January 2012

New Life

As you probably know, just before Christmas, our family welcomed our third daughter. Needless to say, I have all things baby related on the brain. Plus, now that I’ve birthed more children in this country than I did in the states, I figured it is as good a time as any to talk about how one enters the world...in Arequipa, Peru.

For starters, I know many are surprised by our decision to use the medical care available here rather than return to the states to birth our children. The reality is that our experiences, while less cushy than with our firstborn, are sufficiently modern to avoid real concerns that a situation might arise beyond the capabilities of my doctor. I even had an ultrasound at every single prenatal appointment, as that is her preferred method to do a checkup on the growing baby. The hospital isn’t fancy, but it is nice enough, and much nicer than most of the people around here can afford, so we count our blessings on that front.

For the most part, it’s all the same. The few differences include that the epidural is administered by doses rather than with a pump, so I had to request additional doping when I started feeling the contractions more strongly and that labor mostly takes place in the patient’s room until she needs to be moved to a delivery room, then she returns for recovery in her room again. Also, I was assigned an obstetrician that was basically my own personal nurse through the whole process. We had the same woman both times and enjoyed chatting with her. Her job was to track my progress, report to the doctor, and assist as needed. Really, besides it all happening in Spanish, nothing else varies all that much.

The main thing that our family chose to still do differently than Peruvians has to do with the new baby. We learned through the experience of others that we would have to state our intentions beforehand in regard to the newborn. The typical approach around here is that the baby is whisked out of the delivery room to the nursery, where she is cleaned, clothed, bundled up and laid in bed with hot water bottles. They are very concerned about temperature regulation. This is more important than the baby’s need to nurse, so they keep the baby as long as they need to, giving formula by bottle feeding. The mothers don’t mind, because they take advantage of their recovery time in the hospital to catch up on sleep before going home. If the mother requests to have the baby to nurse, they will bring her, but mostly the nursery keeps the baby and the mom rests.

I requested a different approach with both of our Peru babies. I visited the pediatrician to ask that the baby not be given any formula, be brought to me as soon as possible and that I keep her in the room with me. He had some interesting comments on whether that was really healthy for the baby, but in the end, agreed to let me try it. The amusing twist was that my doctor, upon realizing we were caring for the baby ourselves in our room, sent me home almost immediately. “If you’re already taking care of her” she said, “you might as well be at home.” So, both times we have taken home a less-than-one-day-old baby. This time around, she knew to expect it and came in to visit me the next morning, greeting us with “I know you do things differently, so do you want to go home already?” Considering I had also gotten up to walk around just as soon as my anesthesia wore off, the answer was yes, that we were ready to go home and have all our girls together.

Now navigating life with a 5 year old (which is the new preteen, I think), a 2 year old (not terrible yet...here’s hoping) and a newborn—that’s crossing into a new culture!

CUDA News: January

For the past few years now one of my primary jobs has been overhauling and then managing CUDA’s micro-finance operations. This sounds really complex, and it probably should be, but for now I’ve kept things simple. Thanks to Greg (research, creativity), Paty (Peruvian connections, business training), and a lot of trial and error we’ve managed to make 31 loans to 29 different Peruvian entrepreneurs. What started out as a useful division of labor has turned in to one of my favorite jobs here in Peru. It has been challenging and frustrating, rewarding and surprising. As I begin the process of searching for a new group (or two) part of me cringes at the time and number of cell phone calls I’ll need to invest to get the groups formed and approved, but a larger part of me is excited and eagerly awaiting the new relationships that will be formed - and that is the most surprising part of our micro-loan program, the relationships.

Going into this project we knew that it would afford us opportunities to meet a lot of new people and make new friends. The potential was there for bible study and converts, but first and foremost we knew that opportunities to bless borrower’s lives (with more than just a loan) would present themselves. I have been blown away by what has happened. Put simply, God has worked. Oh we haven’t had an in-depth bible study with every person or baptized 20% of our borrowers,but we have encountered people struggling to make ends meet, searching for a way to pick themselves and their family up just a little bit, looking for help. On the surface these people, our friends, look like any ordinary person with a business—busy with but a few minutes to spare, if you can find them. Once the loan has been made and regular contact established (via weekly borrower meetings) we discover an incredible amount of openness.

The openness is expressed in numerous ways. Mothers start sharing about their families, both the good and the bad. Group time becomes prayer time as daughters-in-law process the deaths of their mothers-in-law. What starts out as a simple “share about your week” session turns into an hour long discussion on death, heaven, and whether or not we really will have our own mansions in the great by-and-by. A difficult week for a group member turns into a brainstorming session on ways they can improve their business in the coming days. The rainy season and vacationers are blamed for a drop in sales. An upcoming surgery is prayed over. A borderline abusive relationship is counseled against. To summarize, life is shared.

And it is this, life being shared, which sums up our reason for having a micro-loan program. We know it is unconventional. We also know it might not result in overflowing church meetings. What we do know is that it results in relationships being formed and life being shared and in those moments God works. Through this program we’ve been led to a group of Christians needing connection to the family at large and been able to study with a few individuals. We’ve been able to be present and let God work through us to bless the lives of Peruvians. And that is why we are here in the first place.

Chapter by Chapter

What an exciting January!  We have so much going on, and to be honest, I don't see it slowing down anytime soon.  First, this September marks the beginning of our final year in the contract.  Please be in prayer with us over the future of the work here and our families.  Also, both families will be traveling to the states for furlough.  The Smiths leave in early March and my family will leave in mid-August.  We are excited to see our supporters and hug on some people we haven't seen in quite a while.

CUDA seems to have started rolling, and it isn't slowing down.  I am elated that Alfredo Oporto, our brother in Christ and the first person we met in Arequipa, has taken the reigns of executive director.  Kyle, Larissa, Greg, and I are all volunteers now.  I attended my first library meeting early this month to discuss the future of the program.  I was an expert volunteer called in to help with curriculum development for the reading literacy program.  I cannot express how wonderful it is to see the Peruvians take charge of something that we began 3 years ago.  Sustainability has always been our dream for this work, and putting Peruvians in charge is the first major step to making it a reality.

We are planning a team day retreat.  We have a long strategy document listing the goals and dreams we had for this work year-by-year.  The elderships all signed on to it, and as a team, we are revisiting the document to pray and dream further about where we are and what the future holds.  We can plan all we want, but his ways being higher than our ways becomes quite clear when you can look back over four years of the ministry.

This month has also been a month of good-byes.  Anna and Sakari, the Finnish couple that worked with CUDA for 4 months, left on the 21st.  One of our friends that was associated with the mine here left on the 24th (we had a ladies Bible study group in English that she was part of).  And, Rachel Steele is preparing to leave on February 15.  Her two year commitment has come to an end.  So, though sad to say these good-byes, it is a reminder to me that God's story is full of new chapters, and we learn to go with it.

Part 4: An Example - The Offering

I grew up with five acts of worship: praying, singing, preaching, Lord's supper, and offering.  These were taught to be the defining traits of the true local church.  A little searching online will quickly indicate the extent to which many Churches of Christ still promote this ecclesiology, as well as how contested it is by others.  The goal here is not to deal will all the dimensions of that dispute but to look at one of these "must-do" practices a little more closely from the Arequipa context.  

Just for Kids

Have you ever tried something new, that you either had interest in or your parents encouraged you to try? When I was a little girl, my parents encouraged me to play softball, partly because my sister was already playing and partly I suppose because they wanted me to participate in something that involved teamwork. Needless to say, I was a terrible softball player. I lacked the focus to pay attention to what was happening in the game, the coordination to catch and throw the ball, and the desire to improve. So I was put in the outfield, where very few 5 year olds could actually hit the ball, and I would sit in the grass, take off my glove, and play. I'd weave pieces of grass together, or make whistles, and completely ignore the rest of the team. In some ways, I think it was my subtle, or not so subtle way of telling my parents I didn't want to play softball.