assisting the needy easily becomes paternalistic and discretional – excessively dependent on personal ups and downs. So the protection of a vulnerable population must be framed legally with official codes and bylaws. Helping various minorities is not, and should not be, only a matter of generosity but also of institutional coverage and guarantee. This is the political dimension that every missionary and philanthropic initiative should be aware of. That's what Max Hans had in mind but unfortunately couldn't achieve himself. Since then Peruvian political institutions and representatives have tried to build a state of equal rights for all Peruvians, without fully succeeding yet. Peru has now had twenty years of political and economic stability and growth, but still there is almost a third of the population, particularly in rural areas, that lack drinkable water and sanitation at home. Last month an election was held. Peru had to choose a new president. Two young, dynamic and well prepared women candidates were favorites to be elected: Keiko Fujimori Higuchi and Veronica Mendoza Frisch. As often happens neither won. Against opinion polls and most expectations the winner was a 77 years old outsider. A rich and smart economist, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is the new elected president of Peru who entered office just this month. And he promised, in his inaugural speech, to give drinking water and sanitation to all Peruvians, not through philanthropy and charity, but by institutional and legal coverage.

Third, an anthropological reason. Consistent human initiatives are articulated in long, not short, life cycles. Florence's famous cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, was begun by architect Arnolfo di Cambio in 1294 and finished in March 1436 by the Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi. The founders didn't see the final result. They put on the initial stones that others after them would complete. Those who created this Renaissance jewel introduced their individual ideas and perspectives – but in the trail of their predecessors. True solidarity is necessarily a trans-generational experience. That's probably not what Max Hans had in mind when he left Berlin to arrive in the heart of the Peruvian Jungle. And, there in a cold and stressful Lima prison, in the nation he had chosen as his own and for which he had given his best energies and enthusiasm, he could hardly have imagined that his adopted country would, fifty years later, choose as its president his son Pedro Pablo. Max Hans Kuczynski couldn't see what he was sowing. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, in his inaugural presidential address, mentioned that he wanted to honor his father’s social and philanthropic legacy by framing it in institutional and political guarantees for all.

For president Kuczynski the task ahead is challenging. Politically he needs to secure more solid state institutions and be less dependent on the political swings of the various rotating executives. Economically he urgently needs to expand the taxation platform that only includes 30 % of the workforce. 70 % of the Peruvian economy is still informal. Socially, while preserving programs to meet people-needs his government needs to reduce the still excessive percentage of poverty (20 %). And his government needs to guarantee and defend a new identity – to irreversibly become multi-religious and multi-cultural. Ten percent of Peruvians live outside Peru and have implicitly imposed a new rhythm and understanding of what it means to be Peruvian.

Paradoxically, Peruvian Adventism is not helping to face these new challenges. Instead of being a positive attitudinal change-agent, generally speaking the Peruvian Adventist church has remained apocalyptic, self-referential and indifferent to culture and society – still obsessively waiting and working for the unlikely scenario that all Peruvians will become Adventists. Probably that will never happen. And actually it is not necessary in order to share an honorable and inspiring witness as believers in Jesus. This negative attitude is visible, for instance, in the generally strong resistance within our church to the extension of legal recognition and guarantees to minorities like the LGBT Peruvian community, confusing a secular dimension with a religious one. While Peruvian society seems to go forward in some important cultural issues, the Adventist Peruvian church seems to strongly hold to reactionary positions. Being transgenerational doesn't mean repeating what our pioneers have done, but to update their beginnings to the new circumstances society is offering. Beyond “what” our pioneers did in Peru, Ferdinand Stahl included, is the “how” did they face the challenges. That is more determinant in establishing the quality of our faithfulness to their legacy – in a new context and circumstances that we need to learn to discern as our own.

Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher and physician. Currently he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7597

Just Plain Wrong

1.Why do you keep bashing conservative fundamentalist Adventists as ‘reactionary’? Weren’t the founders of the Adventist church and its missionaries “apocalyptic, self-referential and indifferent to culture and society”. Why should faithful Peruvian Adventists be maligned by you for believing and practicing Adventism?

2.Why is it hard for you to just say that Adventism of the founders and for over a Century is just plain wrong and irrelevant.? The founders of the Church could not do this, admitting they were wrong when in fact they were wrong, so they invented an elaborate esoteric message and declared themselves God’s chosen. Current church members with their Victorian religion cannot admit they are wrong, and so in the 21st Century they are irrelevant. I mean how many centuries can you preach the ‘imminent/soon’ return of Jesus unless you keep ‘qualifying’ imminent/soon so it is meaningless. Have you ever met a Seventh day Adventist who is actually an Adventist? Inventing death as someone’s ‘second coming’ is just an invented dodge. Again most sensible people know what ‘imminent/soon’ means and would just say ‘we are wrong’.

3.I can understand that as a theologian you have to be imaginary and bring meaning to worn out symbols, words and text. But is it fair to constantly nag faithful church members for being true to their teaching? Eschatological messengers don’t have time to change communities over centuries. Faithful church members get enough aggravation by church leaders who keep lambasting them as lazy Laodiceans and want more money out of them.

4.Why can’t you help Adventist church members admit their beliefs and behavior are wrong and then suggest a path forward out of the predicament they find themselves in?

5.Since you don’t dialogue with your readers, I guess I won’t know if you have any answers to my questions. Unless I come to Florence. Best Wishes, Edgar


"Among the young local Adventist girls, Stahl found 15 year-old Rosa for him. She was pushed to marry Isaias – to benefit the mission. My grandmother used to say she never loved her husband."

So excruciatingly sad that a poor 15 year old girl was basically forced/coerced using the guise of what was “best for Adventism” to waste her life with someone who she did not choose or love.

This is what happens when men are completely in charge…take note, everyone.

Naturally you and I were not privy to all that occurred in the story but by your comments I can tell that basically you have no familiarity with the Hispanic cultures and their general mores…particularly of that time period which was exceedingly “machismo”. To think that it has changed in South or Central America is laughable because it is still overwhelmingly patriarchal. The SDA church would have even more influence over the poor girl marrying a man that was 15 years older than she. Not much to guess about who had “control” in the sad story.


This is what happens when men are completely in charge…take note, everyone.

And when the church organization is more important than people.


BOTH Isaias AND Rosa were FORCED into a life long relationship that neither of them Wanted. And were NOT prepared for at their developmental age. Neither had developed the thought of “Needing” another person at that time.

Actually, this is not much different from our Church making Rules and Regulations about Who can and Who cannot develop life-long relationships. This same pattern is in our World Wide Church, just in a different form.


The Gospel is a release from bondage including ecclesicatical trappings. He went about doing good, let us follow Him. TZ


I understand Hanz - and I could add my transgenartional story of right here, in Vienna, Austria. Believe me, I now overlook about 120 years of SDAs development in Germnany and here in Austria. Originally, SDAs were guided by Hommes de lettres, Czechowski, Erzberger, Conradi, my grandfather - being ordained in 1909, the teachers in Friedensau and the newly converted elders of the local churches. . Since some fifty years we simply have a decay : The reactionary melödy ins played. And a small chorus follows in singing the new - old song.

We now make a Blue Zone out of every local church, since the statement of medical ministry as the right arm of the message has at last to be cerished here now - the new attempt. We erect a little town , right out copying some New England settlement of 1850. even a dresscode is somewhere published, adoptiing faraiway “standards” of yesteryear- - just about being reactionary !

And Daniel & Revelation seminaries are held - with some 95 percent SDAs in the auditorium, harrdly one foreinger.

And our local SDA seminary teachers, “educating” the pastors of now and the future and everyone boasting some capital letters after his name justr show a poor scholarship, just teaching seondarty or tertiary “knowledges” - - Grandpa, sitting on your cloud in Heaven, please do not look down and never compare it with what you bothered about poor thgeologiocal - pastoral eduication in Neandertal around 1900 that led you to lifelong studystudystudy for your own - and so adapting yourself to the demands of the societies you lived in !!

(When my grandfather from the Lower Rhine was sent to Vienna, he had for exaple studied Hitlers “Mein Kampf”, Kundschaks “Christliche Soziallehre”, Kautzkys “Austromarxism”, a Manual of Catholic Dogmatics, - -and could hold a balanc between all those parties in a civil war atmosphere !
Yes, and he had Harnacks “Neutestamentliche Apogryphen” and Schlatters “Die Geschichte der ersten Christen” in his library, and Rankes “Geschichte der Paepste” - - -



Educated far beyond what our founders were, many of “us” have come to understand that what they began must be both kept “pure” and reinterpreted as culture changes and learning improves. A famous European theologian who had mentored several Adventist students in Ph.D programs once told me that “you Adventists have much to say about apocalyptic, but you need to learn to say it with greater sophistication.” The Millerites “waited for Jesus” by preaching the imminent return, giving all to the cause, and then gathering at the expected hour. They were “right” to embrace a New Testament teaching that had faded, to a large extent, into oblivion (like Luther perhaps?). When Adventism began, it took the kernel and grew a different movement around the Second Advent, one which preached the imminent return, but established schools (when most people barely possessed a grade school education), a medical work (which included cooperating with the temperance movement in the USA), and a publishing effort. Why?

Minds educated to reason clearly and be informed about culture and science, are better able to pursue the “truth” in all things (which improves lives in every way), including the Bible (schools); Bodies (not just Adventist) kept healthy are also free to enjoy God’s gifts, including learning and meaningful work (both in the church and outside it–medical work); and when the only media available was print, publishing church teaching was to augment public proclamation of the “message.”

It is true that our focus on imminence shaped many of our earliest decisions about the methods we should use in relation to the larger world. And, as you point out, the “delay” means we should rethink how we do our proclamation. Hans is suggesting that from the beginning, we should have thought more (when given the opportunity) about helping to change social and political structures for entire communities and even nations. Looking back from his vantage point at his own country, he is able to see how things might have been done more faithfully and left a more lasting legacy.

This is healthy in my view, and good for the church. Social justice (which we have only recently embraced in many quarters, but not all) is not the social gospel, but the gospel itself. When James White went to Mississippi to teach African-Americans how to read so they could examine Scripture directly (schools, publishing), he was attacked for giving an education to people who might learn that they had rights that were being abused. When along with some others SDA’s made vegetarianism “cool” in society (medical work), we inadvertently challenged the meat industry. This is all good, and worthy of Jesus-followers who wait for the “return.” When, in our own communal life, we tolerate racism, misogyny and bigotry in any form, we are no longer waiting “worthily” for the return nor are we able to preach it with credibility.

There is ample evidence in Scripture that the focus on imminence needs to be balanced with the reminders of the “delay” and his coming as a “thief in the night” whose timetable is in God’s hands (for whom a thousand years is as a day"). Faithfully waiting means faithfully working and watching to see how God wants to bless the world through us, not apart from us.


Our church leaders seem unable to accommodate to cultural changes. What good is religion if it only applies to the past?


It is only too easy to lapse into critical mode. And to point to issues that trouble us in the way Adventism has developed, or rather failed to develop.
What I find refreshing about this piece however, and about Gerhard’s contribution is the ability to take the perspective that only a fairly senior person can adopt to issues that trouble us and see them in a generational light.
It was a eureka moment for me, and I had to check and search the spelling of Kuczy… the 77-year old to get the picture of an aged son following in his father’s footsteps (through public service) as he entered the Peruvian presidency.
With reference to Adventism, it’s about time for those of us who have passed the age of retirement to trouble ourselves to consider the role our children and grandchildren, and others after them may very well play in the unending struggle for human betterment - one that (dare I say it?) equals, if not transcends belief in the Advent.


As a missionary, 30 year-old Isaias had to be married. Among the young local Adventist girls, Stahl found 15 year-old Rosa for him. She was pushed to marry Isaias – to benefit the mission. My grandmother used to say she never loved her husband.


While I understand your point of view and respect it, I am somewhat baffled by some your comments.

  1. I believe my G. grandfather would be shocked to know he pushed a 15 year old girl on a colleague church worker in order to benefit the work of the church. This sounds like revisionist history and not something grandpa would support in the least.

  2. Having worked and traveled expensively in Peru I have seen first hand the powerful influence of the Adventist church in that country. Just to name some of the progressive things I have seen:

a) Congressional recognition of Adventist education as a change agent and model influencing the countries public education
b) Religions liberty initiatives which have born fruit
c) Empowering of women in operating businesses and managing micro credit loans
e) Assisting local governments in planning and budgeting for Peru’s decentralized national budgets
f) The research is clear that Stahll and the church participated in delivering an enslaved population and empowered them be first rate citizens of the country.

I know I’m not fully addressing the heart of your article. I just am not sure its balanced.


Anthony Stahl, PhD

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Well wasn`t this - pushing a 15 year old girl into marriage - a general use within Protestant missions in South America ? - This just giving one a wife - for the sake of the mission ? (I have read it about some missionaries / missions from Gernmany :slight_smile:

Thanks for the other view on SDA / Peru !

Back in the day leadership was more paternalistic, and more so in the mission field. There was a sense that the target populations required greater control. For example, secondary schools had stricter social rules than did their stateside counterparts. I know of a different country than Peru and the Adventist missionaries encouraged particular students to pair off as they finished at the school. My family was acquainted with several families who’d been so created.

Today we don’t approve of the underlying ethnicism or racism, or of church leaders exerting that level of influence. Acknowledging the flawed paradigms of the past doesn’t mean that missionaries were bad people or that we can’t appreciate the significant benefits they initiated. We do have to be honest about the complexity and learn from their mistakes.


Here’s a clue to the SDA solution to its dilemma of the LGBT issue. Between nature and the “word of God” as we understand it, nature wins. Hands down. Whereas Isaias was allowed a provision to enjoy nature’s satisfying “tension,” why can’t the church afford the same consideration to the LGBT population? Why “pathologize” what is nature’s way?

The adventist mission was founded on refusing to accept defeat just as an adolescent would refuse defeat at the hands of his parents even if he were obviously wrong. There was no way the disappointment of the Lord not coming would stop a group of dedicated believers. They were bound to find a way out even if they had to search the scriptures to come up with a unique “Ink Blot” test to justify their belief and explain their “great disappointment.” Haven’t we done this one too many times during our adolescent growing years? The lesson: It is always a poor decision to make long term plans while under transient phases.

Where Pablo K. memorialized his father’s legacy, our founder William Miller searched the scriptures to prove his father wrong. He came up with the 1844 message and the “ball” was picked up by a group of devoted believers and ran with it, never mind the fact that William Miller subsequently responded publicly, writing, “I confess my error, and acknowledge my disappointment; yet I still believe that the day of the Lord is near, even at the door.” The lesson: Never make a leader a person who has yet to resolve his developmental childhood issues unless you are willing to pay the price.