Our First Solo Trek Deep into the Jungle

Once upon a time we would have gazed out over the mountains thinking solely about their majesty and the infinite goodness of Our Creator.

During our recent visit to the Chancho Mayo valley our thoughts were less about the mountains and more about the people living beneath the canopy and their relationship with Jesus.

Initially we planned to leave early Thursday morning; however, our departure was delayed because of rain.

The truck drivers aren't willing to leave unless they're confident that they'll be able to get in AND out.

After several hours of waiting, we loaded our belongings into the 4X4 and began what felt like a 5½ hour carnival ride in which we were recklessly tossed and jolted around a cage.

The reports were accurate.  The rain had made a muddy mess of the already treacherous path. As we slid down the inclines and bounced between the knee-deep ruts the wheels spun, launching thick, muddy water into the air which rained down upon us.   Initially it was startling, but subsequent showers just made us laugh. Unfortunately, we couldn't laugh too much or we'd get a mouthful of mud.

Here's Anna trying not to reveal her mud-covered teeth.

Despite our driver's masterful skills, there were times when we all had to jump out and trudge our way up a hill or through a ginormous water hole.

Our slime covered feet made it impossible to stand steady in the truck bed. With every bounce and jerk we fell into one another as we grasped for something to hold onto.

Michael and I decided it was safer and more comfortable to sit on the tailgate and attach ourselves to the roll bar with a homemade harness of sorts.

After a few hours we reached a little village where we got to use the bathroom and enjoy some snacks.

Although we were eager to arrive at our destination, our arms and legs appreciated the break.

Soon after loading back into the truck we had another unexpected break when the truck sank deep into the mud. For 45 minutes the guys pushed, dug, wedged stones around the tires and rocked the truck.  Although it seemed that they had tried everything, we realized that we all had forgotten the most important thing - PRAYER!!!

Chris crossed himself.  As soon as he said in a loud voice, "In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit...." the truck lurched forward. We shouted with joy and wondered, "Why didn't we pray 45 minutes ago? When are we going to learn?"

After loading back into the truck we began singing praise to Jesus.  It seemed that as long as we continued singing, the truck continued dominating the rugged terrain. When we stopped singing, we'd get stuck in even the littlest of puddles.  Convinced that the Lord delighted in our songs, we continued singing for the next several hours.

Finally, we arrived in Chancho Mayo which is the largest village in this remote valley.

That evening, at church, we introduced the Come Lord Jesus bible study program. At first they were hesitant to share, feeling like their answers may be "wrong".  However, after we assured them that there are no "wrong" answers they began opening up. We're eager to help them better understand this program so that they can recognize and embrace the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives.

Early the next morning we left for Nuevo Picota, which is the village furthest away from Chancho Mayo.

We had arranged to use horses for our trek, but things changed. The people needed their animals for work on their coffee farms.

Thankfully, the animador from Chancho Mayo agreed to accompany us and allowed us to use his horse. This provided relief when legs and knees grew weary.

As long as Jack and Michael were busy leading each other on the horse, they didn't think about the miles being put on our their new boots.

We distracted ourselves by singing, talking, praying and just enjoying this time together.

When we saw interesting things we stopped to investigate. Thankfully this tarantula was already dead.

Several families were busy drying coffee beans on tarps in front of their homes. When possible we stopped to chat and invited them to the gatherings we had planned in the various villages.

The interactions that we had with people along the way made us thankful to be walking. Had we gone in a truck we would have simply waved to the folks as we zipped by.

Our favorite stop was at the home of the animador in Nuevo Picota. When we arrived he and his wife were gone working in their chakra. So,we each found a comfortable spot and took a much needed nap. When he returned we spent time getting to know each other and talking about the spiritual needs of the community. The boys ran off to explore the countryside with their son. After a delicious lunch it was time to get "back in the saddle again" as Gene Autry used to say. We continued deeper into the valley where the main part of the pueblo is situated.

Thanks to the tremendous generosity of Team Carmody, we have a military grade water filter, which was a lifesaver because there was no way we could have carried all of the needed water with us.

Finally, after 4½ hours of walking we arrived at Nuevo Picota. We introduced ourselves to each family we met and invited them to our gathering.

Before diving head first into scripture we broke the ice with Frisbees and jump ropes.

They struggled to grasp both of these unfamiliar past-times, but were eager to try and had lots of fun.

Praise and worship was first on the agenda. We included several "dynamicas", which are songs with accompanying motions. We've found that these are always the favorites. The people love them and get excited to dance along.

Next, we dove into scripture and talked about how Jesus is always waiting eagerly to help us. Like Peter, who was sinking in the water, we only need to call upon His holy name. They appreciated our testimonies which included our account of being stuck in the mud during our truck ride into the valley. When we told them that we think the truck was powered by Jesus and not diesel they all laughed, but smiled lovingly. Their lives are very difficult and they rely heavily on God's assistance.  We just need to help them understand that although God is amazing, our salvation comes through our relationship with Jesus Christ.

While we talked, our kids gathered the locals for a game of football. Despite the blazing heat, they ran and ran and ran. Watching them I never would have guessed that they had spent the morning walking over eight miles.

The folks in Nuevo Picota recently decided that they want a church.  So, on weekends, they come together to give the little bit of energy they have left to the Lord.

The priests have agreed to supply them with the needed steel roof panels, which they'll be getting soon.

It was wonderful to visit with the people of Nuevo Picota even though we could only stay for about 1½ hours. The sun was starting to descend and we knew the hike out of the valley would be exponentially more difficult because it is almost all uphill.

When we stopped to rest, our friend Hilter, the animador from Chancho Mayo, wasn't sweating or even breathing heavily.  He assured us that the next trip would be easier because our bodies would be more accustomed to the trail.

He encouraged us to take short breaks often, which we did.

We had one very memorable break. On our way into the valley we talked to a couple of women who really wanted us to sing with their families. They begged us to stop on our way back, so we did. We were a bit hesitant because the sky was quickly growing dark and there would be no moon that night. We knew we would be walking in the pitch dark, but hoped it wasn't for too many hours. Given our limited time, Chris never dismounted the horse.  From atop the trusty stead, he strummed the guitar and led us in standard Christian songs which we mistakenly thought that they would know. After the first stanza, the horse began to get restless.  He danced to the left and darted to the right, but Chris just kept on playing.  The people were cracking up at the hilarity of the "big gringo" praising God on top of a dancing horse.  Although they could have listened for hours, when they found out that we were walking all the way back to Chancho Mayo they insisted we left because it was more than five hours away.  Disappointed that we couldn't stay for longer, we bid them farewell and promised to sing together another time.

From there we walked and walked and walked.... stopping to rest only when we felt like we couldn't take another step.

We finally arrived at Hilter's home around 10pm, but we didn't stay for long because another family had prepared dinner for us.  We dropped our bags and headed across town.

Around 11:30 when we were finally snuggling in for bed our host informed us that breakfast would be ready at 7:00 and we'd leave for the villages around 8:00.  Too tired to register exactly what that meant for our tired bodies we just smiled and nodded off to sleep.

In the morning, after enjoying a cup of hot oatmeal, bread and fresh coffee we headed back out of town to a nearby village that was only about an hour's walk away.

When we arrived we were blessed by the opportunity to hang out with some of the people that were working to dry the coffee beans they had harvested the previous couple days.

With guitar in hand, Chris began making up silly songs about the people gathered. His impromptu lyrics made them all giggle, especially one little girl who never left his side.

While Chris was entertaining us all with his songs, we tried teaching the kids how to jump rope.  They never really figured out the timing of it and just kept getting tangled up so Jack and Michael used the ropes to play "snake attack" instead. It was funny to watch all the kids scatter as Michael slithered the black and red "snake" around trying to get them.

As "Snake Attack" died down we promised the kids that we'd bring our jump ropes next time so that they could try again.  "Next time?" they said excitedly, "You're coming again?" When we shared our intention of visiting once every 4-6 weeks they jumped up and down and then ran away.  We weren't sure what had just happened, but later realized that they went to tell their families.

A little while later, when the people returned from their coffee farms, we all gathered together in the first level of someone's home because they don't have a church or even a community building.

We spent a long time singing before beginning a Liturgy of the Word service, which is what they requested.  They've only recently learned the format of the Mass and were eager to practice each part. It was beautiful to witness each of them bowing their heads to bring to mind their sins and then to ask God and their fellow community members for forgiveness. When it came time to read the Word, they all respectively stood up before Chris even had the chance to invite them. Despite their limited knowledge, it was obvious that their love for God is strong.  We just need to teach them more about Jesus. After the celebration we gave out the bibles that we had and took a count of how many more we need to bring when we return.

After sharing a delicious lunch in one community member's home, we hit the trail again and headed for the next village.

To our surprise, two of the women that attended the service walked with us for 30 minutes until they reached their homes. When we bid them farewell we were all comforted by the hope that we'd see each other again in May.

Knowing that we had a bit of time before the next community was expecting us, we walked a bit slower and stopped to check out the jungle creatures we found.

When we finally made it back to Chancho Mayo, we were told that we'd be staying with a different family. So, we packed up all our belongings and walked across town.

Katelyn and Anna were really excited to spend time with the friends they made during our last visit in August.

So, when they invited our girls to join their group in making homemade tamales, they quickly agreed and rushed off to their friend's house. The kids were making the tamales to sell the following day to help raise money for their school.

The kids remembered that the last time we visited we had brought games. They had tons of fun and hoped that we brought games again. Little do they know that the Carmody family never travels without games!!!

The kids spent all their free-time laughing and just being silly as they played the games we brought over and over and over again.

Their favorite was "Wanted" in which the players need to quickly act out various roles: cop, judge, banker, robber, etc.  Each time someone did the wrong action the room erupted in laughter as the person scooped up all the cards and added them to his/her draw pile.

As the kids were playing it began to rain and we realized that our chances of heading home early the next morning were slim.  It rained and rained and rained some more.

We carefully made our way across the field to the chapel where the community gathers every Sunday for a Liturgy of the Word service.

They were really blessed to have Chris play the guitar.  We were really blessed to witness the reverence they had for the Word. During the time when we would normally receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, they had a Spiritual Communion whereby each person approached the altar, kissed the crucifix and made the sign of the cross on the bible.  It was beautifully solemn.  Although they were disappointed not to be able to receive Jesus this day, they were really excited knowing that the priest would be visiting about 10 days later to celebrate Mass.

After the service a woman invited us to her home for lunch. Without knowing anything about her, we accepted. During lunch we learned that it is this lady's son that our fellow FMC missionaries have been helping. Historically, this young man had been mild mannered and kind. However, "all of the sudden" his personality changed. He had sporadic outbursts of violent rage, was uncharacteristically mean and began displaying other harmful behaviors. Nobody knew what to do. Our missionary friends spent an extended amount of time with the young man. One day, when they laid hands on him to pray he instantly became violent. He spat on them and threw punches every chance he got. When our friends insisted that he speak the name of Jesus Christ, this boy stared deep into their eyes and screamed "NEVER!!!" We weren't there, but our impression is that this went on for quite some time. The other missionaries continued praying over him until he finally collapsed. They took the boy to a local mental health facility and worked with the professionals there to get him the help he needs. We've been delighted to learn that the facility works in cooperation with the local priests who are specially trained in exorcism. They think he'll be ready to return home to Chancho Mayo in June and have asked us to accompany him.

After lunch the kids were excited to learn that the slippery, soggy football field was available. They rounded up the local kids and played for hours while Chris and I did home visits.

After the kids all washed up, the girls got together to "do hair".

This is the braid that Katelyn did on one of her friends. She's super excited to be learning the Peruvian styles.

Sometimes things are surprisingly modern. For example, lots of the kids have Facebook accounts and love "catching up" with friends in distant villages when they have Internet access.

Other times I feel like we've taken a step back into history. Our host pointed out the "pea pots" in each room that we could use during the night so that we didn't have to walk all the way the the outhouse in the dark.

Another thing that made the cool nights there more enjoyable were the thick, cotton bug nets which not only kept the bugs away, but they kept the brisk mountain air away as well.

We were hoping to leave around 4am Monday morning, but we were told that the rain had made the roads impassible.

Our friend Armondo, who has lived in Chancho Mayo for decades, told us that nobody would be leaving town until Tuesday morning at the earliest. This delay was a blessing because it afforded us the opportunity to have a team meeting during which we were able to plan out some of our upcoming ministries.

While we were discussing different options, Armondo's daughter rushed in and said we had to leave immediately.  A man was bit by a poisonous snake and needed immediate emergency care.  He was given an IV of antivenom, but that only prolonged the inevitable. A truck driver was willing to navigate the dangerous road to get him to the hospital and we could jump in with them.  There are two roads out of Chancho Mayo.  We were told that one would take about 8 hours but it was safer, the other was more dangerous but would probably only take about 5 hours. Given the urgency of the situation, he opted for the shorter route.  He loaded four huge sacks of coffee into the back of his truck knowing that the extra weight would make it easier to navigate through the mud. We sat down atop the coffee and began saying our prayers.  We never stopped praying; we sang, we prayed silently and offered our rosary to the man inside the cab whose hand was quickly swelling and filling with blood.  Every time the driver told us we had to get out, we jumped out the back and ran through the mud to the top of the hill as quickly as we could, knowing that every minute counted.  By the grace of God we arrived at the hospital about 4 hours later and the man was able to get the care he needed.

We moved our bags onto another truck and headed home.  Collapsing in bed that night we thanked God for all the blessings that He constantly bestows upon us which make this life of missions possible.

Please pray for our return trip in May.

Thank you for taking time to read about what the Lord has been doing through Team Carmody. Please pray for our continued success as we work hard to preach the gospel and serve the poor here in Peru.

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