The teamAREQUIPA field workers have been here for a year! We have been blessed, and we have so many of you to thank for your prayers and support. We serve a faithful God. He has been good to us. For this publication we decided to each write a reflection on the last year. Enjoy the read. We look forward to many years to come!
There will undoubtably be many milestones along our journey as missionaries in Peru. I can imagine some of these milestones: the first loan being repaid in full, the first convert, the first time a house church reproduces, our renewal at five years. These are just a few of the big events awaiting us here in Arequipa. Having recently completed one year in the field, I would add that accomplishment to any list of achievements I might eventually make.
It is possible that lasting a year does not seem like a large accomplishment to you, and that is o.k. As much as we try to convey to our family and friends all that living here entails, there is only so much that can be passed on with words and stories. The experiences we have had this past year confirm to us that, in some ways, we are lucky to have made it to this point. September 1st we took some time to reflect, as a team, on the first year. We talked about all of the great successes we have had acclimating to Peru, in making new friends and contacts for future studies, and in beginning our developmental work. We also reflected on our failures. We have had frustrating moments where Peruvian culture has rattled our nerves and our tempers have gotten the best of us. Our foray into development work has had its ups and downs as well. One day we’ll have a well attended function at the library and then no one will show for days in a row. As a team we have functioned well together. Our friendships remain strong, and we are thankful for each other, but at times we haven’t helped each other in the ways needed. It has been quite a year.
As important as looking back at what has happened is, I find myself focusing more on the future. Our second year in Arequipa holds a lot of promise. The library is gaining traction in the community, the number of bible studies is increasing, and new opportunities are presenting themselves…and these are the things we know about. After seeing God open doors for us in unexpected ways this past year, I have to believe that there are plenty of things to come that I have no way of predicting. All I can do, all we can do, is move forward looking for ways to be used here.
In looking forward, I’ve been trying to identify the areas I have been lagging in so that I can improve. For instance, I can hold a conversation in Spanish but have been holding myself back in ways that need to stop. It has been easy to hold back because Greg is not only fluent in the language but also a gifted teacher. Those aren’t good reasons though. In the coming weeks we, Larissa and I, hope to engage our friends and neighbors in a more purposeful way that I think will lead to us studying with them, and it will be my turn to step up. Another thing that I am looking forward to is our work with El Naranjal. We have an opportunity to enter a community as friends and literally help them build from the ground up. Chances for work, both physical and spiritual, will be abundant if we accept the challenge.
At the end of year two, I hope our team can look back and see clearly God’s hand in our work. More people studying and encountering God and more lives being affected for good through our development projects. I also hope that we all feel just as strongly that God is working in Arequipa and that we have a part in that work.
I want us to still feel comfortable in a foreign country and with a language and culture that we will, undoubtedly, still be learning. These hopes may seem really huge, but after this year, the odds are that I’m still not dreaming big enough.
On the first anniversary of our arrival in a foreign mission field, it strikes me that my family’s life has been about the regular business of living. Certainly, there have been changes. Those don’t even need listing. But the fact is that there is no real difference between life here and life there. There is nothing grand or extraordinary about our circumstances.
Here or there, we who believe live in God’s Kingdom, where life is full of significance. Even day-to-day life. Maybe especially day-to-day life. To add up the spectacular moments of our first year in Arequipa doesn’t do it justice. They are too few in the first place. More importantly, they are not what is really significant about our life here. They are signs of what is really significant, but they are not the measure. Instead, we find that here, just as where you are, life is about what God is doing.
Undoubtedly, God works out his will at different times in different places, but you take my point. I don’t find our year worth writing about because we live in special circumstances. No, this is merely the place we live the life God has given us. In fact, I have come to see that the significance of our days in Arequipa is not found in the foreignness of our home or in its status as “mission field.” It is found in the life we live. A life of purpose. A life of peace. Fullness of life. Though the regular business of living is easily coated with a facade of mundanity, our testimony lies in the day-to-day, where we live out the reality of life in Christ.
There will be great moments. There must be when our God is involved. But I believe the true significance of our presence here is that we live in the presence of God. He is faithful. He is powerful to save. He is lovingkindness. Because it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us, we see the transformation of the world wrought in the moments of every day, when other eyes might not capture the significance of God with us. We are witnesses to true life. And we are witnesses to you that God is fulfilling his purposes for the people around us.
What a ride!
About six months ago, as we made a big transition to our target neighborhoods, I likened the experience to a roller coaster just about to crest that first big hill, after which there was no way to tell where we would be headed or how fast. That has turned out to be true. We are now past our one year mark, and it has been a full one. On one hand, it feels like forever ago that we lived in the United States, driving our own cars with the kiddos happily in car seats, only speaking English, hitting whichever grocery store we preferred, and just used to the way things went every day. On the other hand, it is hard to believe that we have actually been here in Arequipa for over a year and that life feels pretty much normal.
Looking back, it was a hard year. I don’t think I realized how hard it was when I was actually living it, but I now realize just how many ups and downs and twists and turns and hard stops we have experienced in these months. The first stage was especially difficult for me since I knew almost no Spanish, so every little thing I needed to accomplish required a lot of mental energy. It was exhausting but exhilarating at the same time as I experienced small victories and found my sea legs. Then the holidays arrived, which were again simultaneously hard as we were unable to be with family, but fun as we took a shot at figuring out how to reproduce as much as we could. The new year brought the joy of our first visitors and the heart-wrenching pain of our miscarried baby. We clung together and recovered, though more slowly than I thought at the time. Then more visitors to enjoy at the same time as we fought to find a place to live in our intended area.
Finally, we made our way into a home and figured out how to settle in, but that meant rearranging much of the rhythm we had grown accustomed to in our previous neighborhood. Plus, before long we were welcoming our summer guests, our intern, the research group, and our newest little team member. The summer months disappeared in the whirlwind of those visits, plus the kick-off of the community library. Since then, we have had full schedules of library activities, Bible studies, language tutoring, and fitting in the daily life stuff that takes more time here.
It seems too cliche to say “We laughed. We cried,” but that may be the most accurate summary of the year. We did laugh. We did cry. We laughed instead of crying. We have fumed at some cultural realities. We bore through visa processes (or lack thereof). We made mistakes. We learned plenty. We spoke up...in Spanish. We got it wrong sometimes. We grew. We prayed. We tried new things. We got frustrated. We made some really great friends. We learned to truly appreciate each other and our kids.
At the end of all that, I can say we are at a place of peace right now. Everything is not going perfectly. We struggle with how to do some things better or with being aware of what we should be doing that we aren’t yet. I still can’t communicate fully. But all of those things have found their balance in the recognition that we made it this far. It was a hard year, but we are okay. There have been too many things that went smoothly despite our lack of ability to make them do so. We have seen God’s hand throughout this year as He provided people, opportunities, information or the time we needed…just when we needed it. We made it through a year, having been stretched and strengthened and hurt and restored.
As we begin the second year, there is still plenty that we don’t know. But since that was the case a year ago, and we are just fine now, that doesn’t scare me this time around either. I anticipate another roller coaster year, and a few of those sudden turns may not feel good, but I trust that God will again take our best efforts and do something good through our life here.
My word. I cannot believe it has been an entire year since we moved here. There are so many things I could reflect on. What in the world will I write for you to read in a short article? Let’s see…
One way that I like to look back on things is to read my blog entries and prayer journal entries from the past year. I love that a post that I wrote at 2.5 months of living here reads, “I can’t wait to read this one year from now.” Well, it has been a year. So much has happened.
Living here in Arequipa has been part of our plan since the beginning of my relationship to Greg. It is a surreal feeling that we have now been living this dream for over a year now. Before coming here I had so many questions: What will our home look like? How will I make friends and what will they be like? Who will be the first person to study the Bible with us? What will “developmental work” look like for us? How will I be with the language? What will it be like to have a baby in Peru? and the questions go on. I wish you could come to my house and sit with me over a cup of coffee. I could talk your ears off for hours answering all of these questions and more. This article can’t be that long though.
Besides all of the cool things I have learned about this new culture that are fun and frustrating to share, I can’t help but see God’s faithfulness to us in this past year. On a personal level, I can’t help but see how he has affirmed me for being a part of his story here in Peru. I have had difficult moments and experienced some paradigm shifts. I have cried many tears from feeling lonely or feeling very inadequate, but at this one year point I am grateful to be here in Peru with my family.
I am a mother of two now. Things are a little different. It is much harder to participate in the work, practice Spanish, and build relationships while an infant and 2-year-old (that is potty-training) occupy most of my energy. I have learned that this is okay and that taking care of my family is the most important part of my ministry here. I have to check my attitude many times throughout the week, but God has a way of lifting us up and encouraging us. I would like to share a couple of things that God has used to encourage me for taking part in this ministry:
We have been meeting with a group of Christians on Wednesday nights for about 5 months now. Throughout these months, not only have I been able to listen to a Bible study in Spanish and practice conversing with Peruvians, I have observed and learned many important lessons regarding Peruvian hospitality. I know what foods are appropriate to serve, how to serve it, and what to expect from guests. I had no idea how helpful this would be to me until we started hosting a Bible study in our home on Saturday nights. I have been a very confident hostess. I am sure that there are many things for me to learn, but while Greg prepares the lesson and study, I am able to do my part of the ministry—which is to be the best hostess I can be. I never expected God to teach me these lessons, but he did.
I loved my job as a teacher. I feel like God has given me a gift set to teach in a classroom to children, and I love to do it. Just lately, it occurred to me that I might not be able to participate in all of the activities at the library, but I could help with curriculum planning. We have a children’s event planned for every other Friday at the library. The guys were having trouble coming up with ideas for this age group, and I just so happened to earn my masters in Curriculum and Development before moving here. I planned a lesson for the first time—something I love to do. Not only will we use these lessons for the kid’s Fridays, but we are having school groups come in everyday starting next week, and the lessons will be used for them as well. I thought that I had sacrificed something I really loved and enjoyed to come and do the work here. It looks like God was preparing me to do something that I love right here in Arequipa. He is so good to me.
My language learning is coming along slowly, much slower than my other teammates it feels. This has caused most of my feelings of inadequacy (as you can imagine). But God has given me little things along the way this past year to help me to be a part of his Kingdom building. It is hard to believe what all has happened. It seemed to go by very quickly. I am so curious what will happen in the year to come. Thanks to God who is faithful to us and who uses us despite our inadequacies. If I could ask you for one thing, I would ask that you pray for us in our relationships we have begun here. Pray for us as we take these relationships to the next step and try our best to live out the call of Christ here in Arequipa.