No one ever says a paper airplane is beautiful. It just doesn’t happen. They can be fun. They can be folded well and fly amazingly, but they’re not beautiful, per se.
For some reason, things that are easy aren’t usually considered works of art, things of beauty.
Beauty takes time, effort, even some pain or tears. Beauty is found through investment, in pursuing a goal past its challenges.
After over 6 years of investment in Arequipa, Peru, I can attest to this truth. I see beauty all around us. The family of faith, young though it may be, is beautiful. Their love is real, their desire to know and follow Jesus better is true, and we are better for having their unique qualities and experiences in our midst. Things have not occurred easily over the years, which is precisely why each success is so valuable, and even the struggles provide a chance for deep learning.
Life in a foreign country is beautiful. It takes perseverance and intention to see differences as opportunities. It takes every ounce of brainpower you have to learn the most basic words and try to build meaningful relationships with them. The normal, familiar rhythms that usually provide relief are nowhere to be found, for a long time. And when it all clicks, it is beautiful, precisely because it is probably the first time that finding “home” is a hard-won victory. Add in an evening of laughing around a table in your new language and you feel like your heart might burst.
Having a team is the same. Over the years, we have experienced the highs and lows of working closely with other individuals. As in a family, the variety in voices and opinions is both an asset and a challenge. Sometimes you need the difference in strengths to fill in gaps, but sometimes you find yourselves in different positions and needing to find common ground. Learning when to speak up and when to honor the conviction of others has been a significant growing experience, for which I am thankful.
But even more than that, it has been an honor and a joy to be part of this fantastic mission team, from when it was just us and the McKinzies, to our “maxed out” team of 7 families and a pile of kids, through this period of gradually shrinking back one family at a time to the four that will remain.
For our last meeting, we got together for breakfast and shared waffles. I looked around me as we talked and laughed, passing the fruit or helping each other’s kids pour their syrup. Chase came around to refill coffees and Jeremy washed dishes while Briana kept pumping out waffles. After everyone had eaten, we shifted gears and covered some business, shared our hearts, prayed for our community. We are now interwoven, with different beginnings but slipping in and out of each other’s lives for so long that it felt completely right to spend hours together covering all the things that make up our reality—family, food, work, joy and sadness, past and future. We are each other’s safe place here, especially when the country has yet to (or will soon be unable to) fulfill that need in us.
I was struck by how unusual this kind of relationship is, especially between several families. It just doesn’t happen in other circumstances as easily. Yes, we have a group of friends, or good coworkers or a church committee. But for all of those to be encompassed by one circle of people is unique and very special. I will deeply miss being on a team in this way, having this level of trust and commitment to a shared vision.
As we leave our post with them, I know that we have no idea where God will take the team that remains in the years to come. We came almost 7 years ago and built something new from scratch. We have been leaders because there were no others, but their experience will be vastly different simply because they join a church network that is already growing. Their task isn’t about taking root, but nurturing strength and growth. They have come as coworkers, deferring to the Peruvian leaders who have worked with us for so long. They have come to fill in the gaps in what we could do with our skills and manpower, and have already branched out with new relationships and more ministry opportunities. Their years here will continue to build on the existing foundation and we are excited to see what is to come through their work. They are amazing.
All in all, it is a good time to leave it in the hands of others, both Peruvian and U.S. American. It has been beautiful for us, and now it is their turn. We will miss it.