We recently had our annual retreat with missionaries from Lima and Cuzco. It is astounding to think that, for some of us, this was our final gathering as missionaries in Peru. We call it the Peruvian Missions Summit (the acronym for which will tell you something about our sense of humor). Five years ago, two green teams got together with a packed schedule of activities facilitated by visiting experts. We played a bit, but it wasn’t about relaxing. We were eager and fresh. We had not yet come through culture shock. We hadn’t formed any enduring relationships with Peruvians. We had no good stories.
Four years later, disciples are baptized, churches are meeting, teams are reconfigured, unimagined ministries are underway, imagined ministries are dead and gone, and we have a story or two to tell. We also have a boatload of kids and no hope of concentrating on anything scheduled at a retreat. So we took the time just to be together, to snatch conversations when we could and swap war stories. Or fishing stories. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. We sang a bit and ate a lot. And when the kids were in bed we stayed up late to tell jokes and commiserate about expat life in Peru.
In those scattered moments, something happened for the first time since we started meeting each year—something that could only happen with time, highlighted by the nearing departure of fellow workers. We discovered a bond that had slowly formed, and just sharing that bond was as encouraging as anything could be. It is the bond of having lived in solidarity with Peruvians as God’s mission unfolded among them. Not of having achieved something or been something, but of having struggled alongside Peruvians. It reminds me of trekking up the Rockies with the church youth group. That shared hike, even for just a few days, created a strange, intense mutual understanding. Much more so these shared years in cross-cultural Peruvian ministry.
On the final night of the retreat, the conversation took a serious turn. We reflected on the poverty, corruption, and evil that plague the country and the seemingly minuscule difference our combined efforts are making. I could see we were indeed standing on a summit, surveying the peaks and valleys surrounding us. Then someone asked: so what do we do? Of course, we haven’t found the answer in a few years’ time; if anything, we have learned that we don’t have the answer. It is humbling to see so many mountains yet to climb. Yet, it is a question asked in hope, because it looks toward the continued unfolding of God’s purpose in Peru. Amidst our faltering attempts to say something about the way forward, there was a clear resolution: that the struggle will go on, that Peruvians and foreigners alike will keep walking together through the next valley, up to the next peak. I’m thankful for those who have come before. I bless those who stay and those who will come. I pray that the Spirit and the church will keep sending them to journey in solidarity with Peruvian kingdom-seekers.