Saturday, June 28, 2008

3:45 a.m.

Palmetto Pride
In Iquitos

Everyone loves a prankster, right? Well, everyone loves being a prankster. Last Tuesday night I was unable to go to sleep, so I sat up working on what I hope will eventually take the form of a novel. I finally turned my computer off around 1:30 a.m. I had just settled into a deep sleep when an alarm went off. Immediately I began slapping at my clock, whose illuminated numbers read 3:45, trying to shut the obnoxious noise off, but I soon realized it wasn't my clock. Instead, it was the clock Todd left with me when he headed back to the States Tuesday afternoon. And here I thought he was being generous, but I should have known that his parting gift was literally a ticking bomb.

On Thursday, Maria Helmi, director of the SCOTA school for handicapped children, invited me, Tom and Terri Sheaffer, and Stewart Garrett to have lunch with her and the teachers from two of the SCOTA schools in town. We were treated to some local cuisine - soup made from chicken broth and cornmeal with a chicken leg floating in the middle alongside a piece of yucca, fried rice, and another interesting looking dish. The soup and fried rice were delicious; I must confess I declined to try the other dish and was later glad I had opted out once I found out that it was actually pieces of gizzard with some spices in it. They weren't in the least offended that I wouldn't eat this delicacy because my upturned nose meant more for them. What impressed me more than the food was the camaraderie among the teachers. They thoroughly enjoyed each other's company and chatted incessantly throughout the meal, laughing often. It was an occasion to celebrate the teachers having birthdays in June. Tom, Terri, and Stewart were honored for the work they have done for SCOTA, including repairing the children's playground, updating the computer lab, and teaching English classes. The SCOTA teachers and students alike have a great love for these three, and well they should. At one point during lunch I turned to Terri and said, "Now this is real life. We are being blessed to witness life as they know it every day." What an awesome opportunity to see people coming together for the common good; I can't help but wish we gringos interacted with our co-workers in the same way.

El Jardin - Front Gate

Path to the House
Inside the Gate

Screened Porch
My Favorite Room

Living and Dining Area


This morning I rose at 5 a.m. to get the current group to the airport and on their way home again. I encouraged Nathan to sleep in and let me handle the departures. I have been nothing less than thoroughly impressed by him as we've worked together for two weeks now. I knew from the beginning that he was the right person to fill the intern's position, but he has exceeded all of my expectations. With no apparent fear, he headed to Tamshiyacu with the group every day last week and helped the project manager coordinate their work on the new church, learning more and more Spanish with every conversation. In the evenings he can usually be found with his face in a Spanish textbook, eager to learn as much of the language as possible. His laid back morning was more than deserved. Tomorrow we both venture out to the airport at 6 a.m. to pick up the next group, which just happens to be his home church group. Having never experienced life in Iquitos from this perspective, he has no idea just how sweet it will be to see those familiar faces from home emerge with tousled hair, morning breath, and heavy luggage. I can't wait to be the outside observer watching the reunion.

My Aunt Terri emailed me earlier in the week asking for pictures of where I live while I am here. She said she had a mental image of this 'El Jardin' place she's heard about so much and would like to see if imagination and reality match. So, I've included a few photos for those who've never been here before. Notice in the first snapshot above that I brought a signature South Carolina flag with me - there's nothing like the palmetto tree and crescent moon flapping in the breeze more than 3000 miles away from home.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Sunday was almost too much for me.

Todd had arrived Friday morning at 6:30 a.m. and we hit the ground running, buying new, necessary furniture for the Jardin and running a million other errands. Between the two of us, we were spending money 'muy rapido.' Our latest group landed at 6:30 Saturday morning, keeping me and Nathan hopping for about 18 hours that day. On Sunday, my day began around 5:30 a.m. when I woke up, panicking, because I had a stack of receipts from the previous two days that I had not yet entered into my computer. I'm very conscious of maintaining detailed, accurate spreadsheets for every sole I spend - both Todd and Francis have placed a great deal of trust in me to handle the money as I see fit and I want to be worthy of that trust and be a good steward. So, by 6:00 a.m. I was sitting at the kitchen table, entering data into Microsoft Excel (my greatest discovery in the past few weeks). At 7:00 a.m., enter Ina to cook breakfast for us all; at 7:30, enter Villa to help get two boat loads of us ready to go to Tamshiyacu for the morning; at 8:00, enter everyone in the house to eat breakfast; by 8:15, at least 6 people (3 of them speaking Spanish) were calling my name, wanting something from me.

I used the hour long boat ride to Tamshiyacu to try to get my brain settled and get the day's schedule set in my head, but that only lasted until the boat pulled into the port. The remainder of the day was beyond hectic, with more issues and questions than I felt like I could answer. Around 5:00 on Sunday afternoon, I made it to my room to lay down and cry. As the hot tears of frustration leaked from my eyes, burning my face before they splashed onto my pillow, it occurred to me that in the busyness of the weekend, I had not taken time to be with God and I was trying to handle everything on my own. While my Spanish has been amazing, and my adaptation to the culture even better this year, I am still a stranger in a foreign land trying to make a fledgling missions organization work. I cannot do it by myself. I cannot do it with the help of my AMF board and all the sister churches the U.S. can offer. We can only accomplish what needs to be done through God. So I prayed...

As the peace and calm washed over me, I was reminded of the fact that Jesus, Himself, had to withdraw from the crowds to be with God. He, too, got overwhelmed with everyone wanting something from Him, calling His name constantly. If He needed to be alone with God, how much more, then, do I need to.

Ina and her sister served us a delicious, home-cooked meal of grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans (all Peruvian style, of course) for dinner last night. When they departed the Jardin for the evening, I packed the cooler for today, and headed to the shower at last. A shower never feels as good as when you've been sweating all day and have grime at least an inch thick on you, sticky skin and all.

Sporting a sopping wet head and clean pajamas, I sat down with Todd to add a few hands to our 4 night gin rummy marathon (Jessica, if you're reading this, unfortunately I've only been in the lead for one of the three nights so far - if he manages to finish me off tonight, we must team up for a grudge match when I get home and down to Charleston for a visit - all that matters is that Todd loses!).

By 10:00 p.m., everyone was in bed, and a storm rolled through. In the dark, I took my pillow to the screened porch, and laid on the couch under the ceiling fan. The rain beat down on the Jardin trees, while lightning flashed in the distance, followed shortly by almost muted rolls of thunder. I thought back to the song that played on my iPod while I showered earlier and discovered the words held all the truth I needed to release the anxiety and frustration of my day.

"Whenever I call you're there, Redeemer and Friend
Cherished beyond all words, this love never ends
Morning by morning, Your mercy awakens my soul
I lift up my eyes to see, the wonders of heaven
Opening over me, Your goodness abounds
Taking my breath away with Your irresistable love."
(from Irresistable by Hillsong Australia)

Until the next time I try to do it all on my own...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sweet Tea and Chocolate Pudding

My dear friend Jessica, who has previously lived in Iquitos, shared with me the wisdom of bringing along a few comforts from home for my extended time here. I decided on Lipton tea bags, and so I made a gallon of tea yesterday. OH, MY GOODNESS! Sweet tea has never tasted so good.

Regarding another lucky find, on one of my trips to the mercado, I discovered chocolate pudding mix. Of course, my spoiled self is used to the instant kind, so I was taking a big risk in buying the kind that must be cooked. After making my beloved sweet tea, I sang out loud while dancing in front of the stove ¨constantly stirring¨my pan of chocolate powder mixed with milk. Having never cooked on a gas stove before I was sure I would probably scorch the pudding, but it actually tasted really good for dessert last night.

Nathan and I made the trek to the airport at 5:30 this morning to put Jim and Robert, our two man team from First Presbyterian, Sumter, SC, on a plane back to the States. We have been running errands all morning and have a lot to accomplish today in getting ready for the next group to arrive Saturday morning.

I know some of you have tried to post comments and have had some difficulty. You can still certainly email me at at any time as well. Thanks to all of you who have posted comments and/or sent emails already. It is nice to hear from home.

Nos vemos...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Being Humbled

When you live here for an extended time, you begin to become oblivious to, even irritated with the lifestyles and the all consuming poverty of the people. I have been guilty of this; God worked on that this morning.

Ina and I went to the Belén market to buy fresh fish, vegetables, and rice to cook for dinner. When we arrived at the market the crowd was dense and almost moving in unison. As we allowed ourselves to be swept along with the rest of the people, in every direction, as far as I could see, vendors basically accosted shoppers, desperately trying to make a sale. The good fortune of one is the misfortune of another. Suddenly I felt the urge to make our trip more complicated and only buy one item per vendor. I bought broccoli from one, corn from another, rice from yet another, pineapple from still another, and so on, spreading the wealth, so to speak. As we walked through the butchering area, the nauseating smell of recently slaughtered animals being cut into pieces for sale permeated the air. Dozens of dogs wandered the aisles, anticipating a meal of left over parts tossed to the floor - they ate hungrily. I thought of how insulated I am from scenes such as this. The nice, clean meat market at Bi-Lo makes it easy for me to make my selections without the discomfort of seeing firsthand how that meat came to be there in the first place. Fortunately we moved quickly to the fish market, which, at least for me, is much easier on the eyes and stomach.

Being the dog person that I am, the meringue on my humble pie this morning was the sight of a dog lying on the sidewalk on the way back to the house. The dog was so mangey that it had only patches of whiskers for hair, and its skin was scaly and raw from where it had bitten itself repeatedly. At that point the lump in my throat was so big that I didn´t think I could choke it back long enough for Ina and me to get back in the house so I could get to my room, close the door, and cry privately.

I have become hardened to such scenes over the past few years, but today God decided it was time to view life through the same eyes I had the first time I came here six years ago. I felt shame for my oblivion. It raises the unanswerable question once again, why did God allow me to be born into a middle class, white, North American family while these people were sentenced to life here?

The only thing I know for sure is that God is good. Beyond that, I have a lot of questions...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

I Surrender All

The Spanish version of I Surrender All echoed through the sanctuary of the Iquitos church this morning. I was immediately aware of how much I hold onto. Surrender is so hard. Sometimes it´s nearly impossible. Yet without it, God cannot pour His Spirit into my soul and fill me to overflowing.

In the weeks prior to coming to Peru this summer, the thing that God repeatedly impressed upon my heart was how often I pen Him up; I put Him in a box and tell Him to stay there, and when I need Him I´ll open up the box a little and let Him come out just enough to help me with whatever trouble I´m having at the time, after which I expect Him to sit quietly until another need arises. I prepared for this trip knowing that God was telling me to let Him out of the box and allow Him to be as big as He really is.

I have found myself laughing out loud several times a day during the week that I have been here, because God is showing me repeatedly that He is larger than I can imagine or hope for. Take my knowledge of Spanish, for example. I was very nervous about being here without anyone else who speaks the language to help me, but I´ve known from the beginning that I was truly on my own this time. Now, in years past I have talked about moments of possessing supernatural Spanish, but this time is different - it is not just supernatural, it is downright miraculous. I have become a sponge, soaking up vocabulary and sentence structure and verb tenses. Each time I finish a conversation (not a sentence, but an entire conversation) with Villa or Ina, I burst into laughter knowing that it was not me who just spoke; it was a tangible expression of God unleashed.

Those of you who were children/teenagers of the 80´s will be interested to know that Rod Stewart´s Young Turks is playing right now in the internet cafe. Man does this song bring back memories!

To all of you dads out there who are reading, Feliz Dia Papá! I wished my dad a Happy Father´s Day earlier in the week because I was pretty sure I would not have the chance to call home today.

I am not the least bit homesick; in fact, I´ve never felt more at home here. Nevertheless, I had my first cry last night after I talked with my brother, Brad, and my surrogate child, Collins on the phone. It´s not that I wanted to be in the States with them as much as I wished they were here with me. It is a strange range of emotions that I am experiencing. The only thing I know for sure is that, while I will be ready to come home at the end of July, leaving here is going to be excruciatingly painful.

The duo that is here this week from First Presbyterian, Sumter, SC will begin construction on a new roof for the church in Quistococha tomorrow. They have been delightful to host and very easy to accomodate.

Nathan has stepped into the role of intern like he was born for it. He and I were meant to work together. We share a love for Iquitos and the Peruvian people, and we are both motivated to see AMF get on its feet and be a meaninful ministry.

I´m trying so hard not to laugh out loud right now because the guy sitting next to me is actually singing, in English, Hall & Oates´80´s song Maneater. How funny...

For now I must go. Afterall, it is Sunday afternoon, and I firmly believe in ´siestas todos los domingos!´

Until later...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Arrival of an Intern

I have no idea what condition Nathan will be in when I finally retrieve him from the airport this afternoon. I headed out to pick him up at 6 a.m. this morning, and all the way there I kept thinking to myself, ¨Man, it´s foggy.¨ Talk about prophetic! I got to the airport just in time to see many disgruntled passengers getting out of line, having heard that the plane they thought they would be boarding, also carrying Nathan, would not be arriving until 5:30 this afternoon due to dense fog. I should be a weather woman...

Meanwhile, Villa, Ina, and I continue to work our hineys off getting ready for the groups to arrive. Ina and I have scrubbed every square inch of the Jardin house - we are considering signing a commercial deal for Pine-Sol - and Villa is replacing light bulbs, copying keys, fixing the water pump, and making other necessary repairs.

It is an exciting time. I wasn´t sure I would be ok even for a few days here all by myself, but in spite of the busyness of my days I have been very peaceful. Of course it doesn´t hurt that I brought along speakers for my iPod so I have music blasting throughout the house while I am working. Nothing beats a good mix of clean rap songs accompanied by the Bee Gees and some praise and worship music. Villa and Ina don´t say anything, but it might be interesting to hear what they are thinking of my choice of tunes.

For now it´s off to the market to get some fruit to go with my sandwich for lunch.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Lima Airport

The day began with tears - saying good-bye to various friends and family, especially Mom, was a bit difficult - but the emotions passed quickly when I got on the plane at GSP and was seated beside a woman who was flying for the first time and was scared to death. Talking her through take-off and landing was a welcome diversion. Now I sit in Lima at 2 a.m., waiting for a 5 a.m. flight to Iquitos. Tired doesn't begin to describe the state I am in after having been up extremely late for two consecutive nights and having just endured more than 6 hours on a plane with a little Peruvian girl, who looked to be about 3 years old, and who was determined to scream (whether in play with her 5 brothers and sisters or in irate response to her mother) for the entire flight.

I look forward to my arrival at El Jardin; I always feel like I'm home when I get there. I also look forward to crashing for a few hours of solid sleep.

Gratefulness is what I feel when I think about all the precious people who support me in this mission. Thank you for your continuous prayers, for the many e-mails and blog comments I will receive throughout the summer, and for the smiling faces I will see when I arrive home in August.

Until later...

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Week Away

This time next week I will be hanging out in the Lima airport, trying to stay awake until my 5 a.m. flight to Iquitos. I must say I am excited. As always, there is some degree of apprehension about being gone for so long. This year's anxiety is directly connected to being there totally alone for two weeks and also being completely and totally responsible for all of the mission teams that will come to Peru over the course of the summer. Unlike last year, when fear nearly paralyzed me, each time I think about the task before me and start to become overwhelmed, suddenly I'm filled with an unbelievable peace. As I smile to myself, pondering the weeks to come, I know that God is in charge. Not only is He going with me, He has already gone ahead of me, preparing the way. Oh, how I love Him, and long to see His bigness - to release Him from the box I tend to place Him in. I know that in every detail of the summer He will not let me down.

Recommended Reading

  • The Bible
  • Serving with Eyes Wide Open - Doing Short Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence - David A. Livermore
  • Cross-Cultural Servanthood - Serving the World in Christlike Humility - Duane Elmer
  • Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) - Robert D. Lupton
  • When Helping Hurts-Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself - Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • Shadow of the Almighty - Elizabeth Elliot
  • Messy Spirituality - Michael Yaconelli
  • The Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne
  • Peace Child - Don Richardson
  • If God Should Choose - Kristen Stagg
  • In the Presence of My Enemies - Gracia Burnham
  • Inside Afghanistan - John Weaver
  • Same Kind of Different as Me - Ron Hall and Denver Moore
  • Through Gates of Splendor - Elizabeth Elliot
  • End of the Spear - Steve Saint