We came to teach, not realizing until later that we were the students. In the simplicity of this tiny Peruvian village, we found the lessons of the grace of God.

In the northernmost corner of Peru, Francisco Pizarro, in his effort to obtain wealth by conquest, established the first Spanish settlement just south of this mountain village of Las Quevas. But the riches we found here reminded us that, “The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One.” (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God). In the men and women of these small evangelical churches we witnessed contentment with God. After all, only He can satisfy the human heart.

Bradley Pinkerton, a student at Beeson Divinity School, translated for me as we taught a course this summer for the Mobile Bible Institute. This institute serves rural village pastors who have no access to formal training. Some had walked for seven hours over difficult terrain to study “A Survey of Bible Doctrine.” Their commitment is long-term: 2014 marks the first of four years, each with four to five week-long courses of study scattered throughout the year. They will graduate in 2017 if they are able to continue.

Their sacrifices are great. These men are farmers who risk the loss of crops by their absence from home. We saw empty villages, recently abandoned because of drought. Survival is not a foregone conclusion here. These hard, earthly realities might discourage some from the transcendent pursuit of God, but we found people of faith and courage whose hearts resonated with Augustine when he prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

These pastors did not measure success by the size of their churches. It’s not about money or moving up the ladder of achievement. They were born, and will probably die, in these mountains. But each of these spiritual leaders had experienced the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they knew that the deepest needs of their people, their families, and their villages are profoundly met through the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

We gave them a book on Bible doctrine, Doctrina Christiana by Wayne Grudem, not realizing that most of these leaders owned no books except their Spanish Bible. We had no idea why they were so excited until our host pastor, Ernesto Lopez, explained that for many, this was the first book about the Bible they had ever owned. Pastor Ernesto himself owned only a Spanish Bible and Strong’s Concordance. The two books that we left with him doubled his pastoral library.

Twenty-three serious students sat before us for three long sessions each day. They studied before class, between meals, during our afternoon break, trying hard to overcome a limited education with devotion and diligence. They would hang on every word and feverishly take notes. I wondered, “Am I as earnest in teaching as they are in learning? Does my love for God motivate me to speak as much as it moves them to listen?”

These are intelligent church leaders who desire to know God and to share their knowledge with those they serve. In their communities they are respected; their godliness and conviction give them a leader’s place. In their villages, they are the teachers, explaining the biblical worldview of creation, rebellion, redemption and consummation. They answer the big questions of life: Where do we come from? Why do we exist? What is the difference between right and wrong? What is our destiny? But they are also a physician of souls, applying healing wisdom in joy, sorrow, sickness, poverty, loss, doubt and failure. They studied like doctors preparing to do life saving work.

I came away humbled and ashamed. But more than that, I pray that God will save me and “my village” from our grasping-reaching-discontent, and teach us afresh that we can only rest when we rest in Him.

I went to teach, but the Lord knew I needed the lesson.

Bob St. John is pastor of Anniston Bible Church.