Monday, October 24, 2016

Breast Cancer - Be Gone!

In this region of Peru each village has a patron saint who is honored during a week-long annual festival.

For nine nights, leading up to the festivities, community members gather and pray a novena together. Holy Mass marks the beginning of the celebration and is followed by a procession through town. There are various activities throughout the week, but every day there is lots of traditional music and dancing.

People get really excited when the ropes are strung across each corner of the town plaza. On each rope hangs a collection of items: small articles of clothing, soap, toys, etc. When the ropes are loosened, the items are reachable to those able to jump higher than the rest. The coveted prizes are the live ducks that squawk and flail about in each corner. As people jump for the ducks, they are cautious of the thin bags of chicha (homemade alcoholic porridge of sorts) swinging about until they bust open and shower down upon the crowd.

As day faded into night and the scheduled activities came to an end, we wandered around the plaza visiting friends.  We planned to enjoy the final hours of the celebration before returning home for a much-needed good night's sleep.  We realized that God had other plans when our friend's son rushed up and said, "My mom needs you right away!"  We darted through the crowd and down the dark, dirt road to their home where we found our friend sitting with two crying women: Corali and her sister.  This is what they explained...

This is the health clinic in our village.
Corali has had pain in her breast for months.  When the pain first began, the village doctor gave her a cream, assured her that everything was fine and sent her on her way.  The pebble-sized bumps became visible lumps and her breast was painful to the touch. When dark yellow pus began oozing out of her nipple, Corali returned to the clinic for another evaluation. At that point, the doctor told her that she probably had breast cancer.  Unfortunately, he said, her insurance wouldn't pay for a mammogram or any treatment. So, he gave her pain killers and sent her on her way.  As Corali was explaining all this I interrupted and asked, "Why won't insurance pay for anything?"  The women explained that in Peru there are two types of medical insurance: one for those with and another for those without.... without a stable income or valuable home, without transportation or other assets - in other words, the poor.  Technically, everyone in Peru has access to medical insurance; however, in our experiences, it seems that the poor often don't know how to sign up for insurance and when they do, they receive substandard care.

After leaving the local clinic, Corali sorrowfully accepted that it was the beginning of the end.  Her sadness was not for herself, but her five kids and several grandkids.  Although she believed the older kids could fend for themselves, what would happen to her 4 year-old son and 11 year-old daughter?  Between sniffles, Corali humbly asked if we might pay for a mammogram to help her figure out how much time she had left with her family.  We agreed to take her into the city the next morning.

At home, we gathered for family prayer, like we do every night. In the darkness I heard a quiet voice ask, "Mommy, will we pay for Corali's cancer treatment?" I took a deep breath.  As I began to speak a lump grew in my throat and tears streamed down my checks.  "We aren't here to take away people's suffering."  I managed to say.  "We're here to bring people the love of Jesus.  We're here to teach people how to invite Jesus into their suffering."  We all went to bed with heavy hearts.

At 4:30 am Corali arrived at our house with her daughter.  After gathering my belongings, I asked if she was ready. "I'm ready for whatever God has planned." she said calmly as she squeezed her daughter's hand.  I was amazed by her courage.

This is the mountainous road between
our pueblo and Tarapoto, the closest big city. 
Frank and Genie Summers, founders of
Family Missions Company
We caught a camioneta and settled in for the two hour ride to the city.  Once there, we visited several clinics before finding one that offered mammograms. During our (extensive) wait, we all kept the mood light with light-hearted stories and silly thoughts.

However, when the time finally came for the mammogram we turned our attention to the Lord. I explained the importance of laying hands on the sick. I explained the importance of praying with confidence. Mr. Frank and Ms. Genie, the co-founders of Family Missions Company, say "If you need a miracle, ask for a miracle!" Although her spirits were down, I convinced her that we needed to pray for a miracle, and so we did. We begged Jesus to take away any cancer; to replace any tumors with something that could be cured with medicine. We prayed fervently and with great confidence.  

Our consultation with the doctor was later that morning. After analyzing the mammogram, doing a physical examination and assessing the blood work, he informed us that Corali has nothing more than an inflammation. Her blood work suggests the onset of diabetes, which could be curtailed with a change in diet and readily available medicine.  Corali started to ask about the lumps...but as she felt around, realized that they were gone. Could this be??? Jumping up and down, we giggled and hugged and thanked Jesus for this miracle....over and over and over again. At the pharmacy, it was puzzling to the clerk that someone would be so happy to have diabetes (something that could be cured with medicine), but we didn't take time to explain. Corali was excited to get home to her family and share all that the Lord had done that day!!!

Last Sunday, Corali came to church for the first time (since we've been here). My heart overflowed with joy each time I caught a glimpse of her and her daughter smiling and holding hands. When it came time for petitions, she shared with the community between sniffles and sobs, but kept smiling. It was truly beautiful!!

A friend of mine says, "Miracles do not produce faith.  Faith produces miracles."  I believe that Jesus saw Corali's faith and blessed her, just like He did for so many during biblical times.  Please pray that this miraculous healing helps Corali's family to re-evaluate their own beliefs and see Jesus for who He really is....

Mr. Frank says, "Our God is a REAL God that does REAL things for REAL people in the REAL world."  To that I say,

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Visa Renewal by Katelyn

Did you know that someone can only get one 183-day visa to Peru a year?

Did you know that most missionaries don't leave the country to renew their visas because of the real risk of not being let back in?

We knew both of these things, but trusted in God and allowed Him to prove us wrong.

Day #1

We got to the bus station in San Hilarion (south of Tarapoto) at 9:30am and sat around for 30 minutes. When our bus arrived at 10:00am we were hustled onto the bus in about 3 minutes. We knew we had a 20 hour ride ahead, so we got comfortable, slept, watched the "interesting" movies they were showing, ate whatever they gave us and watched the clock.

Day #2

We got into Piura (in NW Peru) at 4:00am the next day. We got off the bus and into a taxi.  We asked the taxi guy to take us to the next bus stop so we could get our tickets to go into Ecuador. When we got to the bus stop the people waiting outside said it didn't open until 7:00am. So, the taxi guy took us to a place that has breakfast at 4:00am.  When we stepped out of the taxi, the waitresses attacked us like vultures to try to get us to go to their restaurants.

We picked one and sat and ate breakfast, drank coffee, ate some more, drank more coffee and played games until 7:00am.

Then we payed the bill which, after 3 hours, only ended up being about 15 American dollars.

We got in motos and went to the bus station. We bought our tickets and sat in the station until our bus left. So far our trip included a lot of sitting and waiting.

We drove for about 4 hours. Then, the bus driver said we had to get out and go into the immigration building. So we did everything we had to then we got back on the bus and crossed the border into Ecuador.

On the other side of the border we did the same thing again.

When we got off in Ecuador it was around 6:00pm and the next bus ride out of Ecuador wasn't until midnight.  We walked around a bit and checked out the town, but my parents didn't want to stay here until midnight because they said it wasn't a very safe town...especially for "gringos".

While we were eating dinner we came up with another plan.

We took a taxi across the border instead of the bus.

When we got to the immigration building it was around 9:00 at night. We walked in and they gave us little sheets to fill out to officially leave Ecuador. Then, we gave the guy at the Peru desk our passports and told him we wanted visas for Peru.  He told us "No" because we had already been in the country for more than 183 days.  He told us that he could let us in on January 19, 2017 (which is a year from our original entry date in 2016).  We asked the guy if he could be nice and just let us in and he said "No" again.  Then, unknown to the rest of us, my dad started praying like crazy.  Exactly when he ended his prayer the guy looked up and said, "Well, I guess I could let you back in so that you can keep doing this amazing work for God that you are doing." He stamped our passports and gave us new visas.  We thanked him a bunch of times and then got in a taxi and drove to a beach town in Peru called Mancora.

Days #3, 4 and 5

We relaxed in Mancora so we could pray and have fun as a family.

There was a long dock where all the local fishermen were working.

We got to watch the pelicans scavenging for the fishermen's scraps, which was really exciting.

During that time we got to swim with big sea turtles (and it was the freakiest thing I have ever done).

That same day we got to go whale watching too. We saw a bunch of humpback whales.

I took these 2 photos.

While we were out on the boat whale watching, we saw sea lions sleeping on an abandoned oil rig and dolphins jumping out of the water. It was really neat.

Day #6 and 7

We did all of the bus rides again going in the other direction.

We got home safely exactly 1-week later with another 183-day visa. Thank you Jesus!!!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

You've Helped to Bury the Dead

Imagine that you're Wendi...

We visited with Wendi, her son and her grandparents
2-3 times per week for several weeks before her grandpa died.
You're a young, single mom living with your elderly grandparents in a small, one-bedroom house recently built by the government to provide a bit of relief from the dangers of extreme poverty. Grandpa hasn't been able to eat for almost a month. Each time Grandpa moans in pain, Grandma seems to feel his pain in her heart. There is nothing she can do other than sit patiently and wait for her best friend to starve to death. The day finally arrives. As Grandpa struggles for his last breath, Grandma collapses in grief beside him. What do you do? Where do you turn? As an only child, you have no siblings to help. Your dad has been out of the picture for years, your mom lives in another pueblo and won't be able to come for days, and all of your aunts and uncles live far away.  

In most cases the priests are unable to preside over the deceased
because the pueblo to priest ratio is so unfavorable.
However, we were able to arrange for Fr. Paco to lead the family
in a memorial service one of the nights, which meant so much to them all.

Praise God, Wendi sent a neighbor kid to "get the missionaries" minutes after her grandpa passed. When we arrived, she was upset and frazzled.  She knew that there was a lot to do, but what?  Where should she start and what could she possibly do since her family has no money?  We took her to buy a casket.  We also arranged for the funeral service provider to prepare the front room of their home for the viewing. 

We took Wendi to the market to buy all the food she would need to feed the community as they visited over the next several days.  This included a stop at the "chicken guy" whereby we purchased 10 live chickens.  Accustomed to this routine, our kids carried the squawking birds by their feet to the van.   

Wendi's friends and neighbors got right to work making soup for dinner that night.  They also were happy to be able to serve the standard fare of coffee and bread around 11pm for those that would stay all night to be with the family.

Over the next several days their home was a hub of activity.   Meals were constantly being prepared for the visitors from near and far.  

We led rosaries and other prayerful meditations morning, noon and night.  Some days started with prayer at 5am and concluded with prayer at 11pm, which is a demanding schedule for our two youngest team members.  

In between the scheduled activities, when the family just needed a break, we hung out with them in the backyard and did our best to bring a smile to everyone's faces.  We shared funny stories and encouraged others to do the same.  The laughter that rang through the air refreshed and re-energized, which is exactly what they said they needed.   

Later that week, a funeral team arrived to take Ulises to the cemetery.  As is the custom here, they put the casket in the back of a station wagon and led a procession around the town square.  We then continued on to the cemetery for the burial.

Chris led the family in song and prayer as they said their last good-byes.  

The death of a loved one is such a hard thing to experience, especially without the support of the church. 

Given the shortage of priests, most families struggle through the death of their loved ones alone.

We have been so blessed to be able to bring families like this one the gift of faith, the love of Christ and the hope that exists in His promise of eternal life.

According to the USCCB
(United States Catholic Conference of Bishops),
the Corporal Works of Mercy are found in the teachings of Jesus
and give us a model for how we should treat all others,
as if they were Christ in disguise.
They are charitable actions by which we help our neighbors
in their bodily needs.  They respond to the basic needs of humanity
as we journey together through this life.

I believe that Jesus knew the hardships this family would face when He instituted the Corporal Works of Mercy almost 2,000 years ago.

In addition to sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and giving alms to the poor, Jesus taught us to bury the dead.

Scripture tells us time and again that Jesus hears the cry of the poor.

Proverbs 21:13 reminds us of the importance of listening for their cry as well:

"Those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor will themselves call out and not be answered."

Thank you very much for helping us to bury the dead.  Together, we're able to be Christ for those He's called us to serve.