August 24, 2010 – Merging Two Worlds
It has been a hard month.
Within two days of landing back in America I went back to school, which meant packing everything I owned into my car (thinking the whole time, “this is way more stuff than anyone in Lima had, I don’t need this”). I resisted the urge to take entire suitcases to the dumpster and instead made a plan to go through my things when I have thought it out rather than as a knee jerk reaction to culture shock.
I got back to school in Santa Barbara, to find out my financial aid was not quite enough to cover all my bills, thus my bank account had been overdrawn while I was gone and my hospital bill from last February had not been paid despite my sending the bill to my insurance company. Oh, and I had lice. I went from being on a super God high – knowing that He has a plan for my life and He will provide for it – to a complete freak out, trying to solve all my own problems in less than a week.
After a few days of moping I got a little kick in the pants from my roommates and friends (and mostly from God). I began chanting “it’s not right or wrong, it’s just different” as I walked through the grocery store with fellow Trekker Lauren. I began seeking how to be back in America healthily, without forgetting the things I learned in Lima.
In Lima I learned that God desires justice, His kingdom, in the here and now. I learned that His promises for a better future, for hope and for freedom are not just for heaven; He wants that on earth (see the Lord’s prayer for proof). That means that Christians need to be involved in every level of society and bring God’s Kingdom.
This revelation ended a battle in my mind that has been raging for the last several years. The battle was between my desire to serve God with my life and my love for my major in political science. The two are one and the same. I will serve my God with my love for justice and my passion for politics.
The Trek is all about calling people to serve and live amongst the poor, beginning with a two-year commitment. I have made that commitment. It is a life-changing decision. Then I came back to Santa Barbara, where I know God wants me for now. I came back to my same group of friends (who I love dearly), same classrooms, same music and movies and schedule. I’m learning how to walk in the balance of these two realities.
I cannot forget I am different, but it is so easy to be the same. It is my prayer that we all learn how to incorporate God’s kingdom in our daily lives.
July 23, 2010 - Buenatropolis
This (our last) week in Peru, we have been introduced to the ideas of maltratroand buentrato.
These are terms that capture how individuals treat others and the environment around them, and the root of the difference between the two concepts is a stark contrast between violence and respect.
Maltrato encompasses the idea of behaving violently or disrespectfully towards others or to anything in the environment. Maltrato manifests itself in many ways, but in Peru is seen most in domestic violence, sexual abuse, an abundance of garbage and graffiti, and in the recent past, in absolutely horrific political violence.
Buentrato is quite the opposite; it refers to the idea of behaving in a way that recognizes and affirms the dignity in others and treating the surrounding environment with respect and appreciation. At the vigilia we learned about creating a Buentratopolis, or a city of buentrato. Through activities we learned that living a life respectful of the dignity and worth of all people and creation is a difficult task, but not an impossible one.
Buentrado meets a pollada
On Sunday we were invited by the Yaycuy team to attend a pollada (a Peruvian fundraising event) hosted to benefit the local law enforcement the team has been working with. In Peru it is quite common for polladas to erupt into violent parties. These events are usually accompanied by excessive amounts of alcohol and are dangerous for the surrounding community.
However, the pollada that our friends hosted on Sunday was quite different. This daylong event was characterized by a loving staff and the meals they prepared (500 plates of chicken!), clowns, family oriented games, and a safe and extremely joyful dance party. On Sunday afternoon, an event that is so commonly marked by maltrato became aBuentratopolis.
While thinking about buentrado, one can’t escape the importance of love. In order for life to really be appreciated and for individuals to be treated with dignity, we must be founded in love. As cliché as this sounds, it all starts with the small things, because it’s the little things that make up the whole.
We were all challenged this morning when someone told us they feel American culture doesn’t express love well enough. In the States we talk a lot about “love languages.” Those don’t seem to exist here. In Peru, every time you encounter a person, you’re greeted with a kiss on the cheek, and again when saying goodbye. Here, when you are loved, you know it.
All that to say, we’re all learning a bit more about love – how to give it well, and how to receive it well. We all hope to share more of that with you in a few short weeks.
July 7, 2010 – Real Life Lazarus
The Exploradores are a group of twelve kids in Yaycuy Camuy’s ministry, aged 13 to 16. They come from the very top of the Cerro – the hill of substandard apartments and houses that we live below. The top of the Cerro is the most dangerous and most impoverished area to live in. It sits just below rocks that could crush an entire house in an earthquake and on ledges that get very slippery in the rain.
Each of us is partnered with a few of the Exploradores. In the last week we have been up to visit them in their homes twice. The first day we went up I visited Sylvia’s house, where I sat on a bench in one of the house’s two rooms. I talked to Sylvia and her father about school, English, churches in the area and why we are here.
It was a rough visit for my Spanish abilities, but still a great time getting to see how Sylvia lives. During my second visit, I talked to Sylvia’s mom, brothers and best friend. This time we mostly talked about how cold it is, what life is like at my university and driving.
From their house you can see over another Cerro, into a vast expanse of roads, houses, sky scrapers and in the distance, the ocean. I still don’t know if the view is beautiful or bizarre, but Sylvia’s family loves it. They sit outside and point out to me all the places I’ve been and where their school is and which beach is the best.
It is absolutely ironic to be sitting in one of the poorest places in Lima with such a grand view. For this Californian, the ocean view is very comforting, but the contrast of absolute poverty within walking distance of wealth is disturbing.
Fidel, a local pastor, talked to us about the Marxist terrorist group, the Shining Path, and how they were successful in recruiting people from the Cerros – people with a clear view of everything they want but can’t have. Though the Shining Path has fallen, that torturous reality still exists. Everyday Sylvia and the other Exploradores wake up to look out over a kingdom they aren’t allowed to enter.
After returning from Sylvia’s home and making dinner, we studied the story in Luke 16 of Lazarus and the rich man. We spent a long time discussing the fact that Lazarus was right outside the rich man’s gate, where the rich man would have seen him every day. Likewise Lazarus would have seen the rich man.
That is how life is in the Cerro. You look down, and see the economic center of Peru, a place where you are not allowed. Who said Lazarus and the rich man was just a parable?
July 6, 2010 – Meet Ofelia
I wish I could recount every moment we've had here, but many stories will have to wait until we're home. For now, the best way to give you a glimpse of life in Peru is to introduce you to someone we have gotten to know: Ofelia.
Ofelia (mentioned in my last post) is hosting Lauren and Katarina, with her husband Casio and their two sons. Throughout this past week, we have had some memorable moments with this amazing woman.
On Tuesday we accompanied Ofelia around Mariategui to a few of her weekly house visits. Our first stop was the home of a family whose one-year-old son is about to undergo a series of intense surgeries for a number of physical deformities he was born with. We heard the struggles his parents have faced in trying to secure the finances to afford the operations, as well as the emotional turmoil they have gone through while watching their son live this way.
Ofelia visits this family often to pray for their son and to offer encouragement of God’s sovereignty and healing. She has been a powerful example of hope to this family, and a dedicated prayer warrior on the baby's behalf.
Our next stop was the home of a woman raising five children and a husband having a difficult time securing work. She makes bracelets to sell in the market, and receives only ten percent of the profit. They both struggle to provide food and school supplies for their children, despite putting every ounce of energy into whatever jobs they can find.
Casio and Ofelia have taken this family under their wings. Ofelia visits the family often to pray for them, encouraging them to persevere and hold onto hope. Casio helps the husband find work in his own construction projects. At times, Casio has gone without payment to ensure this man receives his due for work so can feed his children. Talk about sacrifice!
Casio and Ofelia have dedicated part of their home to a children's program and house church they run. Space is limited here, and it's difficult to fund a build. They have set aside a large portion of what little they have to the children they minister to and to their church. Ofelia has so much love and hospitality to share, that you can't help but love her instantly.
On Saturday we were privileged to celebrate Ofelia's birthday with her. This woman gives, and gives, so it was a blessing to be able to give back to her. We ate a big chocolate cake, sang songs, played games, and she received a new digital camera. One of her greatest joys in all of this was the ability to finally take pictures of all the kids. With Ofelia, it's always about others. She is truly a beacon of hope and love in this community.
I hope I was able to capture for you a glimpse of this woman who has become one of our favorite people in Peru.
June 28, 2010 – Love on the Menu
We have spent this past week meeting our host families in the district of San Juan de Lurigancho, getting to know the community of Mariategui, and getting situated into the different places we will be learning and serving these next few weeks. It has been an amazing week.
Each of us has been tremendously blessed by the families we are staying with. Nancy and I are living with Pastor Sixto, his wife Rebeka and their family. Being the least educated in Spanish of the team, I am especially delighted to be here because their daughter Jessica speaks English very well. It is such a blessing to be able to communicate with her and with the rest of the family through her.
Nancy has found our hosts to be an especially encouraging model of a family that is very loving and serving in ministry together. We are both amazed at the hospitality they are showing us, and we could not have asked for a better home to be living in this summer.
One of the places that we will be spending a lot of time at this summer is El Comedor - a cafeteria for children hosted by one of the churches here in Mariategui. El Comedor serves two rounds of lunch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to about 60 children each day. This little cafeteria up in the hills of Lima houses more love than just about any place that I have ever been.
There is a team of delightful ladies committed to serving the children and teaching them precious values that seem to be lost in this community - values such as honesty, respect, dignity and peace. The children are full of joy and are extremely excited to have some students from the United States eating lunch with them for a few weeks! On our first day at El Comedor we were able to walk the children home after lunch, and they were so excited that we were taking them home!
Poverty is gross. It hurts to see it and to recognize that justice is needed. But I am learning quickly that love is found in some of the smallest and simplest gestures – like washing dishes or giving a kiss on the cheek. People like our host families, the ladies at El Comedor, and the kids that are sharing their love with us are vessels of hope and examples that Christ’s love does shine in the midst of injustice. Praise the Lord.
To all of our friends, family, and prayer supporters, we are all doing well and are so thankful for your support! Pray that as we go through this week we can continue to develop relationships with the people of Peru, that we can be as much of a blessing to the people here as they have been to us, and that our hearts will continue to learn about hope, injustice, sacrifice and love.
June 26, 2010 – Party with the Taliban
I wish I could introduce all of you to the Taliban!
Maybe I should clarify. Los Talebanes is a group of eight men who patrol the neighborhood stopping crime. They got their name by storming a closed meeting of congress, demanding to be heard by the politicians that had betrayed them.
We met them during our in-country orientation, as a part of the discussion “Poverty is Violence”. They explained how hard it is for young people in these areas of Lima to go alone; instead, most of them join some sort of gang for protection and companionship. All of Los Talebanes were involved in gangs themselves at some point.
These gangs stand on street corners doing drugs and robbing people on their way to and from the market. Since the Taliban has been in this area, gangs have been pushed off most of the major street corners.
Los Talebanes were recently rebirthed. Because of their gang history and tiny salaries (about $1 per day by the government and whatever the community rounds up to give them), it is easy for them to slip back into old habits of theft or corruption. Apparently, this had been going on until recently, when one of the members stood up and told the rest of the group that it was time for a new beginning.
Now, to celebrate the new beginning, our arrival and a possible future partnership with Yaycuy, we will be having a party with the Taliban!
Last night we enjoyed a quiet night at home talking with our host and neighbors about what it is like to live here. Muggings, beatings and molestation, are all semi-regular occurrences. From most of our stand point the first question is “Where are the police?” To be frank, as one of my fellow trekkers put it “the police are directing traffic while Los Talebanes are fighting crime.”
That same night we heard a story about a family being surrounded and beaten to death by a gang. When the police finally showed up they simply fired a few shots into the air and then stood back. The police in Lima are not allowed to fire their weapons at people. On one hand that’s a great thing, but it also means they don’t have any more power than a gang, especially when there are only two cops facing twenty thugs.
This paints a more dismal picture of Lima than what we have seen, but I feel it is important for you to understand how necessary Los Talebanes are. A group of men covered in scars, identified only by vests, carrying large sticks and followed by a dog with battle wounds of his own, are actively changing the community.
They are keeping the safety of the community the main priority, even when those charged with that task will not. I am honored to be a small part of their new beginning.
June 22, 2010 – Navigating the Start
Task number one: navigate the largest metro system in the world. Yep. That was the first thing we had to do when we met our staff at the airport. We were split into groups of ten and given a map and the name of a stop to find. I thought they were joking. They weren’t. Welcome to Mexico City!
The last few days, our team has been in Mexico City with other students and leaders that are spending their summer among the poor in Cairo, Egypt with a Sudanese refugee community and the Mokattam garbage collectors community, as well as with others who will be staying here in Mexico City. We have gathered from all over the United States to prepare for the weeks ahead, and it has been an incredible journey so far.
We made it through our first metro experience without an ounce of trouble (but, whew those trains are crowded!). Sometimes the idea of doing something is much more daunting than sucking it up and actually going for it. (For all of the parents reading: no worries, we were supervised; the staff just wouldn’t help us unless we were way off course)
This has been my first experience out of the United States, and my Spanish is…well, virtually nonexistent. And let me tell you, it has been an adventure. Ordering meals has been quite entertaining. However, through the grace and patience of more experienced Spanish-speaking teammates and kind locals, I’ve managed to successfully order every meal! I’ve found that when all else fails, a thumbs up, smile, or head shake communicates just fine and is usually received with a smile.
As a community we’ve been learning what it means for the Kingdom of God to be brought to this world, and particularly what that looks like for the poor and marginalized. We have worshiped together, studied the Word together, prayed together, fasted together and have been experiencing what it’s like to live together and enjoy one another as a team.
We have had a profound time of preparation here in Mexico City; we have encountered the presence of God and are going forth this evening under his guidance, protection and authority. Praise the Lord! The staff here have been wonderful. They have guided us spiritually, and have challenged our endurance already - and the summer has only just begun!
As I’m writing it’s Monday morning and the team and I are preparing to depart to Lima. We will catch a red eye, direct flight late tonight and are due to arrive early Tuesday morning. We are really excited and ready to head out!
We’re leaving Mexico united as a team that is healthy and eager to meet Jesus in Lima. We are so thankful for your support and prayers, and ask that you continue to keep us before the Lord. Until next time! Hasta luego!