Our strategy contains a period of time devoted to felt-needs research, in order to let Arequipeños tell us what would best serve them. Based on this data, we plan to formulate an initial developmental program that attempts to meet one of those needs in a sustainable way. This means that we have to learn how to do legitimate urban research, which has its own learning curve. All in all, we have a very slow ramp up to a large-scale, labor-intensive project before we ever get to the actual first developmental project, which we will also have to learn to do as we go.
In other words, we are out of our depth. That’s good for learning patience, faith, and humility, but it’s not great where tangible, encouraging results are concerned.
Nonetheless, we buckled down and prayed for guidance. If you’ve been reading the newsletters, then you’ve had the chance to follow along as God has answered that prayer. The result turned out to be a relationship with the potential to make a tremendous difference: Alfredo (of Peace Corps fame). Just in time for our scheduled strategy review and revision, Alfredo made an offer we couldn’t refuse.
An important reason for starting with research is the fact that we don’t presume to have any good ideas without input from Peruvians. Alfredo, on the other hand, has been harboring good ideas, waiting for the opportunity to make them reality. His experience with the Peace Corps and his native insight speak for themselves. The short of it is that the Peace Corps is phasing out its southern Peru projects, including Alfredo’s job as the director of said projects. He is getting married next month and plans to stay in Arequipa rather than accept a position training new recruits in Lima, but he still wants to serve the poor in Arequipa.
Knowing that we were going to being doing similar projects anyway, he asked if he could pitch us some ideas—no strings attached. He just wanted to help if it meant something would get done. So we ate supper with him and his fiance, and he shared his ideas over coffee and dessert. One of them in particular resonated with us, and, after conferring as a team, we offered to contract Alfredo as a development consultant.
So, our strategy has officially changed. The Peruvian government has an initiative that “loans” a set of books to communities willing to provide space and take responsibility for keeping up with them. Literacy is very low in poorer communities, so in conjunction with the government’s books and the community’s investment of facilities and ownership, we will structure various age-appropriate programs to foster literacy. Undoubtedly, reading the Bible will be one of those.
The best part is that this approach will strengthen our strategy in more than one way. Not only do we get to engage in a collaborative project that meets a fundamental need, it will also give us a basis to conduct our research. One problem we have come to recognize is that people in the communities we would research are relatively closed to outsiders, perhaps especially those that come with questions. There are ways to get inside—that is one place Alfredo is invaluable—but in all likelihood conducting our research without first gaining trust would have led to a number of statistically significant errors. On the basis of trust earned through the literacy program, we will be able to gain a much better understanding of the community.
I’ll leave you with a couple of important points. One, Alfredo is not a Christian. We hope that learning will be mutual between us, so that his young family will come to know Christ. Pray diligently for this. Two, the process for getting this first project off the ground isn’t just a snap. Very soon we will be approaching the leadership of certain communities about the possibility of starting the little library. We will keep you informed, but in the mean time pray for open doors. I think we can imagine the difference it can make in every aspect of the life to be able to read and comprehend.