February 2012

Rainy Season

I grew up in East Texas, which means I was no stranger to a good thunderstorm.  It rained anytime in the year, and the streets might be freely flowing with water, and that was just another regular day in which everyone went about their regular activities and the water drained away.  

Then I went to Abilene Christian University, where it rained less, though still at times throughout the year.  When we had a good downpour, parts of the city would flood, so you would be redirected from using full underpasses or you might have to slow down on some streets to slosh your way through.  I remember one day slogging my way back to the dorm through a veritable lake in the parking lot on campus.  Daily life didn’t really change with rain, but it was more problematic to deal with and might affect optional activities.

Moving on to Arequipa, Peru.  We now have a true rainy season, as in it only rains around the summer months, mostly in January and February.  The rest of the year is dry and sunny almost every day.  When it does rain here, it is what we would call a shower rather than a storm, as there is very rarely thunder or lightning.  However, it causes major problems throughout the city.  

When it comes to a family home, the main issue is construction.  Homes here are built with additions in mind, which means the roofs are flat and left with rebar and partial frames to add another floor.  However, this also means that water will likely collect there and seep through the ceiling into the home.  Leaks are extremely common, leaving residents cleaning up water, rearranging their homes to avoid damage, and even being on the roof in the rain, sweeping away the excess.  

On a broad scale, the city is not designed to drain water, which means the streets flood and drainage gets backed up.  Basically, the sewers fill up with rainwater instead of household drainage, and some of the overflow comes out on the streets or even in homes.  This means that the city will turn off our water, either to repair breaks or simply to prevent residents from adding to the already burdened sewage system and allow it to settle back to a more normal level.  Thus, ironically, when the city and our homes are inundated with water, we have to deal with a lack of it as well.  

Electricity is also affected, as Arequipa depends on hydroelectric power.  The plant uses screens to prevent any debris from clogging up the system.  Thus, when the waterways are overrun and washing away even more trash, the city must turn off the system to clear the screens and resume generating energy.  Blackouts are most common, but there is also the occasional brownout (when electricity levels are lowered, so that lights in the home will turn on but remain dim, and most appliances will not turn on at all) to ration the reduced amount of electricity available.  

Streets are another question.  Some flood and are literally rivers for half the day.  Others are damaged and full of potholes, which is serious because the city has so many small taxis that must navigate these with extreme caution, slowing down traffic in many parts of the city.  The city works to make repairs quickly on clear days, but they often don’t last long once the rain starts up again.  One main street that runs alongside the river has a chunk washed away due to the force of the waterflow in that area right now.  The flow of traffic is either slowed down or redirected altogether.  This year, the city reported that 60% of the roads have been damaged, and some bus lines chose to stop running altogether for a couple of weeks rather than risk their routes.  

Beyond all these infrastructural issues, the individual is affected.  The majority of the people here take buses, which means walking to the appropriate street corner and awaiting the correct line, if it even runs.  They might have to walk through water several inches deep.  Passing cars splash through the streets and may soak pedestrians.  This often means that someone will only venture out for necessary things such as school or a job, and avoid optional outings.  Clothes dryers are a rarity, with most people line drying laundry on their roofs.  Thus, getting soaked to the bone means you are delayed in getting dry.  And when there are days with no water and clothes must dry slowly in the house, if at all, many are unmotivated to take any step out the door that is not required of them.

We are blessed by having a fairly dry home and ease in transportation, whether in a cab or a personal car. I still enjoy the rain.  But my Arequipan friends and neighbors do not share my view, and probably never will.  They just see how it makes life hard.

Café Connection

Café Connection is (finally) open for business!  After delays by the carpenter, electrician, plumber, painter and the rain we were able to open our doors on Feb 17.  A few days later we invited friends and contacts to the cafe so they could see the place and try the different drinks and baked goods.  We are very excited about the opportunities this new business presents us with.  Not only do all profits go towards expanding our development work but we now have a solid base of operations for reaching out to the college students just down the road.  We are confident that God will use this location and ask that you pray that He do just that.  Here are some pictures so you can get to know the place, that is until you are able to come in person.


This past week, in a Bible study with a searching friend, we finished the time of Jesus's ministry in Mark 10.  We have read the multiple stories of Jesus revealing himself as Lord over demons, disease, nature, and death.  Sometimes Jesus asks the person with faith to not tell anyone what he has done for them.  Sometimes, he instructs them to go back home and tell everyone what has been done.  One of my favorites stories, the story of the demon-possessed man in Mark 5, is an incredible example of this:

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.  Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.  So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him.  And all the people were amazed." (Mark 5:19-20)

Wouldn't you have loved to hear his story?  I cannot imagine.  It is no wonder to me that the word used to describe the people's reaction was "amazed."

This past week, we had some really good conversation.  Chapter 10 opens with the Pharisees trying to catch Jesus with a divorce question.  From that encounter, Mark jumps to the little children and Jesus.  But then comes a story that to me is the fireworks of Jesus's gospel message: the story of the rich young ruler.  Take a few minutes and read it again to refresh your mind…

I asked my friend, "Was this young man good or bad?"  The obvious answer is good.  Jesus lists the commandments and the young man states that he has kept all of them since he was a little boy.  Also, what exactly was the young man asking?  Here he has come to Jesus.  He calls him "Good teacher."  Throughout the study we have been answering the question Mark constantly throws in our face, "Who Is Jesus?"  This man has obviously heard about Jesus and the good things he has done.  I don't think that he truly knows who he is after reading the outcome of the story, but he thinks that Jesus may know the answer to a question that many people still ask today, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"  I think it is interesting that Jesus lists off the commandments as if the young man is tallying all of them in his head.  How many want a check-list?  Isn't it easier for Jesus to just tell us what to do so we can check it off of our list?  The young man thinks he is covered.  He has been a good person keeping the commandments since he was a little boy.  But no.  That is not where Jesus stops.  Jesus DOES tell him what to do.  "One thing you lack.  Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me."  We all know how the story ends.

So my friend and I talked.  We discussed what exactly went on in this story.  Now, I think that there is an entire sermon series on Jesus commanding us (not asking) to take care of the poor.  Jesus does not tell the man to simply get rid of his possessions.  He tells him to sell his possessions AND give to the poor.  I think it is very important to emphasize that point.  But to stress something else in this story, I want to ask, "What do you want from Jesus?  What are you taking away from Christianity?  Have you followed the commands?  Do you believe in the 'Good Teacher'?  Have you secured your place in eternal life?"  I believe that many can list off the things they have done to make sure they can answer that question with an affirmative.  But "Have you been saved" is NOT the gospel message of Jesus.

Jesus asks the man to do one thing.  The thing that has been keeping this man from truly doing what God has been professing throughout the Old Testament and through the message of the Christ.  And after he has done that one thing, he is told to do what?  Follow.  Following Jesus is the theme that runs throughout the entire book of Mark.  It begins with those fishermen that left their nets and happens to so many people touched by Jesus throughout his journey.  The man goes away sad, and Jesus has one of his most incredible "teachable moments" with his disciples.  They talk about the rich and how hard it will be for them to enter the Kingdom, but something clicks with Peter:

"Then Peter spoke up, "We have left everything to follow you."  "Truly I tell you," Jesus replied.  "no one who has left home or brothers and sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields--along with persecutions--and in the age to come eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Mark 10:28-31)

What a promise!  Accepting the message of Jesus is not checking things off a list.  Accepting the message of Jesus is not simply believing in a "Good Teacher."  Accepting the message of Jesus is believing in him and choosing to follow him whatever the cost.  Many believe.  Few follow.  Following is not easy.  Even in Jesus's encouragement of "a hundred times as much," he inserts "along with persecutions."  He makes it loud and clear that he understands the cost, he will reward you for what you give up, but it is not an easy journey.

But Mark does not stop with this story. Chapter 10 ends with another blind man that Jesus heals. Unlike the blind man in Chapter 8, he immediately restores sight to this man. Everything is becoming more and more clear to the disciples. (God is a literary genius.) So at this point, my friend speaks up and says something that tells me she has been paying close attention. "Megan," she starts, "Jesus doesn't tell him to go away or go tell people back home. It says, 'Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.' " My heart couldn't have been happier at that moment. Mark was emphasizing the point that a person who truly knows Jesus will want to FOLLOW him. That, my friends, is the gospel message of Jesus. Whatever the cost.

Part 5: Dependency

My in-laws recently visited.  My father-in-law, Steve, has the interesting role of being both parent and elder in our situation.  Just before flying back to the US, Steve was sitting at our “dining room” table, fielding translated questions from the Peruvian church members and visitors.  One of the church members, who has spent most of his life in traditional Church of Christ settings but has come to appreciate our style, asked how many members Cedar Lane has.  “Close to five hundred,” Steve replied.  “And do you meet in homes like we do?” continued the brother.  “We have a large building where we all meet on Sunday morning, but we meet in small groups on Sunday evenings,” explained Steve.  “So how does it affect you to meet with us in a home and share a meal as we do here,” asked the brother.  He is still sorting through what this church model means and how others, such as a church elder, might feel about our strange “new” way of assembling on Sunday.