Thursday, December 21, 2017

Graduation Party ~ Peruvian Style

For the last two years we've heard 
people talking about 
"la promocion". 

Although we knew it to be the high school graduation, we could tell from the stress that people felt and the context of various conversations that it was more involved than we realized. 

This past year Katelyn and Anna became friends with several high school seniors. As such, they saw the intense preparation from an inside perspective. We learned that when kids enter high school (at age 12) their parents MUST begin making monthly payments for the graduation party that their child will participate in five years later.  If payments are missed, there are looming threats of exclusion. In addition to the monthly payments, there are several mandatory fundraisers. During the final year the parents are all required to collaborate and make/buy all that is needed for the celebrations: music, decorations, cakes, invitations, etc... Given the unpredictable nature of people's employment, living arrangements, health conditions, etc.. these obligations cause a significant amount of stress.

Before traveling to Lima in November we were told by many to buy dresses and shoes for the party while we were there.  This is another expense for which people save-up for months and months; in some cases even years.

Without wanting to insult us, our friends asked if we could possibly buy "normal" dresses so that we "fit in" and didn't look as much like missionaries.  We took the opportunity to talk about the importance of modesty, but also assured them that we would find dresses that were appropriately elegant.

As Katelyn, Anna and I were getting ready we realized how exciting it was to get dressed in nice clothes for the first time in over two years.  As I was carefully lining my eyes with a black pencil it occurred to me that I hadn't put on make-up since August of 2015.  Katelyn and Anna left the house with make-up on for the first time in their lives.  Although it was exciting, I shed some tears thinking about the reality that my little girls aren't so little anymore.  (In fact, Katelyn has been taller than me for months now!)

When we arrived at the party, which was held at the high school, we were awe struck by the sheer beauty of it all.

People (like our friends Angie and Carlos) that we know to be very, very poor were wearing elegant gowns and sparkly shoes.

The tables (which had come out of the classrooms) were lined in fancy cloths (which each family provided for their own group), and flowers made out of balloons were strung all around, including overhead which made the space feel extra special and fun!

When it was time to eat, each person was given a styrofoam container overflowing with love...

This is our friend and animadora Charo, who has
become like family to us. Her son Carlos
made his promocion this year and we were
honored to be able to celebrate with them. 
The moms and grandmas of every graduating senior had gathered together at 3:30AM to kill, clean and prepare hundreds of chickens for this extra special occasion. In addition, they made rice, yucca and a cabbage salad.  At a glance, one might presume that this meal was the same as every other chicken dinner, but it wasn't.  It was the meal that these families had been anticipating for years. 

It has been our experience that the people here really enjoy conversation....for hours and hours.  They never mind waiting for anything to start or finish because delays are nothing more than an opportunity to chat with others. It's a part of the culture that we've really come to appreciate and enjoy.  As such, nobody was in a hurry to finish their meals. We ate and talked, talked and ate, which was delightful!

After everyone finished dinner the group clean-up effort began. Tables were stripped, garbage was hauled away, tables were returned to their respective classrooms and chairs were moved aside to make room for the upcoming presentation of the graduates and their sponsors.

It constantly amazes us to see how humble and selfless the people here are.  They truly have servants' hearts.  Regardless of what someone is wearing or what s/he is doing, they'll stop everything to help another... even if their nice clothes get covered in dirt and oil...even if they're going to miss an appointment... even if... even if... even if.... It's an incredible witness to the truth that "people are more important than things".  We've taught our kids this their entire lives, but being here has really challenged us to "put our money where our mouths are"! We thank God for the beautiful example we have in those with which we live who know and live this truth .

Anna was the sponsor of
our friend Omar, who is a young
man that lives down the street. He
recently received full initiation
into the church and has been
attending with us ever since.
Katelyn was the sponsor of  our friend Ramon, who
broke his leg playing soccer three months ago.
Because of inadequate medical care, Ramon still
can not walk and has had subsequent problems ever
since. The doctors hope that he'll walk again someday,
but aren't sure. This is a dire prognosis given the fact
that his injury was a clean break to the fibula, which
is the smaller bone in the lower leg. In the United States
caring for such a problem is considered routine and
full recovery is expected.  Things are SO different here!

Another aspect of this culture that we love is the dancing. Kids are taught a wide variety of styles from an early age and think nothing of learning complex routines that span several continuous songs. During the promocion the graduates performed a beautiful dance in which partners twirled and dipped, shimmied and hopped. Their perfectly coordinated, succinct movements spoke volumes about the time invested in this night. Their broad smiles communicated everything about the excitement they felt to be together in this place, performing for all those they love so much! It was amazing!!!

When the kids were done with their presentations everyone else was invited to dance... which we did until 5:30AM.

We spent the following days talking to everyone about "la promocion".

At some point we realized that we were part of the very same  conversations we had only overheard in the past. After living here for two years, we are truly part of this community and it's amazing!!!

Simply stated, the promocion was nothing more than a communal high school graduation party, but in reality it was so much more. 

Since many students end their career after elementary, another large percentage never finish high school, and very few continue on to college, this is truly a celebration of success!

We thank God for every single person that has supported us in this mission, making it possible for us to live with and serve these beautiful people!

We'd love to hear from you via email:

If the Holy Spirit is nudging you to support us financially so that we can continue serving
the people here in Peru, please visit:
or call Family Missions Company at
(337) 893-6111

Monday, December 18, 2017

Life Changing Retreats - By Kids for Kids

In November over 100 lives changed as a result of one spiritual retreat put on by teens in a nearby community.  "EJE", which stands for "Encuentro para Jovenes en el Espiritu", is designed to be a profound encounter with the Holy Spirit. This retreat is offered through the Catholic church all throughout the Spanish speaking world. About 20 teens from our area left that retreat on fire for the Lord and have done incredible things since.

As part of the concluding ceremony the teens receive a fish shaped medallion necklace which serves as a reminder of the commitments they make to live in the spirit.  I thought the novelty of this "trinket" would pass as things of this sort usually do, but after six weeks the majority still wear them everyday.

Our Precious Sheep, previously known as our Lost Sheep, have reported feeling spiritually stronger when wearing their necklaces. They benefit from the reminder to pray when temptations arise and constantly think about their desires to live for God.  It's amazing!

Many of the EJE alumni, including our daughters and several of their friends, have joined the staff and now lead EJE retreats for others.

On Friday night the teen leaders from several different communities meet at the designated location to pray, plan, practice and prepare.

Early Saturday morning the participants arrive and the fun begins. They dance, play games, and sing songs of praise to break the ice.

After everyone gets comfortable they break into small groups and begin sharing their stories, which all too often include abuse, addiction, neglect and the death of siblings, parents and close friends.  For hours and hours the kids lovingly listen, encouraging one another to allow the love and light of Jesus Christ into their darkest places.  They patiently wait when kids just need to weep and pray constantly that the Holy Spirit be present to guide them through the difficulties....which He always does!

There is also time for kids to share their testimonies with the group.  From what I've been told, it is incredibly powerful for kids to hear other kids explaining how their lives changed after they surrendered completely to Jesus and allowed the Holy Spirit to take control.

In addition to EJE, which is for teens ages 14+, there is a similar retreat for kids ages 10-13 called Demoli.

Last weekend Katelyn, Anna and several others hosted this retreat in our area for the first time.  It was extra special because both Jack and Michael were able to attend as participants.  Can you find them in this picture?

At the end of December all the EJE alumni are invited to participate in a celebration of faith in a resort town a couple hours away. Katelyn and Anna will attend with the others from our area that desire to recommit themselves to living in the Spirit (including almost all of our Precious Sheep).  Leading these retreats is definitely Anna's favorite ministry and Katelyn has told me that if these retreats were the only ministry we had our time here in Peru would be totally that's powerful!!  We ask for prayers of protection against all attacks of the devil, who we're certain doesn't want these powerful encounters with the Holy Spirit to be successful.

We'd love to hear from you via email:

If the Holy Spirit is nudging you to support us financially so that we can continue serving
the people here in Peru, please visit:
or call Family Missions Company at
(337) 893-6111

Thursday, November 30, 2017

I Saw a Parasite by Michael

Do You Know What This Is?

When we were hiking in Chanchomayo my friend found a parasite squirming by the side of a puddle. Before this I could  never imagine what parasites look like, but now I know.

I know that there are parasites in the food and water and even on the ground.

We have to try to keep the parasites out of our bodies.

When we wash our hands the parasites get killed.

We  have to cut our nails a lot so there isn't a bunch of dirt under them.  

It is easy for parasites to get underneath your nails. Then they eat through your skin and get into your body.

We need to use bottled water to drink and to brush our teeth because there are really tiny  parasites in the water. 

When they get in your body they grow big like the one in the video. 

When the parasites are in your body it's bad because they eat all the nutrients in your food and you don't get any.

If you you don't wear shoes the parasites will crawl under your nails and into any little holes or cuts you have on your feet.   

It's hard to remember to put my shoes on because everybody just forgets their shoes in the house and plays in bare feet.

There is no way not to get parasites because they are everywhere.  When we have diarrhea, we're really tired and we don't want to eat anything we know we have parasites in our body.

You have to make diarrhea in a little sample cup and take it to the doctor.  He checks the sample to see what kind of parasites you have and then gives you medicine.  In about 4 days you will feel better.  

I just found out that I have E. coli.

My parents and brother and sisters have parasites too so we all need to take medicine.

Now that I've seen a parasite I know what it is and I don't want to have one in my body.  I wash my hands more and take showers more.  I clean my nails and cut them. I know I should wear my shoes, but it's really hard.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Baby Amir Sebastian Died

Daily, people come to our door requesting help with a wide variety of issues. Sometimes they need food, while other times it's gas to cook their food. If a pregnant woman needs emergency care, we rush her to the hospital. In each situation, we do our best to follow the Spirit.

Despite the assortment of hardships there is one thing that remains consistent - WE NEVER GIVE ANYONE MONEY.  When someone needs a new steel roof panel, we go to the hardware store and buy it with them.  When a kid needs crayons and pencils for school, we head to another shop in town.  So far, this probably all sounds pretty straight forward, and it is... until the Holy Spirit asks us to break the rules.

We've come to learn that following the Spirit is all about making exceptions and breaking rules. It requires us to disregard the status quo, do what is seemingly illogical, and attend to the needs of the person before us, who we know to be Jesus in disguise.

Amir Sebastian was exactly this type of exception. His grandma, who we know well, came to us last May asking if we could possibly buy her grandson a special type of formula that the doctors believed would help him to grow.  Given the intimidating price tag of this American made product, we were a bit reluctant.  However, after she explained that Amir had a life threatening condition in which his body experienced extreme difficulty gaining and maintaining weight, we agreed. We looked and looked for a pharmacy nearby that sold the formula, but there were none.  With a bit of apprehension we gave Amir's grandma money so that she could buy the special milk product in the big city.  We weren't hesitant to buy the formula, we were hesitant to give someone money - even if it was someone we've come to trust.  Afterall, it was against the rule which we had so valiantly defended. Two weeks later Grandma returned with reports of success.  The formula was working and Amir was gaining weight. At 8 months of age, he no longer weighed in at 4 kilograms, but had increased to 4.5 (about 10 pounds). The doctors were hopeful and encouraged Amir's parents to continue using the same formula.  So, we continued sending money with Grandma so that she could buy what her precious grandbaby needed.  We wanted to visit this family, but every time we were "in the area" or had some free time it seemed that Amir was in the hospital battling a setback. There were times that we questioned ourselves, we doubted and felt afraid that we were getting taken advantage of - until the day Rolando, Amir's dad, appeared at our door hopeless and afraid.  Amir was in critical condition and there was nothing the doctors in Tarapoto could do.  They advised Rolando to rush his son to Lima where he could be seen by pediatric specialists, but without money (or a credit card) that was impossible.  Without delay Chris got online and ordered tickets for the very next flight.

Over the course of the next several months we continued buying Amir the special formula that he needed to thrive.  We would hear that slowly, his weight was increasing and everyone felt encouraged.  However, he would experience some difficulty and lose the weight he had worked so hard to gain.  It was an emotional roller coaster for Amir's parents and older sister, who were sacrificing everything to care for this precious little child.  In addition to the formula and medicine, we also bought plane tickets each month which allowed baby Amir to see the specialists in Lima with one of his parents.  We gave them extra money for taxis, food and a cheap hotel, knowing that Lima is outrageously expensive.  Although we always asked for receipts, we never really got any kind of proof of their expenditures.  However, we fully trusted that Rolando and his wife were using every single sole that we gave them to care for sweet, sweet Amir Sebastian.

Finally, in July we got the chance to meet Amir Sebastian for the first time. He was 9 months old and weighed less than my son Jack at birth.  As he sat in my lap he'd giggle and wriggle his skinny little legs. When he grasped my thumb with his tiny little fingers I started bawling. It was love at first sight!!  After just a few minutes of playful interactions Amir lost his strength and started fussing. His mom told me that he'd used up all his energy and needed to rest. Wanting to hold this little boy in my arms forever, I felt really disappointed when Amir's sister scooped him up and took him in the other room.

We continued supporting Amir's family as they worked tirelessly to provide him with the care he needed. We'd talk with his grandma regularly about his condition and prayed for him when it seemed he needed a little boost. In October it seemed like Amir was in the hospital more than he was home. Just a couple weeks ago I asked Grandma how her sweet little boy was doing and she informed me that he had taken a turn for the worse. He was "turning purple a lot more than usual", she said.  Although I'm no doctor, I knew this couldn't possibly be good. I asked if he needed to go to Lima again, but she didn't think anything was going to help.

A few days ago our precious little Amir Sebastian, who was only 13 months old, died in the loving arms of his mother.

They laid him out in the front room of his grandmother's home here in San Hilarion. When I walked in and saw the tiny little casket, I crumbled.  All I could think of was the day that he sat upon my lap giggling and wriggling about. It seemed like he was going to be fine...

The caskets here have solid covers, albeit a small glass window which allows the face of the deceased to be seen. This is because bodies are not embalmed and therefore begin to decompose quickly after death, especially in the intense jungle heat.  The glass window helps to contain the odor.

When people felt it was too hard to say "good-bye" through the glass, Rolando would lift the top off the casket so that mir could be seen more clearly.

This was really hard (for me) because the odor would immediately fill the room. Nobody else seemed bothered; they would simply wave small bottles of rubbing alcohol under their noses to prevent vomiting.

Also, as you can see in this photo, they put cotton swabs into the nostrils, mouth and ears once bodily fluids start to drain out. This helps to minimize the smell as well.

When we visited Sunday night we were able to spend time with the family and lead everyone in prayer.

The following day the family planned to begin the burial ceremony at 3PM; however Rolando came pounding on our door asking if we could start early because of the approaching storm....and so we did. 

It was really hard to stand by and watch Amir's sister and parents say their last good-byes. 

We left their home and walked in procession to the cemetery.

Michael and another boy carried Amir's commemoration poster at the front of the group.

As we walked through the streets we sang and cried, cried and sang.

At the cemetery Chris did a great job of leading the funeral service. He shared sacred scripture as well as a personal reflection. He led the group in song and then invited the family members to share.

 As Amir's uncle (the man in the gray shirt with shiny green sunglasses) talked, he kept referring to his nephew as "his little fighter", which brought us all to tears. He spoke of his calm demeanor and silly disposition.  Despite the pain and suffering, Amir was a bundle of joy for all that knew him.  Both his mom and grandma shared as well, professing their faith that Amir was resting in the arms of Our Lord. It was beautiful to see the strength that came from their complete trust in Jesus. 

When it came time to put the casket in the ground, Amir's mom and grandma were hysterical. They bellowed and wailed.... it was so hard to see them suffer so greatly.

Nobody wanted to rush anything, but everyone could see the black storm clouds quickly approaching. By the grace of God, the men were finishing Amir's burial as the first big drops began to fall.  After a beautiful arrangement of flowers were set upon his grave everyone left the cementery in silence.

Our hearts were heavy, but there was nothing left to say. We can only pray that during this very, very difficult time Amir's family is able to find their rest in Jesus.

We'd love to hear from you via email:

If the Holy Spirit is nudging you to support us financially so that we can continue serving
the people here in Peru, please visit:
or call Family Missions Company at
(337) 893-6111

Our Lost Sheep Received Their Sacraments

November 26, 2017 
This date has been starred, circled and highlighted on calendars all around town for almost a year. With eager anticipation about 150 people filed in, found places to either sit or stand, and waited patiently for the celebration to begin.  The joy in the church was tangible.

The murmur of voices created a buzz of excitement as family members and friends visited while waiting for Father Paco to arrive.

The ceremony began with a procession of candidates. Although there was an obvious mixture of excitement, curiosity and apprehension, it seemed that all the kids were happy to be wearing their new, special clothes.

Thanks to Team Carmody, all our Lost Sheep had new dress pants and a sporty white shirt. Those that needed them even got new shoes and underwear. I kept their new clothes in our home until their big day to eliminate the temptation for them to wear the clothes ahead of time.  It was important to all of us that their outward appearance be as spotless and new as their souls would be after receiving baptism.

When we were shopping, most of the guys choose either black or dark gray pants, which is what I encouraged, because it's practical. Not only would they look handsome for our sacrament day, but they could wear the pants in the future without having to worry about them getting all dirty and stained. 

Jherson, however, was only concerned about his sacrament day.  He wanted everything to be white, including his shoes, socks and undies. Given Jherson's dark past, he felt especially eager to be cleansed and made new by the waters of baptism. He wanted his outward appearance to represent the purity that he so greatly longed for on the inside.  As so it was, Jherson wore all white.

Father Paco invited the kids to the front to talk with them about the sacraments that they had prepared to receive.

Being "Christ the King Sunday", he explained the importance of recognizing and accepting Christ as our one and only King.  We honor Our King. We love Our King. We live in service to Our King. 

As Holy Mass got underway, it was affirming to see the teens who had received their sacraments last year participate in the celebration. Our friend Isaac read the psalm prayers and did a beautiful job!

Knowing that this day would be replete with tears, I never imagined that the readings would make me cry.  How though, could I keep a dry eye when the first reading was about lost sheep and the gospel spoke of our final judgement when all will be separated like sheep and goats?  As I glanced over at my own Lost Sheep it hit me in a profound way that the Word of God is truly alive!! 

My heart broke open as Jhordan (a.k.a. "Lucifer the Wedding Ring Thief")
bowed his head for a blessing.  As Father anointed him my mind raced... 
Could this possibly be the same guy that sat in my home a couple
months ago fashioning weapons out of clay? In the bible
St. Paul says that all things are possible in that I say AMEN!

As part of the Catholic baptismal ceremony the priest uses holy oils to bestow special blessings upon the recipients. First, their heads are anointed, as described in Psalm 23:5, "You anoint my head with oil."  In Old Testament times, the Jews used holy oils to signify a special designation from God; as anointed ones, they received the honor of being His beloved servants.  We too receive that honor during baptism.

The Oil of Catechumens has been used since A.D. 215 when St. Hippolytus, in his Apostolic Tradition, wrote of the "oil of exorcism" used to anoint a candidate immediately before his baptism. Still to this day, priests offer the prayer of exorcism and then anoint the person on the chest saying, "I anoint you with the oil of salvation in the name of Christ our Savior, may He strengthen you with  His power, who lives and reigns forever and ever." This blessing was visibly powerful for our Lost Sheep; perhaps because of past occult associations.

Finally, Father used holy chrism, which is an aromatic resin mixture of olive oil and balsam, to anoint each person as "priest, prophet and king".  This ancient tradition of sanctification has been used for several thousands of years.

As the waters of baptism splashed  over the heads of each of our Lost Sheep the Holy Spirit came in power to cleanse and purify them of all their past misgivings.

As I stood with my hands upon their backs and shoulders, I could feel the Spirit moving through them. When I opened my eyes it seemed as though I could see their sins being washed away.  Despite my effort to  maintain control of my emotions, it was impossible.  Tears of joy erupted from the depths of my soul. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, that Jesus trusted us enough to call us here to the jungles of Peru for these kids. As sub-contracted shepherds, he sent us out looking for His lost sheep.  All praise be to God that we not only found them, but with the help of His Spirit we've been able to guide them back to their true shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Next, Father Paco gave each person "the light of Christ".

Together, they lifted their candles and we all sang "Esta la Luz de Cristo", which is the Spanish version of "This Little Light of Mine".

During the Confirmation ceremony Father Paco asked that the church be silent.  Together, as a unified community, we begged the Lord for an incredibly outpouring of the Holy Spirit.... was powerful!!

As the confirmation ceremony continued, Father invited each kid to the front of the church where he talked with them and gave counsel.

Using holy chrism, Father traced a cross on each one's head signifying that he is now ready to profess his faith openly and practice it fearlessly. With the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Father reminded them, there is nothing that they can't do.

During confirmation, the priest or bishop always follows this anointing with a traditional (gentle) "slap" on the cheek, which signifies that the person must be ready to suffer anything, even death, for the sake of Christ.

When Javier received his blessing a flood of tears fell from my leaky eyes as I recalled Michael saying to me, just a couple weeks ago,

"Mom, when I was praying Jesus told me that He wants Javier to be a priest." 

During our formation at FMC we were taught about the importance of each individual soul. Before we left, they told us that Jesus may have called us to give up everything (our very lives) for the salvation of one person. If we weren't willing to "give it all" for one person, we ought not go.  Sometimes I feel like Javier is that one person...

It was incredibly emotional to be with each of the guys as they received the Spirit...

Next, several of them received their First Holy Communion.

In addition to the celebration of Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion, we also had the privilege of celebrating a marriage.  It was beautiful to see the community gather around to witness these two lovebirds profess their commitment to live in fidelity until death. 

When Father Paco gave us all his final blessing I realized that Holy Mass had taken almost 4 hours. It's amazing that the time passed so quickly.  I suppose it's because each moment was just so exciting!!  It's incredible to me that, despite the fact that everyone was drenched in sweat, nobody complained about the length of the service or the searing heat. Everyone was simply filled with love and joy, appreciative to have a priest available to celebrate the sacraments.

We tried to gather everyone for a photo, but many had already left with their families.

I think our final count was around 45 people who received sacraments this day.

Karen - Ivan - Jherson - Javier - Copo - Esbranller - Alex
(Jhordan wasn't available because he had left with his parents.)

Filled with joy and excitement, I was hoping for one last photo of the guys who have become known around town as my "Peruvian kids", but they were all too tired.

Everyone left and went home to rest and have lunch.

Later that afternoon we gathered at the covered soccer court to celebrate.

We all took turns: the moms and girls, the younger boys, and then the teens.

Laura is a single mom in our village who earns a living by selling food outside her home.

She prepared food for all 60 people who came to celebrate with us on Sunday. She made grilled chicken, chaufa, onion salad, yucca and homemade maracuya juice.  It was delicious!!!

Our teens want to say, "THANKS", to Team Carmody for making it possible for our family to be here in Peru with them!!   They want to say, "THANKS", for supporting them in their journey of faith!!

During the Life in the Spirit retreat, our teens learned that
this three fingered hand gesture is an international sign for "I LOVE YOU".

They want to say, "THANKS", for accepting them despite their faults and failings!!

They want to say, "THANKS" for loving them just as they are!

We too thank you for making all this possible.  We are truly blessed to have such an amazing team!  We ask that you continue to pray for our Precious Sheep, knowing that they still struggle with drug addiction.  Despite the spiritually uplifting experiences that we have together, they return to broken homes and abusive situations. They are attempting to evangelize their friends who constantly try to drag them back into the darkness, which is SO hard!! Finally, I ask that you pray that each one of them passes their respective grade in high school, which ends for the year on December 22.  We've been helping them with their homework, but the bigger challenge they face is trying to change their reputation with their peers and teachers.  Our moto is "One Day at a Time." 

We'd love to hear from you via email:

If the Holy Spirit is nudging you to support us financially, please visit:
or call Family Missions Company at
(337) 893-6111