Often on mission trips the ones you are sent to serve end up giving you something. That’s what I found in Peru.
One day we demolished and then built a new house on the same spot. The husband was at work, but the wife worked along side us. She offered sweat equity, as she removed the roof of her old home almost entirely by herself. She then made sure we stacked the wood from the old home so it could be used for firewood. Having finished by mid-afternoon we retuned at dusk with a gift and had a small party for her. The neighbors came out to celebrate and she thanked us for our help as she busily but her home in order. Although we came to work for her, it was her resourcefulness and grit that were gifts for me. I needed to see that.
Another day, we met some enterprising women in Comas who had started a savings group through a member of the church. What’s a savings group? It’s a way for people to pool their resources so they can then take out loans for starting or maintaining a business. They meet weekly, have officials and are required to contribute whatever they can at each meeting. The people we met had a new group and were building their savings to a level that they could then loan from. Once loans are made, they are required to pay back on a weekly basis. We met with them at one of their business. The floor was dirt, the light was dim, but they had hope and joy in knowing that they can change their circumstances. They showed me that even when things look bleak and prospects are slim, you can still choose to press on.
One morning we helped serve breakfast to the poorest of the poor children in Comas. In a small room, we met 40 or so kids and served them their only meal of the day, consisting of bread and oatmeal. Despite being young, tired and hungry, they were thankful. They were in good spirits, laughed (they thought we were funny…..looking), and enjoyed each others company Those children showed me bravery. I don’t know how well I would handle my children eating once a day, but they did it with grace.
One member of our team, Gloria, is a resident of Columbia and was the oldest of our group. I wasn’t quite sure about her role, but soon it was made clear. She was the one member of the group who could reach the unreachable. She was not tall, swift or loud, but she was confident, persistent and has the gift of establishing trust. She was the one who, when a little boy said God didn’t love him, engaged him on his level and made him know that God certainly does love him. She was the one who saw the pain of the 16 yr old mother, who felt abandonment and shame, and connected with her. By taking her hand and asking for eye contact, she communicated to that mother that God has a plan for her and that her life is one worth living.
Finally, their was Pastor Luis, our chaperone for the week. He was duty bound (learned he’s a former police officer) to be certain our team was comfortable, fed and safe. He was our shepherd and we were the sheep. Pastor Luis made sure we were met at customs in the Lima airport (with big welcome signs at midnight) and escorted us as far as security would allow as we prepared to depart the following week. He coordinated the welcome breakfast and a traditional Peruvian dance send-off from the church. He helped us get wifi and made sure we didn’t walk the streets alone. He prayed over us and encouraged us. Most importantly, he took us out everyday to see the people his church serves:
- those who are sure of their salvation and those who are not
- those who attend church each Sunday and those they are trying to reach
- those who are doing OK by the world’s standard and those who are struggling.
Pastor Luis showed me humble leadership.
To all of them I say well done faithful servants. Well done.