Sunday, June 28, 2009

He Never Said It Would Be Easy

To say there have been trials in these first two weeks would be a gross understatement.

I had just settled into a routine and become quiet in my spirit when it was time for the first group to arrive. My three guys from First Presbyterian, Sumter, SC came bounding in last Saturday morning, bright-eyed and bushy tailed and ready to work (well, maybe they weren't so energetic at first since they had been up all night in the Lima airport). They did a tremendous job of working with Pastor Rony in Quistacocha to begin construction of a Sunday School room behind the church. We had a lot of laughs, mostly at Jim Gee's expense (don't worry Jim, I won't publish the story about your college Spanish class here), but the week was successful both in terms of relationship building among sister churches and work projects. Jim and Robert had the bonus of a trip to the hospital with a 17 year old boy who was in excruciating pain. Initially they thought he had appendicitis, but it turned out to be a kidney stone, not that the diagnosis was any better for the poor guy.

My trials began on Monday last week. It seems there was a significant ant population living in the house, so Ina, my housekeeper, bought insecticide . She was careful and wore gloves, but failed to wash her hands once she took the gloves off. She later rubbed her eye, creating an abrasion with insecticide particles still on her hand, which penetrated her eyeball. It would be Tuesday evening before I found out this happened. I tried to talk Ina into going to the hospital, but she did not want to, explaining that she neither likes doctors, nor taking medicine. For impoverished families, such as Ina's, statements like that can often be translated into "I can't afford to go, so why bother?" By Thursday her pain was unbearable, she had lost her vision in that eye, and she finally acquiesced to getting medical attention. She has now been in the hospital for 4 days and the doctors are still uncertain about whether or nor she will be blind in her right eye, particularly since she waited so long to seek help. Her situation is also complicated by the fact that she is diabetic. Ina is not just my housekeeper; she is my friend, and I love her. She is upset and discouraged and needs to be lifted up. Please pray for her.

Meanwhile, the Sumter group was leaving, and the first of two Huntington, WV groups was arriving. Needless to say I've had to call a time-out and prepare to drop back and punt. Ina is invaluable here; she is the "jefa," or chief of the house; she makes it run. It is difficult to understand just how much she does around here until she is not here to do it. It has been challenging these past few days to figure out how to function without her, but we are managing. I am so grateful to have Sarah Beth Mulet here this week. She spent two summers here as an intern while she was in college, is the secretary of AMF, speaks fluent Spanish, and is one of my very dear friends. She arrived just in time to step in and say, "Don't worry. I'll help you, and we'll be ok."

As a knee-jerk reaction, I have found myself questioning God. Why is this happening at all? But especially why is it happening when I just got here? And why now, when I need her most? Did I completely misunderstand God about coming here? Have I done the wrong thing, quitting my job and moving to South America? Fortunately my sweet Mamacita and my beloved Collins know me better than anyone and always say the right things to talk me down off the ceiling when I am going through one of my intensely reactionary phases. They've gotten a workout recently!

At my moment of greatest discouragement, I opened Streams in the Desert and read the day's devotional, which had obviously been written for me: "'Never dread any consequence resulting from absolute obedience to His command…Dare to trust Him! Dare to follow Him! Then discover that the forces that blocked your progress and threatened your life become at His command the very materials He uses to build your street of freedom'" (F.B. Meyer, 248). What else is there to say?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

So, Here I Am…

I'm now one week into my tenure as a missionary in residence in Iquitos, and I'm still tired.

The past couple of weeks have been the most mentally, physically, and emotionally draining of my life. It is an experience like no other. In my wildest, most outrageous dreams, I could never have imagined the depth of the grief of leaving my family, friends, church, home, job - I can't explain it and I don't even want to try. But, once again, God has shown up in a most timely fashion. Knowing that I would need the kindness of strangers at this juncture, He gave me a sweet-spirited waitress who never said a word, but simply smiled at me with compassion in her eyes while I ate my lunch in the Miami airport last Monday, crying the whole time. He provided an understanding Peruvian immigration officer who, when I explained that I was a missionary and requested a 90 day tourist visa (typically the longest one they issue), told me it would be best if I had a 6 month visa - "just in case." He put a kind-hearted woman at the LAN airlines counter who counted my luggage as part of the group checking in beside me so I wouldn't have to pay for my extra and overweight bags to fly from Lima to Iquitos. Yet most importantly, He placed me here in this jungle port city for the past three summers to develop the relationships that I would need to sustain me during my transition - Ina, Margarita, and Villa have gone so far above what is required of them to make me comfortable and to help me begin to feel like I am at home that I can never repay their kindness.

My first major lesson has been one of focus. I admit unabashedly that upon arrival I did not want to be here. Such feelings were difficult for me as I have always had a strong attachment to this place; I did not understand myself, but what I did understand was that I wanted to be on a northbound plane, headed straight back to Sparkle City, SC. I cried all day last Tuesday as I half-heartedly unpacked, tossing things in tandem into the closet, on the chair, across the bed; and I cried myself to sleep that night. The next morning, I cried again when Margarita showed up at El Jardin to give me the "gift" of the bank debit card. Being the absolutely wonderful woman that she is, she cried with me. Her words soothed me as she said she understood that I had come here at great sacrifice, but that she loves me, that her family is my family, that she will take care of me, and that September (and my first trip home) would arrive quickly. I am not exaggerating when I say the tears dried up immediately; my snap realization was that my focus was too large. Instead of thinking about getting through one day, one week, the 7 weeks of mission teams, then my return to the U.S. for an early fall visit, I was allowing myself to be overwhelmed by the idea of 3 years here. The nation of Israel learned a similar lesson when God refused to allow them to get swept away in the big picture by providing manna one day at a time.

I'm reminded of my favorite Laura Story song - the same song she sang to/for me during Westminster's Lay Renewal back in February - whose lyrics read, "…and You answer, "My child, I love you, and as long as you're seeking My face, you'll walk in the power of My daily sufficient grace." So at this point I'm only allowing myself to focus on today - no more, no less. If you do not own the daily devotional Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman, get it. June 18th's entry spoke renewed life into me this week with these words: "Pay as little attention to discouragement as possible. Plow ahead like a steamship, which moves forward whether facing rough or smooth seas, and in rain or shine. Remember, the goal is simply to carry the cargo and to make it to port."

So, here I am. My path to this point has been nothing less than spectacular. To those who have taken this walk with me thus far, thank you; and to those who are joining me now, welcome. Hold on tight. You're in for the ride of your life.

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