September 2012

One Way to Look at It: Gates

Gates are meant to keep things separated, what is out from what is in.  Arequipa is full of gates.  People have gates outside their front doors so that they can exit and see who has come to call before actually allowing that person to enter.  Driveways are almost nonexistent because car owners prefer a locked door protecting their possession rather than relying on the honesty of all passers-by.  People even lock the car doors while they drive for fear that someone will open it and snatch their belongings right out of their hands.  As a big city with enough stealing, the society as a whole has become good at circling the wagons and protecting what is “mine” and keeping away what is not.  
Gates are meant to keep things separated.
I think we have missed the meaning of this too-familiar passage:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
— Jesus, Matthew 16:18 (NRSV)

This is when Jesus declares Simon's name to be Peter, which is almost identical to the word for Rock.  Peter is known for his impulsive actions.  He dives in before he understands what is going on.  He makes grand statements about Jesus’ identity, then chides Him for His actions.  He walks out on water just because Jesus said it was possible.  I like Peter, because he is anything but idle, even if his gut instinct isn’t right half the time.  He was one of Jesus’ very best friends, likely because of his personality rather than in spite of it.  But he seems anything but solid, as the basis for a church.  

Except that when gates are in place to keep things separated, because then you need courage driven by sheer love and determination.

All too often, the mental image we get from this passage is something along the lines of “Oh, good.  If people want to break free from their sinful life, they will be able to.  And they know where to find this church built on a rock if they really want out.”  Church, that is the wrong way to look at it.

I now picture people being dragged into the darkness, sometimes resisting, sometimes not realizing what is going on, sometimes drawn by their own desires.  They are pulled until they are inside that gate and it clangs shut.  They are trapped by forces that want them in a bad place.  They might want to struggle against it, might even succeed (We love those stories, don’t we?), but we would never point the finger of fault at them for being stuck, broken, helpless, even clueless.

Those gates are meant to keep us separated. 

I picture my own friends who still don’t follow Christ.  Rather than seeing them as having defiant hearts and weapons drawn should I approach them with the idea of faith, I see them as caught, held, dragged down by all the things that we shouldn’t have to fight against.  If I were walking with my friend and an animal attacked her, I would join in the fight to help free her.  It would make no sense to wait for her to battle free so that I could help her heal. 

I cannot let gates separate us.

Jesus said the gates of Hades (which represents death) can’t handle His Church.  If His Church were like Peter, we would hear those words, draw our swords and storm the gates.  I can just picture Peter declaring “These people are NOT YOURS!!!” and charging at the gates to break them wide open.  Why?  Because Jesus said it was possible.  And Jesus said He could build a whole church on this attitude, and when that church takes action, there’s no stopping it. It’s not about being available.  It’s about being determined that sin and death have been stripped of their power and there is no way that we are going to sit idly by and watch them continue wielding it.
Jesus died to remove the veil that separated us from God.  We should not let gates trap any of His created children from being able to follow Him.  

CUDA News: September

Our work here can be hard sometimes; and not for the reasons you might think.  Sure being away from family and friends is hard.  Learning a new language and culture (and learning how to survive in it!) is very difficult.  Adjusting your thinking and work habits to be completely self-starting and constantly motivated is tough to be sure but all these things can be overcome with time and dedication to a vision.  The part of working here that I have found hard lately is that I am constantly in contact with desperate people.  People with little to no hope, people who have been hurt before, people can’t (or don’t want to) trust anymore.  This isn’t the desperation of watching your children die while being unable to help - that is happening as I type this article and as you read it - but it is still desperation and I can feel its effect on me.
The lives of the people we work with have been hard.  Unless their parents were able to afford a decent private school, they were educated in a system that is underfunded, understaffed, and underperforming.  Bending or breaking rules is the norm.  The police can be bribed at any and every opportunity which only helps to reinforce the generally vague feelings about the laws the government enacts.  I mean, when your government passes laws in direct contradiction to each other, it is hard to tell legal right from wrong so why bother, right?  Machismo still holds some sway in the lower classes so while a husband may spend his afternoon watching the soccer game, drinking with his buddies, his wife spends the day taking care of the kids, house and her side business with little thanks and no voice in her own home.  This side business is the only income the wife will see as generally incomes are kept separate with each spouse taking individual  responsibility of the various needs of the household.  And when either one needs capital to help their business the banks are ready to step in and charge 50% interest (or more) per year, but that sounds pretty good because the money lenders down the street start out around 100% and go up from there.  When that loan becomes too much to bear the individual, or family, will simply not pay because they know that, usually, the banks won’t actually take away their collateral and instead will just write the loan off.  That’s good, but bad also because the next time they’ll have to borrow from friends, family, or that moneylender with his 100% interest.  
I’ve only listed a handful of the situations we find ourselves facing and working in.  When all of that comes together in a person I can’t help but see them as desperate.  Desperately hoping that we will provide a small loan to keep their business going, or add that one little thing they never can save up enough to purchase on their own.  Desperately waiting for someone to give them the time of day and listen to their words, to give their voice a place.  They are desperate to receive a small solar panel in their home so that their kids can do homework with good lighting and not get candle drippings all over the homework (not to mention the damage being done to their eyes).  Desperate and in need of friends that will build them up instead of tearing them down.  This is what we do and I don’t mind admitting that it is hard.  It is hard to connect that often and that deeply with desperate people because once they realize that we are willing to connect with them, and once they feel safe, they are all in.  Filling in those gaps, sharing our beliefs, building up, encouraging, teaching, lending, learning.  That is what we aim to do in Arequipa, to see desperate people and (acknowledging our own desperation) live in community with them. 

Crossing Cultures: On Strike

Growing up, I remember hearing about strikes, but only through movies that were portraying times past, when forming a union and going on strike was the only way to combat those in power.  Now, with all the employee protection laws and regulations, it kind of feels like stuff like that doesn’t have to happen anymore.  Maybe it still does and I’m just unaware.
But here in Peru, strikes are still an active part of an employee’s life.  The political structure is such that many businesses are run by one department of the government or another, so it is not uncommon for there to be country-wide strikes among employees of this or that office.  Recently, they’ve been on a roll and one of our friends was involved in it, so we got a closer look at what it is all about.
Peru has socialized healthcare, which is handled by two groups.  The larger group is the Ministerio de Salud (or the Health Department) and a smaller group is Es Salud (It is Health).  They employ everyone, from nurses and technicians to surgeons.  People can choose one or the other and purchase their “insurance” which means they will be seen at a minimal cost by the selected medical care provider.  
A few months ago, Es Salud organized to demand pay raises that had not happened in over 15 years even though the cost of living has spiked.  They wanted to fight for fair scheduling and equality, meaning that even those who worked less and made more wanted to strike for justice, to free their overworked and underpaid coworkers from the discrepancy.  They knew that prices had risen for medical care, but weren’t seeing that money distributed toward actual patient care.  So they did a warning strike, much like a sit-in.  They planned (and warned their patients of) two days in which everyone came to work, and did absolutely nothing.  They just sat there.  They were warning the head honchos that that meant business, and that if this little strike didn’t have an effect, they would plan and execute an indefinite strike.  
The two days didn’t work, so a few weeks later, after organizing and filing the required paperwork with the government to prevent job losses, they went back on strike.  And it was not that they just stopped working.  They held marches all over the country.  They met frequently to give feedback and encouragement to the representatives that were handling meetings with the authorities.  They spread awareness.  They scheduled shifts to man the emergency and intensive care units to ensure patient care, but refused to sign in as attending work so as not to get credit for it.  
Nothing happened for weeks.  The last steps would be a hunger strike, then a thirst strike, where they rallied together in the city square, camped out in tents to wait it out; first without eating, then without even drinking.  Luckily it didn’t reach that point, but they were on strike for almost a month before the government intervened and told the executives to figure it out and make it stop.  They finally came to an agreement and everyone began scrambling to catch back up with the backlog of patient needs that had gone unaddressed for a month.
About 10 days after their strike ended, the Ministerio de Salud started their, for the same purposes.  This has directly affected some ill friends of ours who are in need of surgeries to remove a gall bladder and a spleen. Since they are not emergency situations, they have to wait until the strike is over.  
Additionally, in the middle of all of this, the public school teachers went on strike and have been for three weeks now.  There are numerous private schools that are still in session, but the effect is still widespread, reaching even to the public universities.  We have seen times that taxi and bus drivers will go on strike to argue the price of gas, demanding that the government subsidize so that they can do their jobs.  
It has been interesting to consider how all of this plays out.  For one, it doesn’t make sense to me why the decision makers in these businesses wouldn’t just come to the table ready to talk.  They haven’t had pay increases in 15 years?  Did they think it wasn’t coming?  Allowing your services to go unused, dragging out the process, seems like bad business to me.  And while I can appreciate that the doctors made sure the critical cases were handled, not leaving people without any care, there were still plenty of moms whose kids had a fever or elderly who struggled with a problem that had to deal with it alone or at extra cost.  
And I know that the public schools are a place of struggle, for teachers and students.  Peru has very poor public education, and if the teachers are battling for the ability to do better, I applaud that.  But in the meantime, the little kids who were on the brink of learning to read have lost their momentum, and the parents poor enough to use the public school system, who relied on having a school day to work for income are stuck finding Plan B.  
It highlights to me the brokenness of this world.  We are created to work together, filling in where someone else cannot, encouraging and supporting one another.  And it frustrates me that we must turn to battles and strikes to work together toward something better.  That those stuck in the middle who want to care for or teach others must leave that work to throw down the gauntlet and force the hand of the powerful.  It makes me tired of power struggles and abuse of control and long for the day when everyone will realize how futile their silly grasp on their limited world really was, when it finally all changes and becomes obvious just Who holds every key.  And He heeds the concerns of the world and works for our strikes necessary.