Sunday, August 28, 2016

2 Priests Gone Missing

What to do, what to do?

"Jesus te ama" means "Jesus loves you" in Spanish.
Thursday is our day off; our day to relax and have fun together as a family.  Sometimes we stay home and play games, other times we head out for a swim or hike.  Last Thursday we wanted to explore a waterfall in a nearby valley that we'd passed several times, but didn't know anything about.  It was sprinkling and fog was settling in, but a little inclement weather never stopped us before.  As we wound through the mountainous road, enjoying the beautiful scenery, we were startled by an oncoming motorcyclist who stared intently at us and shook his finger back and forth as if to say "No, no, no!!"  Chris and I had mixed feelings about his obvious warning.  Were the roads unsafe?  Was there a mudslide?  Did he object to the "Jesus Te Ama" messages all over our van? After praying for protection against whatever trouble may be ahead, we decided to continue on with caution.  At each bend we scanned and assessed, trying to determine what this cryptic warning might mean, but everything seemed fine.

Shapaja, Peru
As we entered the town of Shapaja we smiled and waved at those sitting alongside the road or standing outside their homes.  Unlike ALL our other experiences, the people were stoic and seemingly bothered by our presence.  It was noticeable, but we dismissed it and continued on.

We arrived at a small hut which was the entrance to the waterfall hike.  Chris approached the two workers, made small-talk and inquired about other waterfalls in the area.  Their response was memorably odd: with shifty eyes they kept staring at our van, they contradicted each others statements and stared off in a weird trance. It was odd, but we dismissed it and continued on.

We were startled during our hike by a young man dressed in a soccer uniform who approached us from behind swinging his machete.  He asked me a few questions that included many words I didn't understand.  I could tell he was inquiring about our van, but not much more.  I simply smiled and apologized for my limited language skills.  It was weird, but I dismissed it and continued on.

The ants we saw were over an inch long.
The hike to the waterfall took us about an hour.  Along the way we saw several brightly colored frogs, enormous ants and beautifully colored butterflies.  Science class was in session as we examined the creatures, the mosses and jungle plants.  When we arrived at the beautiful cascades we were a bit distracted by the soccer dude who was chopping a tree with his machete nearby.  A few moments later I glanced over and he was gone...weird.

This is the waterfall we visited.
We enjoyed swimming and playing in the waterfall for a while before starting our hike back out.  Although the hike was wonderful, it wasn't much different than the countless other hikes we've taken in the past.  What was different was how our kids were acting.  For no reason that we can remember the kids started talking about whether or not anybody would come looking for us if we didn't return.  They asked about what would happen if something happened.  We assured them that everything was fine, but all felt the need to "pick up the pace a bit".  As we rounded each turn there was an unsettling feeling that is hard to describe.  When we came around the last bend and saw our van we quietly signed a bit of relief and continued on.

We were all hungry and planned to stop for lunch in the town, but as we drove through again we encountered the same unfriendliness.  Paired with our other weird experiences, we decided to get lunch somewhere else.

A couple days later we shared our experiences with a friend who told us directly never to go into that valley again.  Six years ago two missionary priests "disappeared" from that town and have never been found.  After investigation, church officials believe the priests were captured and killed by local shamans.  The bishops have issued a declaration forbidding all missionaries to enter this region as it is deemed unsafe, but we had no idea.  This declaration was just recently discovered by our group after a fellow missionary went there to inquire about the possibility of having a team retreat at one of their many "cute" resorts.  When he and his Peruvian girlfriend were in the town they were taunted and mocked.  Little boys threw rocks at them while chanting "bruja, bruja" which means "witch, witch" in Spanish.  After returning home they did some research and found that this valley is a hotbed of occult activity.  People come from all over the world to visit the shamans and participate in "alternative" therapies, which sometimes include human torture and sacrifice.

It is often said that "hindsight is 20/20."  As we look back on the many "strange" encounters we had that day, we realize that we missed the signs of the potential danger which was lurking around each corner.  The experience has been a blessing because it prompted serious conversation in our family about recognizing the signs that are placed before us which are meant to guide our steps.

We constantly pray for protection against the unknown.

I've written this blog not to alarm or frighten you, but because we believe in the power of prayer.  We NEED your prayers because we never know what may be lurking around the bend.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Deep Into the Jungle - Our Craziest Adventure Yet!

Tales had been told of trips deep into the jungle, but until this last weekend we had no idea what such a trip might entail for us: knee-deep mud?  gigantic snails?  over thirty baptisms? Who could have guessed?

Beep!  Beep!  Beep!

At 4:30 a.m. Chris's watch alarm announced the beginning of Day #1.  We roused our brood and guided them to the jacked-up truck which is specially equipped for the rugged jungle terrain.  We each found our space and attempted to get comfortable.

The roads leaving town are smooth in Peruvian standards, so Jack and Michael curled up and went to sleep.  

As we bounced from bump to rut, the rest of us enjoyed the sights. Although it is all beautiful, the most exciting time was seeing a flock of colorful parrots sail through the sky just above our heads.    

Our destination was straight up the mountainous trail anywhere from 4-8 hours away...

...depending on, well, everything.

We got our first taste of what "everything" means as we waited patiently for a young man to take a herd across the road and out to pasture.

As the roads got a bit bumpier we had to stand up and brace ourselves against the truck's cage.

Our next stop was for some carburetor maintenance.

"Wait, what is this Toyota Corona transmission doing in here?"

No wonder it was tough getting up those last hills!!

Thankfully, Chris was able to help the driver clean and adjust the components and we were back in action once again.

When the mud started getting deeper we assumed that these were the dreadful conditions people had described.  It seemed, to our untrained eyes, that this was as bad as it could be while still being passable.  Boy, were we wrong!!

The roads got MUCH worse. Hanging onto the cage of the truck required every muscle God gave us. As we tossed and slid and spun about we wanted to take video footage, but used some basic risk/ reward analysis skills to determine that our lives were more important.

We stopped for a much-needed rest and truck-change half way in.  A wonderfully hospitable family allowed us to hang out at their home.  We took the opportunity to raise our voices to the Lord and thank Him for the many blessings we had enjoyed so far.

In the early afternoon we arrived in the first pueblo: Nuevo Picota. The community was ECSTATIC to see Father Leo because (as far as I know) he is the first priest to ever visit their village. Father Leo went to this village last November, but everyone was gone harvesting coffee.  When we drove in the people were lined up along the road cheering. Some children even raised cakes that they had prepared in celebration.

As Father Leo got settled and prepared for the upcoming baptisms, we led the group in praise and worship.

Father Leo baptized 13 people -
Glory be to God!

It was tear-jerking to watch the new members of the church raise their baptismal candles and sing to Jesus.

Wait, where is Michael?

Exhausted from a full morning of travel and missionary life, Michael found a comfy spot to nap.

After Holy Mass we were welcomed into a nearby home for lunch.

After lunch I went back into the building to gather our belongings.  It was lifeless.  I quietly prayed that the joy this community felt as their newly baptized were welcomed into the church would sustain them and fill this space.

We piled into the truck, ready to leave for the next pueblo, when we noticed several extra people squeezing in around us.  Upon questioning, we learned that anytime a truck leaves town people jump in and ride for as long as they can just to get out of town.

As we drove away, I turned and waved good-bye, sending my prayers and love to this beautiful community of God's children.

Given all the extra people that were tagging along, it was difficult for the truck to make it up some of the hills.

As missionaries, we're the first ones to offer to get out.

Little did we know that we'd be blessed with an afternoon work-out as we navigated our way through the muddy ruts.

After traversing the difficult jungle trail we arrived in Juan Belasco.

At first, it seemed empty. However, it didn't take long for people to find out that we had arrived.

Jack and Michael helped make our presence known by their jolly yelps and quick-paced exploration.

Before long, the community building was filled with excitement as people eagerly anticipated the upcoming baptisms.  Girls of all ages arrived in beautiful white gowns and the boys were dressed in new white shirts.  I kept wondering, "Where did they get these beautiful dresses???"  The truth is that it was very difficult for them to get into the city and buy such fancy outfits, but it's a small sacrifice to make for such an important day in someone's life.  

Chris and our Peruvian missionary friend Max blessed us all with music...once again.

As we packed up we noticed the beautiful sunset on the horizon. It is such a priceless gift to the poor in this region of Peru.

After the celebration we were invited for dinner at someone's home.

Chicken, rice and yucca were on the menu this night, but...

...we realized that they enjoyed a broader range of cuisine other nights.

Sometimes we thank God for what He gives us.  Other times, we thank Him for what He doesn't give us.

As we traveled to the next pueblo in the back of the truck we enjoyed a planetarium-like night sky. It was hard to believe this was still day #1.

When we arrived the folks were super excited and guided us to their chapel.  As Father Leo heard confessions we led the group in song. Their enthusiasm was contagious.  Before long we forgot about our fatigue and lifted the roof in song to the Lord. As our kids started slouching down and falling asleep, it became obvious that we had squeezed enough into this day.

We were welcomed in for the night by a wonderfully hospitable couple and were given everything we needed...which we've come to learn isn't much, praise be to God!!

The next morning Chris's watch alarm sounded bright and early once again.  After having "the best coffee in the entire world", according to Jack, we begin walking to the next pueblo.

A truck driver agreed to bring our belongings later in the day, so we only took what we needed for our ministries...that's logical, right???

When we were driving along this road in the truck we only caught a glimpse of the coffee plants that produce the world renowned beverage of choice.  However, by walking we were able to see them all up close.

We arrived in Chancha Mayo earlier than expected which provided us with time for some bonus activities like playing with an enormous snail and getting a hair cut.

At church we were thrilled to participate in another baptismal Mass.  This service brought the grand total to over 30 new Catholics in this remote part of the jungle...thank you JESUS!!!

Before Mass, one of the woman said that she had been praying for a lot of rain because she wanted us to stay longer.  The road that connects all these little pueblos is comprised of a thick, clay-like mud.  When it rains the roads become impassible.  It was flattering for someone to want us to stay, but the blue sunny skies made her prayers seem a bit far-fetched....

...until the middle of Mass when the showers began...and continued.  We planned to leave after lunch, but quickly realized that we would get to spend more time with our new friends in Chancho Mayo.  We played games, talked, took naps and just hunkered down waiting for the rain to pass. In the early afternoon we received a phone call from the truck driver who was supposed to be bringing our belongings informing us that the road between the towns was too bad to travel on.  Plus, the logs which made up a bridge had fallen which made it even more unlikely to pass.

Think, think, think.... how do we get our belongings from a village up the mountain when the road is so slippery and thick with mud that it's dangerous to walk???

Horses!!  We can borrow someone's horses, travel up the mountain to the other village, pack the horses and ride back... 

So, that's what we did.  Katelyn, Anna and I rode to the next village on horses that we borrowed, collected up our belongings, stuffed them into sacks, loaded up the horses and returned - in the dark.

It may sound crazy, but it was a blast!!

We stayed the night with another incredibly generous family who fed us and albeit tucked us into their own beds with their own pillows.

Day #3 started at 3:20 AM when a truck driver arrived at the house with a bed full of coffee sacks. He was transporting them into the city and was willing to take us along IF we were willing to cram in. Moments later we were all engaged in a nonsensical exercise of human-Tetris.  As long as we made the right moves we'd fit...kind of.

As we were leaving I remembered being told that when the roads are "really bad" it can take 8 hours to travel between this village and the main city.  Praise God it didn't even take 4 hours....I'm not sure if we would have made it for 8.

The ride out of the jungle made the ride in look like a Sunday drive in the park.

We tried to capture the total craziness of sliding, tipping and trudging through the knee-deep clay in the dark, but it was impossible.

Just when we thought we could snap a perfect shot the driver would take a turn down into a river and then gun-it up the other bank... crazy!!

Now, we have our own stories to tell of venturing deep into the jungle.  Please pray for all those we ministered to and all those that we'll minister to in the future.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

God Qualifies the Called

As the saying goes,

"God Doesn't Call the Qualified,
He Qualifies the Called"

In my case, that couldn't be more true!  
At our going away party, 
my friend and I realized that I didn't even know 
the names of all twelve apostles... 

During our formation with Family Missions Company, 
we were asked to write a testimony 
describing why we love Jesus so much.  
It was in that moment that I realized I didn't love Jesus.  
I didn't even know who the living Jesus was.  
For me, He was nothing more than 
a character in a history book...
...a book I hadn't spent much time reading.
As a kid, I got kicked out of class for arguing (loudly) with my catechism teacher 
about the legitimacy of the beatitudes.

For all practical purposes,
I was as unqualified as one could possibly be.

What was God thinking when he called me???

Many, many, many years ago Frank and Genie Summers started Family Missions Company to help qualify people like me. They designed a period of training called "Intake" whereby future missionaries could learn how to preach the gospel and serve the poor.  Frank and Genie are amazing disciples and understand God's tendency to call the unqualified.  As such, they knew that FMC's training needed to include instruction on the gospel itself.

One day, during our training in Louisiana, as I snuggled up on the comfy couch I heard our facilitator say,"Today, we're going to learn how to teach the whole kerygma in one talk." My chest tightened and I felt a bit of panic race through my veins.  I slowly raised my hand and admitted to the group, "I don't even know what the kerygma is.  I feel like I've never heard that word in my life."  Our leader laughed and assured me that I was in the right place.

Our three months of preparation with FMC was invaluable.  We learned SO, SO much! 

Last night we taught the whole kerygma in one talk FOR THE FIRST TIME.  It was so fun! Following is a summary of our teaching.  Katelyn led the group in creating a visual image while Chris told the story of our salvation.

The Whole Kerygma in One Talk:

Everything began with God, who is almighty and all powerful.  ("Dios" is the word for God in Spanish.)
God created the world and all that it contains.  The plants and animals were delightful, but they weren't designed with the capacity to love God.

God created man and woman in His likeness to participate in a beautiful exchange of love; with each other and with HIM.

People have always turned away from God. When we sin, we create a barrier between us and God, which impedes the mutual exchange of love.  On our own,there is no way to break through that barrier.  It doesn't matter how many "good works" we do or how "nice" we are.  

When Jesus died on the cross He broke through that barrier and created a "channel" through which we can be reunited with God. Following Jesus in this "channel" is the ONLY way to access Heaven and eternal life with God.  In John 14:6, Jesus says, "I am the Way; I am Truth and Life.  No one can come to the Father except through me." Following other paths may help people feel "enlightened", "tranquil" and "balanced", but they don't lead to Heaven.

After accepting the truth that our salvation is dependent on Jesus, we need to conform our lives and live the way that He taught us to live.  In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says, "Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven."

The Peruvians in the little pueblo of Nuevo Morropon were delighted to hear the Good News...

...and we were delighted to share it with them.
Even though I now know the names of the twelve apostles in English, I haven't memorized them in Spanish yet so I'm not much further ahead.  It trips me up that James in Spanish is "Santiago" and several books of the bible have very different sounding names.  Thankfully, they're in the same order so I can always figure it out.

I am still so horribly unqualified for this job... ONLY by His grace (and lots of support from FMC and Team Carmody) are we able to bring the love and Good News of Jesus to the people here in Peru.