Ana and Fernando Stahl were both trained as nurses at the famous Battle Creek Sanitarium, Battle Creek, Michigan. In 1909 they left their home and farm, and a successful business, traveling by ship to Peru. Arriving in the antiplano (high planes) they began three decades of work among the peoples of the Andes and the Amazon.
These “missionaries, visionaries, and revolu-tionaries” arrived in the Andes at a time ripe for change. A near-feudal state characterized the highlands at the turn of the century. This closed social order—maintained by a self-preserving alliance of landowner, priest, and judge—kept the numerically dominant (95%) indigenous population in ignorance and at bay. Laws on the books in the distant capitol found little application in the rugged antiplano.
In the face of formidable barriers pos-ed by race, religion and class, the Stahls lived and identified with the indigenous peoples. In addition to founding chapels, clinics and markets, this young couple established the first indigenous and first co-educational school system in the high-lands. This system came to encircle the vast Lake Titicaca creating 200 schools enrolling tens of thousands of students. Within only a single generation the formerly marginalized indigenous peoples of the highlands were in a position to elect a graduate of these schools to represent them in Peru’s National Congress.
The adage “knowledge is power” clearly informed the approach taken by the Stahls in mediating their understanding of the Good News of the Gospel. Their story is instructive in understanding education as a vehicle for both personal empowerment and social transformation.
Academic & Community Leaders
Comments on the Stahls' Work & Influence
“In the face of severe injustice suffering and oppression, the Stahls identified with the poorest of the poor and incarnated the gospel in ways which profoundly impacted the spiritual social, economic, and political life of the Peruvian highlands. The experience of our friends Ana and Fernando calls us to live with the tension of enacting the ‘now’ of God’s Kingdom while recognizing that the ‘not yet’ fullness of that kingdom eludes human history.” --Gustavo Gutierrez, Peruvian Theologian, 1997
“With the coming of the Adventists to Puno, in- digenous education was initiated with unanticipated and transcendent results. For the first time the Indian acceded to letters, hygiene, and a consiousness of his own identity.” --Jose Tamayo Herrera, Peru National Library Director, 1982
“The Adventist school system opened the way for the indigenous population of the antiplano to achieve selfhood and self-sufficiency The Stahl gospel both converted hearts and changed the social fabric of the highlands.” --Ruben Chambi Congressional Deputy Stahl school alumnus, 1989
“Stahl transforms the spirit of the Indian, making him aware of his rights and obligations and showing him the route towards human dignity—treating him more as a comrade than a proselyte. I render homage to those Protestant educators who sacrifice all to the service of human re-demption. The gospel which came to Latin America with Protestantism came with a liberating force be- cause it brought the force of the biblical message. A dramatic example is found in Peru with Manuel Camacho and Fernando and Ana Stahl.” --Samual Escobar, Peruvian Theologian, 1987
“Adventism served to select out of the mass of oppressed humans that meager group of deviants to whom education had an almost addictive appeal, a group who were not satisfied to be slaves to their mestizo oppressor of their own ignorance. Here we have people preparing for an unforeseeable future fifty years before it arrives.” Photo --Ted Lewellen, Richmond Univ. Anthropologist, 1978
“Adventists have consistently been in the fore- front of change in the antiplano. They embodied a less status-conscious life style than local mestizos and whites, resulting both from more democratic national and religious heritages and from their necessary alliance with Puno’s under-dogs, the Indians, against abusive church and civil authorities.” --Dan Hyazen, Harvard University Latin American Scholar, 1974
“The Stahls were well ahead of their time in defining salvation as that liberating movement which mediates healing to the whole of human experience—the spiritual, the social, the economic, the civil—calling for the whole person to be redeemed by Christ and illuminated by the Word of God” –Jesus Mateo Calderon, Bishop of Puno,1991.
“These schools spread doctrines of the most crimson communism. They destroy the spirit of the nation by teaching the most extreme and dangerous socialist concepts of social organization, class, and racial equality—and unbounded liberty in the ignorant masses.” --Memorial by the women of Azangaro, 1923