Sunday, November 21, 2010


Where does the time go? It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is only a few days away, that Christmas is just around the corner, and that another year is quickly drawing to a close. Yet once again it is that time of year when we pause to count our blessings. As I begin my 2010 list of thanks, I find myself pondering exactly what it means to be grateful. After looking up the word in the dictionary and tossing around ideas of how others might define it, I'm going to function from the following definition that I have crafted from my brainstorming and research:

grateful - adj. - deeply and abidingly appreciative and thankful to God for His deliverance and His blessing

God has abundantly and extravagantly blessed me:
  • With a biological family that loves and supports me - my parents, brother, sister-in-law, niece, aunts, uncles, cousins, and the precious grandparents who touched my life for such a very short time before they went home ahead of me. In some shape or fashion they all helped raise me in the way that I should go, then they set me free to wander, to stray, to struggle, and to return, rejoicing and suffering with me, all the while understanding that I belong to God and His plan for my life is perfect.
  • With a spiritual family that was in place before I ever knew I needed one or cared whether or not I had one, and remains in place, lifting me up at times and in ways of which I am totally unaware - First Presbyterian, Calvary Baptist, and First Baptist Churches, Ware Shoals, SC; the Baptist Student Union at Wofford College; Westminster Presbyterian Church, Spartanburg, SC; First Presbyterian Churches of Huntington, WV, Jefferson City, MO, and Sumter, SC, First Scots Presbyterian Church, Charleston, SC, Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church, Quarryville, PA; the Presbyterian Churches of Peru in Iquitos, Santa Clara, Nuevo Valentin, Gallito, Quistacocha, Santo Tomas, Tamshiyacu, and Santa Maria. These individual fellowships, for me, form one body that, past, present, and future, surround me with grace and mercy.
  • With an opportunity to work and serve on two continents, in two countries, using two languages, living in two cultures, thus multiplying both my trials and my rewards. But without the first, what good, really, is the latter?
  • With a foreign family - Edgardo Villa, Margarita Diaz, Ina Lopez, Maria Lopez, Maria Helmi, Jorge and Martha Foinquinos, German and Enith Rios, Clever and Reina Rengifo, Guillermo and Graciela Flores, Edward and Soila Huaman, Rony and Maria Pilco, Ricardo and Lupe Jara. These and countless other Peruvians open their hearts, homes, and respective families to me, taking me in as the lone white person among the brown people, and loving me as one of their own, proving day after day, minute by minute that genuine love is blind and in Christ we are all one.
  • With one man - Collins McCraw - who loves me more than I deserve to be loved by another human being. He turned my life upside down back in January and started us down a path toward unconditional love and lifetime commitment. He comes alongside me and joins me in a mutual pursuit of the God who made us and saves us. God has chosen him to be the answer to and ultimate fulfillment of thirteen years of my heart's cry for a mate. This relationship has not been easy and has come with a great price and significant sacrifice, making it all the more valuable. It is not difficult to submit myself to the man who has already, in so many ways, laid down his life for mine.

    I thank God for all of this and so much more. I am especially grateful for the many trials and tribulations of this year, and 2010 has had more than its fair share of them. Yes, I know it sounds strange to make such a statement and I even find myself looking at the previous sentence and wondering who in their right mind could say that. Yet it's only in the tough times that deliverance can be experienced. I have learned so much more about who I am, but more importantly about who God is. The refiner's fire is painful, no doubt, but there is also no denying the beauty that is a result of the burn.

    I have been delivered and I have been blessed, and for this I am deeply and abidingly appreciative and thankful to God.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ladder Climbing Dog

For those of you who wonder what my "normal," "day-to-day" life is like in Iquitos, here's a glimpse into my morning so far:

The municipality contacted me to tell me that the trees growing inside El Jardin are hanging over the wall on the street side, making a nice, shady canopy for those traversing the sidewalk. The problem is, they are also sitting on power lines. Obviously, because the trees originate on the Jardin property, it is our responsibility to cut them. And if we don't do so immediately we will be facing a fine and still have the responsibility to cut them. Now, that all makes perfect sense and I don't disagree - except for the fact that the previous time this happened, the municipality took care of the tree trimming because of the danger in working around the power lines. (Thus the reason I have not arranged for them to be cut; naturally I assumed it would be taken care of once again.) When I tried to explain that to the man he assured me that such a thing had NEVER happened because they do not operate that way (so now I'm crazy - which might be a legit point - and I imagined the trees being cut along with the conversation that lead to them being cut by someone that I did not hire to do so).

Anyway, rather than argue with the guy over the municipality's 'rules' (subject to change depending on who you talk to), Villa and I started scrambling to find a tree trimmer. So we find one, negotiate a price with him, and get him started working, because I sure don't want to pay a fine (which would be some ridiculous, arbitrary amount based on what someone thinks this white girl is worth). Now the tree guy is busy hacking away at branches with his machete, Villa is supervising (of course), and I sit down in front of my computer to begin catching up on the emails I was not able to send/answer yesterday due to a 5 hour power outage (a regular occurrence these days).

I'm reading and typing when something in my peripheral vision gets my attention; I turn my head to the left to see Dolly's front legs stretched out so that her paws just reach the fourth step of the tree cutter's ladder, one hind leg is extended, barely touching the first rung, and the other hind leg is firmly planted on the second step as she continues to climb in pursuit of the man and his falling branches. With visions of a broken spine and imminent euthanasia resulting from less than adequate ladder scaling skills, rather than run for my camera, I ran for the dog. With all four of her feet planted safely on solid ground again, I almost wish I'd grabbed the camera first so that you skeptics would believe this actually happened (anyone who has met Dolly does not doubt the veracity of this story).

Just another "typical" day in the jungle. Now back to work...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Close to Crisis

It's all the talk around town - on the TV news, in the papers, on the streets; Iquitos is approaching a water crisis. Due to lack of significant rainfall over the past couple of months (and, I'm sure, other geological, ecological, and environmental factors that I neither know about nor understand), the rivers are essentially drying up. According to local record keepers, the rivers are the lowest they have been in 40 years.

The consequences of this are numerous. Those who fish for a living are having difficulty getting into deep enough water to be able to catch anything. The river taxis and other boats are losing business - with each passing day it is harder to get into or out of the ports, or close enough to the villages and towns along the rivers to allow passengers to disembark (this in addition to general hazards in the rivers caused by the shallowness of the water). And Sedaloreto has already begun shutting down the city water system for brief periods of time each day in an effort to conserve water; the next step will be outright water rationing (for people who own the large water tanks this isn't too dire of a problem because they can retain enough water to bathe and cook each day - the problem will come for the poorest of the poor who only have small containers in which to store water in their homes). These and a host of other problems are lurking.

Please pray for significant rain. We need more than the light 15-20 minute showers we've been getting about once a week. We need those torrential downpours, the ones that last for hours and that the jungle is famous for. Though we are not at alarm stage yet, at this point we have to begin thinking about and preparing for the future.

For those who have never been here before, the following pictures won't mean much to you, but for the rest of you, well, you're in for a surprise!

Itaya River at the Boulevard
The land here is very green and beautiful, but it is typically under water.  The ground is dry and solid as it has baked in the sun for weeks now and people walk out past the trees trying to get to what is left of the river out there to get water for washing and cooking.  The picture was taken standing in front of the Medical Missions property on the Malecon - where the original Iquitos Presbyterian Church was located.

Itaya River at Puerto Huequito
This is the port the mission teams typically use for river travel. Notice the houses floating in the shallow inlet, blocked from moving by the sand bar that has surfaced.

Itaya River at Puerto Huequito
Past the sewer outlet (large concrete structure in foreground) you can see grounded boats here as well.  Also you can see how far out the sandbar extended as well as the size of the riverbank past the sand bar.

Bella Vista Port on the Nanay River
If you look in the upper left hand corner you'll see the white building that is the Iquitos Boat Club - looking to the right of that you will see the grounded boats sitting on dry land.  The distance across the Nanay to Santo Tomas is narrowing as the river dries up.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I Slept Through an Earthquake

I've always known that I was a fairly sound sleeper (and I can snore pretty well too, so I'm told, though, of course, I don't believe it), but evidently my slumber is a little deeper than I realized. The neighboring country of Ecuador recently experienced a significant earthquake - somewhere between 6.9 and 7.1 - about 100 miles southeast of the capital city of Quito, putting its epicenter fairly close to the border of Peru. Thankfully the depth of the earthquake was estimated to be 115 miles below the Earth's surface, so direct impact and damage was minimal. The quake occurred just before 7 a.m. on a Thursday morning.

A day or two later Villa asked me if I had felt the house shaking on the Thursday morning in question. Naturally I looked at him and started laughing, because I assumed he was yanking my chain, as he frequently does. He swore he was serious, but then Villa has been known to tell a fish tale a time or two. When Ina arrived I asked her if anything strange had happened at her house early that Thursday morning, and without hesitating she said, "Yes, both of my girls and I woke up because our beds were shaking and we later heard on the news that there was an earthquake in Ecuador." Ok, so Villa got to Ina earlier and she was playing along. Better to do my research elsewhere. So, as I went about my business for the day, I started asking around and, sure enough, the answers were consistent with Villa's story; people reported feeling the floors in their homes tremble or being awakened because their beds were moving. Margarita also confirmed that the tremors awakened her patients in the hospital. Not a big deal, nothing scary, no dishes crashing to the floor, no glass shattering, nothing like that, just a very noticeable, however slight, movement of the tierra. And I slept right through it.

But there's another part to this story. Around 3 a.m. on the morning of the earthquake I woke up terribly thirsty. Villa and I had shared one of our favorite dishes for dinner the previous evening - fried rice with chicken, pork, and shrimp, doused in soy sauce, and all the salt and MSG was kicking in. As I stood in the light of the open refrigerator door gulping water from my old Young Life nalgene bottle, I heard the soft patter of water hitting the ground. I thought to myself, as I walked toward the window over the kitchen sink, 'how nice, we haven't had rain in several weeks now, we need it.' But as I arrived at the sink and looked out said open window, nothing was falling from the sky and the ground was perfectly dry, but still I was hearing drops of water. I didn't have to investigate long to find out where the sound was coming from, because as soon as I stepped into the screen porch room, there in the dim illumination of the lights on the path leading to the front gate was the answer. Dolly, my now 7 month old yellow lab, was hopping and jumping and splashing, having herself a grand old time in the fountain of water spewing forth from the small pvc tube of an old irrigation line she'd managed to locate and chew holes into. Like a pig in mud, literally, she couldn't have been enjoying herself more. I had no idea how long the water had been gushing, and visions of a whirling meter sent me running straight to Villa's room to wake him up and tell him we had work to do. Thus began the clean up and repair.

It took us until 4:30 a.m. to dig up more of the pipe, cut it off, add another, new piece of pipe to the cut off part, use matches and some kind of really sticky stuff to melt and seal up the end of the tube, then bury it again, all the while trying to keep Dolly out of the huge mud puddle she'd created (she thought that our descent to our hands and knees on the ground in her pool meant we had come to play with her). At this point we were soaking wet, covered in mud ourselves, and ready to keep digging a much bigger hole to put Dolly in - well, I was; Villa found the whole deal to be quite humorous. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, I went back to bed somewhere in the vicinity of 5 a.m., thoroughly exhausted. Is it any wonder I never felt the earth move?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Missionaries and Narcs

Few, if any, of the many experiences I have had in Iquitos over the past eight years compare to last week's accosting on the high seas - or the high river (well, low river right now). Anyway, we're cruising down the Amazon, headed back to Iquitos after a hard day's work in the jungle village of Gallito. A few people on the boat are conversing over the scream of the outboard motor, some are catching a few zzzz's, while others are quietly contemplating a week well-spent and marveling over God's exquisite landscaping. Out of nowhere, a boat intersects us in the middle of the river. Our driver eases off the gas, then kills the engine, and, as we float closer to the mystery boat, the outlines of automatic and semi-automatic weapons take shape as extensions of the muscular arms holding them, pointing them skyward, followed by the menacing stare of a very large, very black, very serious Shepherd breed dog.

The large yellow letters on the black vests worn over black shirts and atop black pants and black combat boots (can you feel the sense of foreboding I felt at the moment?) by the handful of stern-faced, albeit handsome, Latino men on board indicated that they were with the Peruvian National Police - narcotics agents patrolling the Amazon for drug traffic. Most people would be thinking, no problem - we aren't drug mules, so we're in the clear. But panic struck me immediately as I tried to maintain a worry-free expression for the benefit of the mission team on my boat. First, we were carrying what can only be referred to as a 'butt-load of contraband.' As several of the mission team members were medical professionals, they had been conducting a basic medical clinic in Gallito, and on our boat were two large military green duffle bags loaded down with bags of ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naproxen, cold/flu/allergy meds, antiparasitics, vitamins, antibiotics just to name a few. Granted nothing was illegal, but when you have pale skin in a foreign land, legality doesn't necessarily mean much at times. I was deathly afraid the narcs were going to ask to see the contents of the bags, at which time I was going to have to step up and try to explain.

The other fear that plagued me in the moment was that we would be petitioned for a 'propina' in order to be released and sent on our way. 'Propina' literally means tip or gratuity, but also doubles as a polite way of saying bribe money. It is not uncommon for police officers (or anyone for that matter) in Peru to solicit propinas to do the job for which they are already being paid (but I will refrain from climbing onto my soap-box and preaching a laborious sermon on the injustice of that brand of crime). I knew that, if such talks began, there was only one way for the negotiations to go - south. If they were so inclined to demand bribes, the amounts would not be small; after all, these police officers were looking at a boat full of middle-class, white North Americans who, by Peruvian standards, would be classified as very wealthy on the socio-economic scale. I all but held my breath and prayed mightily that whatever the boat driver was saying to the head-honcho on the police boat would be an adequate explanation of who we were and what we were doing, would appeal to his sense of moral integrity, and would not result in me having to talk (because stress-laden, pressure filled situations like that guarantee a total loss of my ability to communicate effectively in Spanish).

Thankfully, within a few minutes we resumed our trek to Iquitos. After the collective sigh of relief, the trepidation turned to excitement over what had just taken place. Events like this, after they are over and everything turned out ok, make the best mission team stories. And the frighteningly exhilarating thrill of it all just might be what encourages a few hesitant bystanders to take the plunge and join next year's team on their Amazon Adventure!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Happy Anniversary…To…Me!

One year ago today I began my new life as a missionary in Iquitos, Peru. I cannot believe it has already been a year. My how time flies. As I reflect on the past 12 months, a lot has happened, but today I find myself thinking about the funny stuff - the humor that has made the tough days easier, the good times even better, and has ultimately made this foreigner feel like she is at home. So I'll share with you a few glimpses of the lighter moments of this last year:
  • Countless nights I've been unable to sleep because my German Shepherd and Yellow Lab ran a cat up a tree and decided the best course of action was to sit at the base of the tree and bark to lure it down again, totally unmoved by my 3 a.m. threats to cut their tails off if they didn't hush.
  • The morning I went out to feed the maccaw only to find it hanging upside down by one foot after getting its leg wrapped up in some twine; it later bit both me and Villa as we were trying to get it unwrapped - some kind of thanks for saving its life.
  • Learning that the word "foca" means seal, as in a sea animal, and that the word "foco" means light bulb, and being told that it is not possible to purchase a foc'a' at the hardware store.
  • Over all the noise from the motokars in the street, hearing a horn playing, of all things, Dixie. I felt like I was being secretly video taped for a bad episode of The Dukes of Hazzard.
  • Visiting with the wife of one of the pastors after she had surgery - and just in case I didn't believe that she'd actually been operated on, she called for her daughter who brought out a large jar which contained her uterus.
  • Consulting with Villa on his "plan of war" to catch the neighbor who insists on putting his trash in front of our house instead of his own.
  • Observing the high class tastes of my Yellow Lab, Dolly, as she dives in the pond behind the house to retrieve snails; she then diligently works to crack the shell and extract her very own doggy escargot.
  • Coming back to Iquitos after a visit to the U.S. to find my washing machine would no longer work. Further investigation by the technician revealed that a couple of mice had taken up residence inside the machine while I was gone and chewed through most of the wires.
  • Watching Villa make what he referred to as 'poison sandwiches' to put in the storage room to kill our pet rat.
  • Shining my flashlight on the pond at night to locate the orange eyes of the alligator my friend Todd put there; then, witnessing its demise as one of the elders from the church next door removed it after I promised he could take it home and have it for dinner.
  • Laughing uncontrollably with Villa in church the next day when the preacher used an alligator story as an illustration in his sermon.
  • Rescuing a toad frog after Dolly, the Yellow Lab, decided he might be a toy for her to play with and was pawing him to death.
  • Chasing Dolly around the yard every time mail is delivered if she gets to the gate before I do. Let's just say that when she greets the mailman, the yard is soon decorated with very small pieces of water bills and bank statements.
  • The day I forgot the gate was bolted and didn't have my key to open it for one of the pastors. He didn't know I could see him through the peephole and later told me he thought God was speaking out loud to him in a woman's voice when he heard me calling his name telling him to wait for me to get the key.
  • Getting up in the morning to find feathers all over the door mat after Tamy, my German Shepherd, decided to have a bird for breakfast.
And these are just a few of the lighter moments that have made this one of the most amazing years of my life. I wish I could put into words everything about this time that has forever changed me. Not only do I have a much greater knowledge and better understanding of my Peruvian friends, but also of myself, and especially God. My 'head knowledge' has grown, and my 'heart knowledge' has deepened. I am totally humbled by this incredible opportunity that I have been given.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Poignant Quotes

Cross-cultural relationships can be tricky, even difficult, but they can also be some of the most rewarding. It doesn't matter if those relationships are established among different cultures within the U.S., or if they develop as a result of foreign missions experiences in other countries. Any time people of different cultures, ethnicities, family backgrounds (or whatever else may be the basis for the differences) come together, unless there is an effort to get to know, to respect, and to understand each other, conflict will ensue. I do think, however, that if you are traveling to another country for the purpose of mission work, disaster relief, or any other area of service to those in need, especially if you are North American, you have a responsibility to step out of yourself and see things from the perspective of the locals you've come to serve. For many years now, long before I ever moved to Peru to live and work in the foreign mission field, I've been reading everything I can get my hands on about cross-cultural ministry and relations. Not surprisingly, there are threads of similarities, common themes that run throughout the literature, and we, as North Americans in search of ways to serve humanity, would do well to heed the suggestions and warnings made by those who've both walked the path before us, and remained behind to clean up the messes we make, however unintentional those messes may have been. For it is only when we step outside of ourselves that we can truly serve.

I recently read for a second time Duane Elmer's book Cross-Cultural Servanthood, Serving the World in Christlike Humility. I will share the bibliographical information on the book at the end of this blog post, but first I want to share what I think are some of the most poignant points of the book. These statements and passages have now made me uncomfortable twice, causing me to stop, to think, to ponder, to evaluate. If you are involved in cross-cultural ministry, whether in the U.S. or abroad, I hope you, too, will take the time to consider how the following quotes might apply to you. After all, our goal is to propagate the pure Gospel. My personal goal is to do so with as little interference from me as possible.

"Many [locals] said that they valued the [foreign] missionary presence and the love they felt from them. But many said…, 'Missionaries could more effectively minister the gospel of Christ if they did not think they were so superior to us'" (15).

"You can't serve someone you do not understand. If you try to serve people without understanding them, you are more likely to be perceived as a benevolent oppressor" (20).

"We [North Americans] see them with less economic goods, less hygiene, less schooling, less housing, less infrastructure, less spiritual maturity, less knowledge, and less 'toys.' We believe that we can help them. So we set out to tell them how it ought to be done. By that, we mean how we do it in the West. This 'telling' approach…rarely works at all anywhere today. But…people see it for what it is: pride" (92).

"We [think] we don't have to get close to our hosts, even while in their culture…We'd be better off getting on with the task rather than 'wasting time' talking with people and sharing their life experiences…since we already 'know' what they need. We turn others into objects…[In doing so] we create dependent relationships. Others rely on us for goals, direction, resources, nurture and status. Such dependency eventually turns bitter because it daily robs people of their dignity" (94-95).

"Unless we too connect deeply with the people of our host culture, we will neither see nor interpret their situation accurately: their pain, their values, their structures, their social limitations, their dreams…our well-meaning help won't fit their reality. The Christ we show them will be more North American than the true Christ…" (104).

"Witness not grounded in the local cultural realities has historically led to the claim that Christianity is a 'white man's religion' or 'foreigners' religion.' Jesus fits comfortably into all cultures, but we have to learn how to express him in the local context…We must also be careful not to mistake our own cultural values with biblical truth" (109-110).

"God says that truth is available through the Scripture and through creation…That means we may learn about God as we learn about other cultures. He has not revealed all of his knowledge and wisdom to the Western cultures alone or to any one culture. But each culture can make a significant contribution to our understanding about who God is and how he works in this world" (131).

"By choosing to be a servant, we relinquish power, control, and unilateral decision making in favor of listening, learning, and understanding, and emerge with a decision that reflects the wisdom of God and his people" (172).

I love foreign missions. I am in awe of those who serve abroad, giving up country, family, home, and numerous luxuries, whether for only a few years or for a lifetime; I aspire to be like them. I think short-term mission teams are great; they have the capacity to add to the body of Christ, but also to spiritually grow believers in both the host and visiting countries. I think Christians are at their best when they are reaching out to help those in need. Unfortunately, though, we (by 'we' I mean North Americans - gringos, if you will) do assume an air of superiority, most of the time without even realizing that is what we are doing. The attitude may be wholly unintentional, yet it is entirely devastating. I've been guilty of it myself. But (as our friendly highway patrolmen like to say when pulling us over) ignorance is no excuse. If we wish to be true disciples of the Gospel, we must make a conscious effort to leave behind all of our notions of how things 'should' be done, ideas about intelligence being directly related to levels of education, preconceptions about how worship 'ought' to be conducted, and schedules that are inflexible, leaving no room for relaxing and socializing - check these things at the U.S. border; you can pick them up again when you re-enter the country. Additionally, we must let go of the fears that plague us and either keep us from going, or hinder God from working through us, such as: fear of flying, fear of spiritual inadequacy, fear of language barriers, fear of unfamiliar foods, fear of insects, fear of hot/cold weather. If God has called you to go, He will equip you. As more than one friend has told me during this first year of my service in Peru, God does not expect us to be perfect, just faithful.

May we all, like Jesus, have the heart of a servant.

Elmer, Duane. Cross-Cultural Servanthood, Serving the World in Christlike Humility
     Downer's Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press,2006.
ISBN - 10 0-8308-3378-1 or ISBN - 13 978-0-8308-3378-8

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hot Dogs

It used to take a lot to get me excited, but that was before I moved to Peru.

I hate grocery shopping just as much, if not more, here in Iquitos than I did in Spartanburg. At least in the 'Burg I can enjoy one-stop shopping at my friendly neighborhood Super Wal-Mart. In Iquitos, I make my shopping lists (yes, I said lists, plural) according to the market or supermarket where the necessary items can be found. Fresh fruits and vegetables are best purchased in the open-air markets where the vendors sell their locally grown produce. Spices (the American ones I'm familiar with) are located in a specific mini-market, which is the equivalent of a gas station store in size, only with more variety and options. A tienda (small store) inside the Belen Market has the best prices on toilet paper, paper towels, and household cleaning supplies. Super Mercado Piramides is the closest thing to an American grocery store here; it is a larger store with aisles and real grocery carts to push, and is the best place to find ground beef, fish, and chicken (the locals would disagree with me on that, but I am a gringa and I like to buy such things from a nice, refrigerated display case where I don't have to see the remains lying around from the untimely deaths of said animals while flies hover over the "fresh" meat). If I want a modest selection of imported items I go to Los Portales, a smaller version of Piramides.

It was at Los Portales two weeks ago that I spied, for the first time, actual American hot dogs (as opposed to their Peruvian counterparts whose color alone encourages you to say, 'No thanks, I think I'll pass') and real hot dog buns to boot. It was all I could not to start screaming "HOT DOGS!!!" at the top of my lungs, and start running around in circles doing my best impression of Macauley Culkin in Home Alone. I promptly purchased said hot dogs and buns. Later that day I whipped up some chili, chopped up an onion, made sure I wasn't running low on mustard, and had the biggest, messiest hot dog ever. I thought I was in heaven.

Villa is a human guinea pig, or garbage disposal as the case may be. In his words, "Pamelita, you know I can't say no to food, no matter what kind it is." A couple of days ago I bought more hot dogs and buns. Upon seeing the buns on the kitchen counter, Villa inquired as to what they were for. When I explained, he wasted no time letting me know that he wanted to try an American hot dog, so yesterday we had lunch together. Suffice it to say that Villa has fallen in love with yet another gringo institution (all that's left pretty much is apple pie and Chevrolet, because he already likes baseball and we just crossed hot dogs off the list - for those of you who remember the commercial).

Though I can cook, I am not a cook; but I have often heard it said that a cook loves watching people enjoy her meal as much as she likes preparing it. I have to say, it made my heart swell with pride to see Villa eat hot dogs until he nearly made himself sick. So far his list of foreign foods includes tacos (complete with my homemade guacamole which he loves to eat straight out of the bowl with crackers), Italian style pasta salad (thanks to my mom for mailing me packages of pepperoni), and, now, hot dogs. He informed me today that I should search for a new recipe while I am in the U.S. and bring all the necessary ingredients back to Iquitos and make him a new gringo dish when I return. It is a simple thing, but it makes me happy.

Bon app├ętite! Oh wait, that's French. How do you say it in Spanish?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

La Reina y La Princesa

I am currently working on my next soul-searching, thought-provoking blog post, but more than a few of you have asked to see more pictures of the reigning Queen and Princess of El Jardin. I'm happy to report that they are finally beginning to get along, however there are still moments when the Princess aggravates the Queen just a little too much. Overall, though, they seem to like each other these days, except at meal time of course - my girls will still wage all out war over food. Nothing like a little kiss (or is it a bite?) to show some affection. Notice the potted plant in the background. Once upon a time there was taller greenery there before the tiny canine lawnmower decided to destroy it. Of course that doesn't even compare to the tree Ina potted that she planned to transfer to the yard. I liken it to a Charlie Brown Christmas tree as it is now merely a twig with a few leaves remaining on top.

Dolly follows Tamy everywhere, including into the pond for a swim. I couldn't help but laugh when my little mud-covered piglet emerged. The first time was a true Kodak moment - subsequent swims, not so funny, especially when she darted through the kitchen door and ran through the house, leaving a trail of sludge behind her.

Tamy's moment of surrender. Poor girl can't even take a nap without Dolly climbing all over her - or using her as a pillow.
I like to refer to this as "Total Relaxation." When you can roll over onto your back, legs in the air, prop yourself against a tree, and never move despite people laughing and taking pictures of you, then you really don't have a care in the world. Oh to sleep like that - well, not exactly like that (wouldn't be very lady-like)!
If only I had a camera with the ability to take pictures in rapid succession you would be able to see what happened next. After one too many nibbles on the ear with those razor-sharp puppy teeth, the Queen had reached her limit and sent the Princess running to hide behind me, yelping all the way. There's never a dull moment in the kingdom of El Jardin.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hola, Dolly!

I am a new mommy! Before anyone gets too excited, let me say that my infant has four legs, a tail, blonde fur, floppy ears, brown eyes, ferocious breath, and teeth as sharp as razors. This baby cries all night (well, she did the first 3-4 nights), whines when she can't see anyone, chews on whatever is in her path at the moment, and eats/sleeps/goes potty on a fairly regular schedule (not including her in-house accidents). Her name is Dolly and she is my six week old yellow Labrador puppy.

No, nothing happened to Tammy, my 7 year old German Shepherd. She thinks something has happened to her, like she's committed some terrible sin whose resulting punishment is the presence of the new, hyperactive, barking bundle of energy, but she is fine, save a mile-long jealous streak.

We (meaning myself and Todd Garrett - head of Medical Missions of Iquitos) made the decision to get another dog for several reasons. First, Tammy has been the watch dog of the El Jardin property for a long time now and can teach the new puppy what to do. We didn't want to wait until Tammy passed on to doggy heaven, taking all her good guardian secrets with her. Second, the property here is fairly large - two dogs can canvass it better than one. Finally, after a string of break-ins on my block from October to December, what better time could there be to install a new four-legged alarm system? I began my dog search prior to going to the U.S. for the holidays. Thanks to Villa, I was able to get in touch with the man who gave us Tammy, and, as luck would have it, he had recently bred two yellow labs and said the puppies were due to be born around Christmas.

Upon my return to Iquitos a couple of weeks ago, I got a phone call saying my puppy was ready to come to her new home. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening! The last time I had a newborn was about 17 years ago, so to say I had forgotten how much attention puppies require is a gross understatement. After two sleepless nights due to sound barrier breaking wailing and howling, trips outside every couple of hours in order to avoid unwanted clean-ups, and playing referee between the new addition and the current queen of the yard to keep one from literally killing the other, I didn't know whether to cry, scream, take her back to her canine mother, or all of the above. But now, a week later, things have settled down a bit. Tammy and Dolly are getting used to each other (though they definitely are not friends yet), Dolly is sleeping through the night on the screened porch (until she's big enough to join Tammy outdoors), and I have learned the value of grabbing an afternoon power nap (when the baby sleeps, mommy sleeps).

What's in a name? Tammy (pronounced Tommy based on the Spanish pronunciation of the letter 'a') is short for Tamshiyacu. I'm not really sure who named her, but she shares her name with the jungle town that one of our AMF sister churches is partnered with. When Todd and I first began discussing getting another dog for the property, I immediately thought about what I would name her (since I knew I would get another female). Naturally I began with a list of Latino names - and even though I really liked some of them, none really felt right. Then one night I was in the shower with music from my iPod blasting (as is my custom) when an old, well-worn tune had me tapping my foot and shampooing simultaneously. I sang along, loudly (as is also my custom - when there are no guests in the house), the familiar lyrics of Here You Come Again by none other than Dolly Parton, who just happens to be one of Todd's favorite singers (no kidding - who knew she was anybody's favorite?). And so the story goes of how Dolly (the dog) came into her name.

And now, for the moment you've all been waiting for, the pictures. I have tried to get some shots of Dolly and Tammy together, but Tammy will not be still long enough. At this point she allows Dolly about 30 seconds of aggravation time before she jumps up and runs off to hide. Hopefully in the future…

…meanwhile, it's hard to beat unconditional puppy love!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Breath of Heaven

Happy New Year! Well, it's not new anymore, but as this is my first entry of 2010, can you humor me?

Way back in 2009, when Thanksgiving quickly rolled into the month of December, I began to experience my first ever bout with writer's block - a condition which has plagued me for nearly two months. For weeks now I have written and erased repeatedly, stared at a blank screen, and finally, exasperated, turned off the computer hoping for better days. I wouldn't say I'm prolific again yet, but I do have a few thoughts brewing to share with you. Here goes...

While I realize Christmas past is gone and Christmas future is literally eleven months away, I feel the need to revisit my 2009 Advent season to put the proper perspective on my 2010 blog season.

It was mid-December, less than two weeks before Christmas, and I could hardly contain myself as I approached the Plaza de Armas. To my utter delight, the lamp posts that surround the square were elegantly wrapped in white lights, a giant Christmas tree, tastefully decorated in oversized ornaments, stood majestically, shadowing the life-size nativity scene, which could not have been complete without the tribal jungle natives standing guard on either side of the Baby Jesus (next to the Magi of course), while the glass front of the lobby of the El Dorado Five Star Hotel glowed, looking like a picture from the holiday edition of Southern Living magazine. An enormous smile spread across my face and I squealed with excitement, which made my Peruvian friends laugh. The scene was so simple, yet so beautiful. I felt like a little girl again and Christmas was something special - I cannot remember the last time I felt that way.

As you might imagine, Christmas in Peru is quite different from the way we celebrate in the U.S. While U.S. stores are already stocking their Christmas paraphernalia and malls are decking their halls before the last piece of Halloween candy is eaten by a young trick-or-treater (maybe before the first piece is even purchased), you won't find any evidence of the holidays in Iquitos until after December 1, and then you only catch an occasional glimpse - the real decorating doesn't begin until December 15. (I cannot begin to explain how refreshing it was to not be sick of Christmas before Thanksgiving!) Though from time to time you will see images of the white-bearded guy in the big red suit, the myth of Santa Claus is not perpetuated here. The Peruvians, however, do believe each child should get a new toy for Christmas (notice I said toy - singular), and those who are able buy extras and give them to less fortunate friends and neighbors who cannot afford gifts for their kids. In the 2-3 days prior to Christmas, long lines form in every neighborhood and at many churches as adults ladle out steaming hot chocolate into the cups the children bring with them in events known as "chocolatadas." The markets are lined with various brands of "panetton," the fruit bread that is traditionally eaten with the holiday meal at midnight, when Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day (those who can afford it also have another round of hot chocolate). Christmas Eve is a time of reflection, particularly for those who are spiritual; many Christians spend at least part of the day in church. Commerce ceases on Christmas Day and people emerge from their homes to hang out in the streets all day with their neighbors. It is an opportunity to be together; not a time for opening presents or running themselves ragged with a hectic schedule of meals and travel, but a time to really enjoy family and friends.

That's it. If you're like me, you're surprised by the simplicity of it all. The pace is slow (not unlike the rest of the year); there is no holiday rush. Certainly I was anxious to get back to the U.S. to be with my family and friends on Christmas, but I am glad I opted to remain in Iquitos until December 23, to experience Advent in a new, refreshing way.

This year (oops, last year) I found myself listening to one particular song over and over again, haunted by the melody while pondering its words. It is written from the perspective of the Virgin Mary as she contemplates her magnanimous role in God's ultimate plan of salvation. It occurred to me that this is not just Mary's story, but the tale of every one of us who claim to be believers. We, too, carry Jesus inside us; we have an awesome responsibility to take Him into a lost and dying world. It is a daunting task to say the least, and I (like Mary) question God's wisdom, even His sanity, when He chose me to bear witness to Him, knowing how often and how completely I would mess up. In the midst of her fear and loneliness, Mary realizes that her own strength won't get her very far. Consider the words of the song penned by Amy Grant:

I have traveled many moonless nights; cold and weary, with a babe inside.
And I wonder what I've done-
Holy Father, you have come and chosen me now, to carry your son.

I am waiting in a silent prayer; I am frightened by the load I bear.
In a world as cold as stone, must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now...
Be with me now…

Breath of heaven, hold me together; be forever near me, breath of heaven.
Breath of heaven, light in my darkness, pour over me your holiness, for you are holy,
Breath of heaven.

Do you wonder, as you watch my face, if a wiser one should have had my place? But I offer all I am for the mercy of your plan; help me be strong...
Help me be...
Help me…

Breath of heaven, hold me together; be forever near me, breath of heaven.
Breath of heaven, light in my darkness, pour over me your holiness, for you are holy,
Breath of heaven.

"Be with me now…, help me…, pour over me your holiness…" - simple words; a profound prayer. As the first month of 2010 is already drawing to a close, and as I get back into my Peruvian routine, recovering from a very hectic month of traveling, meetings, and fundraising, I want , no, I desperately need, the breath of heaven.

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