Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Glimpse of Language School

Our room at the hostel
Feeling lifeless after a 40 hour bus ride through the Andes Mountains, we tumbled out of the taxi and dragged ourselves to the door of the hostel we would call home for the next month. Finally, I was able to say the much anticipated words, "We're here!!"

We unpacked our bags and settled into our room.  There were 6 beds, a couple bureaus and a bathroom.  In a nearby room we had access to a stove, sink and fridge.  This was perfect!!

Next on the agenda was finding language school.  The following day we ventured out into the city and wandered around until we came upon a building whose address matched our paper.  A sign by the door read "Gringlish". This must be it!  

Our legs got quite the workout as we walked about 3 miles to language school each day...and 3 miles back home.

Our brains got a workout too as we practiced our Spanish skills with everyone we met.

Although everyone gets an A+ for strength, endurance and a positive attitude, we didn't win any awards for speed.  Everyday we made TONS of stops along the way.

We bought food from the street vendors.

This man's response captures the joy people experienced
when we allowed Jesus' love to shine through us.

We visited with those we met and did our best to share the Good News.

When the Holy Spirit prompted us to provide some relief in their times of hardship, we would walk with them to buy food.

Most nights, after language school, we sat in the center plaza and ate dinner (fruit and bread).

Some days we stopped at the park to play.

One evening, at the park, we ran into our new friend Benjamin; a fellow Christian who is head over heels in love with the Lord.

Benjamin invited us to his pastor's wife's birthday party later that night.

Why not???
Benjamin (the man in the white shirt and gray pants)
played the pan flute, a traditional Peruvian instrument.
At the party Chris rocked the house with the Peruvian guys as they led the group in praise and worship.

When we said "yes" we had no idea that we would still be shouting with joy to the Lord at 11:30 PM.

Language school has been challenging, but thankfully our instructors made it a lot of fun!!

Chris and I were super lucky to have David as our instructor.
Although he crammed a ton into each lesson, he always made it fun!!

Katelyn and Anna's instructor was Carol.  She worked the girls hard in class and always sent them home with tons of homework.

The boys had a fun guy named Lalo who taught them songs and card games.  They learned through stories and role-playing.  

Now that we're able to talk with people in Spanish, we're excited to get back "home" to San Hilarion so that we can bring the joy of the gospel to those the Lord has called us to serve.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

40 Hour Bus Ride to Where?

Our family is spending the month of April in Trujillo, Peru 
where we're attending language school.

On the map it may seem close.  However, traveling between San Hilarion and Trujillo requires one to cross the Andes Mountains.  We weren't exactly sure what that entailed; 
so, when we bought our bus tickets we asked Andrea, the ticket sales woman 
(in Spanish of course)...

CHRIS: So, how long does it typically take to get to Trujillo on the bus?
ANDREA: About 15-18 hours unless there is a "derrumbe", then it takes longer.
CHRIS: What's a "derrumbe"?
ANDREA: (She gave an explanation that used a lot of words we didn't understand.  Thankfully, we were able to pick out a couple key phrases which included the words earth, fall, dirt and road.  We surmised that "derrumbe" means mudslide.)
CHRIS: Are mudslides common?
ANDREA: Sometimes
CHRIS: If there is a mudslide, how long does it typically take?
ANDREA: Sometimes the buses have to turn around and come back.  They never make it.
CHRIS: I hope there's not a mudslide.
ANDREA: Me too.

After about 10 hours of driving through the twisty, curvy, narrow mountain roads we felt like we were in the home stretch with only 7 hours left. Unexpectedly our bus came to a stop behind another bus that had stopped behind a mile long line of buses, semi-trucks, motorcycles and cars.  Something was wrong, but we had no idea what.  The bus sat idling for about 30 minutes before the driver finally turned off the engine.  Little did we know that the engine would remain off for the next 11 HOURS.

After waiting patiently in the bus for a couple hours we decided to get out and investigate.  We passed through the orange cones and continued walking for over a mile.  We didn't realize it at first, but we were learning about "derrumbes" first hand.  Andrea seemed to use all the right words.  The earth had in fact fallen and there was dirt all over the road.  More specifically, several sections of the mountain had broken away and tumbled downward. As the earth slides down it tears up everything in its path, creating an avalanche of sorts out of dirt, boulders, trees, etc..  About 1 mile of roadway was impassible.

We waited...and waited...and waited while one front loader bulldozed the debris to the side.   A "derrumbe" is typically caused by extensive rainfall.  There had been so much rain that waterfall-like rivers cascaded down the mountainside in the freshly torn paths.  Water flooded the road so much that at one point we saw the front-loader halfway underwater trying to remove boulders and huge trees. We continued watching the clean-up effort until it started to rain.  We figured the last thing we needed was to be in soaking wet clothes for some unspecified amount of time.

After 11 hours the road was cleared enough to pass - at least that was their expert opinion.  We watched out of the windows of the bus as we waded through several feet of water and dodged large boulders and clumps of trees.  I'm not sure if the other folks on the bus were praying, but I think we said enough prayers for everyone.

After 40 hours we finally arrived in Trujillo.  We resisted the temptation to be frustrated and thanked God for our safe arrival...  Thank you Jesus for the hard work done by the work crew.  Thank you Jesus for the bus driver's cautious maneuvering.  Thank you Jesus for keeping our kids spirits up and allowing them to see the bright side of things.  At one point I heard them say, "This is really cool.  I've never seen a mudslide in real life before."

We checked into our hostel and collapsed in bed. Who would have thought that sitting could be so exhausting?  The next day we ventured out into Trujillo to find our language school.  On Monday we started.

We'll write another blog post soon about language school and our time here in Trujillo.

Please pray for our ability to learn Spanish so that we can minister to those the Lord has called us to serve.

Peace and blessings,

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Very Holy Week

Everyone gathered for the rosary before the procession

Our Holy Week started earlier than usual with our first procession occurring on the Friday one week before Good Friday.  We had never heard of this before but in our town they called it a procession for Mary as she prepared for the passion and death of her Son.  We all met in the church at 7 p.m.for a rosary with the procession immediately following.  This procession was very well attended thanks to the local high school teacher offering a point to each child that attended the procession!

After the rosary, the children were selected to carry the beautifully decorated statue of Mary all through the "Centro Plaza" in San Hilarion.  Each person carried a lit candle and many of the schoolkids had made candle holders out of 2 liter soda bottles and painted them in very beautiful designs.  It was a sight to behold. Everyone processed behind Mary and sang beautiful Marian hymns.

Each night of Holy Week had a different procession with a different statue decorated with different flowers and plants and a different reflection with different songs to sing each night.

Good Friday - daytime procession

Good Friday was a little different because we had an additional procession during the daytime where we processed all throughout the town 2 by 2 and took turns carrying the cross.  The whole procession lasted about 2 hours and I was able to learn a few new tunes to accompany the singing on guitar while Jack played the drum.

We were blessed to have Padre Leopoldo visit San Hilarion for the Veneration of the Cross.  Padre Leopoldo and I held the cross while each person came up and kissed it.  Michael also helped hold the cross and Jack wiped the cross after each kiss.  This was followed by a special custom that has developed in our town which is a reflection on "The 3 Nails".  A well-rehearsed team of men dressed in white ascended ladders and essentially took Jesus down from the cross by disassembling it with a reflection for each nail, crown of thorns, etc. and delivered each part to Mary on a silver platter.  It was another new and beautiful custom to experience!  The night wrapped up with another procession around the plaza with a reflection on "The Last 7 Words of Our Lord".  Each station where we stopped was lit up and decorated very elaborately!

Here is the church before "The 3 Nails" reflection
On Saturday, we were able to setup a projector and show "The Passion" which was the first time anyone had seen it.  We were able to have Spanish subtitles turned on and when the movie ended there was not a dry eye in the room. Everyone just stood up and silently walked home to reflect upon just how much Jesus loves them.

It's Working!!!

I didn't know our church could hold that many people!!!"

When we arrived in San Hilarion, we were greeted by a large group.  The people were giddy with excitement at the idea of having Catholic missionaries in their pueblo. All this fuss and activity made it seem like the Catholic community was alive and strong.  
Unfortunately, our initial impression was misleading.  

After the novelty of our presence wore off it was back to business as usual.  At the Sunday services there were only about 25 people (including the 6 of us). "Where is everyone else?", we'd ask.  The people would discouragingly shrug their shoulders as if to say, "Who knows?" 

We've been talking to the people about the importance of establishing a community of believers.  We constantly encourage them to invite their family members, friends and neighbors.  We gather up the children, welcome them with open arms and ask them to go home to get their parents.  

Each time we notice a new person in church we celebrate quietly; however, the progress has been slow and most of the seats have remained empty.

Jack and Michael in front of our church with some of the faithful attendees.

A few weeks ago things took a turn...

On a Monday afternoon we learned that one of our local priests would be available to celebrate Mass the following night.  Tuesday night?  How could we ever get people to come to church on a Tuesday night if they aren't even willing to come on Sunday morning?

"We probably need to invite them!" one of our brilliant young team members said.

And so we did.

Tuesday was dedicated to visiting people's homes to personally invite them to Mass. Most people offered us something to drink, smiled, stumbled through some broken conversation with us, kissed us on the cheeks and bid us farewell.  We assumed that this all translated to "thanks, but no thanks".

To our amazement and delight over 60 people showed up for Mass.  Our priest was ecstatic!!  He happily announced that he would return the following Tuesday.

We knew we had our work cut out for us. Once again we made our rounds, talking with people in their homes and inviting them to Mass.  Once again, people smiled, offered us a drink and kissed us on the cheeks.

A snapshot of our community gathering at church -
before it even got full.
That Tuesday over 140 people showed up for Holy Mass.

Each time I noticed people streaming in tears trickled down my already wet cheeks.  When I turned around and realized there was standing room only the flood gates opened and I wept.

Many times, when I made eye contact with someone, they would give me a big smile and nod.  Now, I haven't mastered the art of Peruvian non-verbal communication yet, but I think that translates to "I'm happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me!"

After Mass we personally thanked as many people as we could.  Our priest was in awe of the attendance and praised them repeatedly for making time for Jesus.  The joy and excitement in the church was real.... People were happy to be there.

As we walked out of church Jack and Michael asked, "Mom, why are you crying."  All I could say was, "Because it's working!"

Thank you Jesus for sending us out to find your lost sheep.  Thank you for shepherding this flock.

Please continue to pray for our work here in San Hilarion, Peru.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sleeping Beneath the Stars

As FMC missionaries, we're asked to go to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel and serve the poor.  We thank God for each opportunity to do that and feel especially blessed when we can do them simultaneously.

We continually ask the locals to guide us to those in most need of help.  Several weeks ago we met Luchita (age 87).  She and her husband live on a narrow strip of land on the outskirts of town. When we stopped in to visit, Luchita welcomed us with the grandest of smiles.  She insisted that we sit in her already broken chairs and excitedly offered us a refreshing drink that she had prepared (from river water which likely has parasites).  As we sat beneath her "techa" (covered outdoor kitchen area), we realized how great their needs were.  Their techa was completely rusted and collapsing in many areas.  In addition to this area, they also had a 10' x 10' dilapidated government-built sleeping area.  As is typical of these structures, it was very poorly constructed and leaks terribly every time it rains.  Also, all of these structures are built with only one small window, which causes oven-like interior temperatures.      

When the boys asked to use the bathroom we realized an additional need.  Their hole-in-the-ground outhouse was at the very back of their property, behind two different chicken wire barricades and a whole host of fallen palm trees.  To access the outhouse Luchita clung to the trees and navigated her way across the slanted, all clay route.  Knowing that the rain would make this route impassible we asked what they do in the rainy season.  She simply smiled and encouraged us to drink more "refresca".     

On Saturday, after Luchita accepted our offer for help, we arranged for the carpenter to take measurements. He anticipated starting on Monday and so Luchita's husband disassembled their whole techa.

Luchita's son heard about the Catholic missionaries who were helping his parents and felt inspired to lend a hand.  He took apart their entire 10' x 10' structure and promised to build them a new house with indoor plumbing.  At this point, please imagine that all Luchita and her husband have is a bed on a cement slab.  (We were shocked to see a couple have so little, but couldn't possibly take a picture.)

Monday came and went - no carpenter.  Tuesday we got word that he was stuck in a distant pueblo and wouldn't be able to get back until Friday.  We rushed to Luchita's house feeling terrible that we had made a bad situation even worse.  We were amazed to discover Luchita as happy as ever sitting in her broken chair enjoying a cup of refresca.  We apologized repeatedly, but she assured us that sleeping beneath the stars in the open air was refreshing.  During the rainy season it rains hard almost every night.  We invited them to sleep at our house until the carpenter finished the techa.  She declined and assured us that rain never killed anyone.

We returned several times to read them the gospel, pray with them and inquire as to how they were managing without a house. To our amazement, they were completely happy and thanked God for their countless blessings.  It was funny ~ they kept consoling us.  They'd assure us that it would all get done someday and that there was nothing to worry about.  

A couple days later, at about 7:30 PM, we stopped on our way to church to see if they wanted to accompany us.  It was already dark and we didn't want to startle them, so we announced our presence by yelling "buenos noche".  There was no response so we shined our flashlight to make sure everything was alright.  Luchita and her husband were already in bed.  They climbed out of their bug net (practically naked), welcomed us and casually began dressing.  Half dressed they pulled up some chairs and insisted that we have something to drink.  A bit embarrassed we accepted and told them we had only come to invite them to church.  "Sure", Luchita said and continued to get ready.  

Later that week Edgardo, the carpenter, finished their techa.

Since their son hasn't been back to complete any of the work he started Luchita and her husband have been sleeping under the techa for several weeks.

If the work isn't completed by the time we return from language school in May we're going to pay someone to build them an enclosed sleeping area.

We're delighted to report that Luchita has been attending the services and activities at church ever since.  She appreciates the company and always thanks us for loving her.  When she's not looking I quickly wipe away my tears and thank the Lord for allowing me to learn from such a beautiful teacher.