One Sunday each month, all of the family gathers to worship together. I can remember, six years ago, rotating between our house and the Smith house each Sunday, and it was just our two families. We prayed to experience family with Peruvians. Slowly but surely, Peruvian brothers and sisters came into the story. People come from all walks of life interested in the story of Jesus. They have different social and religious backgrounds, but all who come to the table are thirsty and hungry for the word. Sometimes it is hard to put a group of misfits together and call it “family.” But that is certainly what God calls us to do as his church.
A missionary’s dream is for the disciples to feel like family to each other and be united in Christ. But this can take time. Peruvians are very slow to trust others, so if you put a group of them together that have nothing outside of knowing the missionaries in common, it can feel a bit awkward. And believe me, in our small, informal, house-church setting, we have all experienced the awkwardness. One way you can tell that people don’t trust one another is that they don’t share with one another. Prayer time can be super awkward if no one wants to share about their lives.
This Sunday morning was beautiful. Our house churches all met together for our monthly celebration meeting, and it was a beautiful testimony to see what God is doing through our Arequipa family. The kids had been sent out of the main meeting to work on some coloring sheets to be used later in the lesson. The adults had some quiet, uninterrupted time to talk about church life and share about our journeys. We rejoiced and we cried, and it felt like family. I wanted to share a few of those moments with you.
One of our members was absolutely distraught a couple of months ago. Her family had a financial crisis (having to do with one of the many of the injustices that play out here). She had no one to turn to, but she came and shared the burden with her church family. The church decided to fund an adobada. (An “adobada” is a popular type of fundraiser here in Arequipa, where a group of people get together to sell tickets for selling bowls of Adobo—a famous Arequipa dish served on Sunday mornings. Once tickets are bought, the group buys all the ingredients, and makes the dish on a chosen day for pick-up.) This morning, she was one of the first ones to share. She wanted everyone to know that her family had finally repaid their debt. Our church was so involved in the process of helping her, we were overjoyed. We applauded. We thanked God for helping her family, but we knew that we had played a role as her spiritual family.
Another member decided to express her thankfulness to everyone that her grandson would be starting at the university. You all know how much work I put into the Living Libraries project here. If you follow why we have that program, you know that good education is a luxury for so many in this nation, much less higher education. This member came from parents that didn’t receive a university education; she never attended the university; her children didn’t have the opportunity to attend the university. It is a huge deal for this young man to be the first to study something other than how to drive a taxi. As a church, we rejoiced with her. This grandmother is the first to become a Christian, and we are praying for her to affect the generations in more ways than just education (because I know she has actively supported her grandson to attain that goal). We continue to pray for her family members to know Christ, and she recognizes that we will support her in any way that we can as family.
Then someone shared out of the blue— my husband. Greg expressed our desire for prayers during the upcoming months for our transition out of Peru. I have been keeping the emotions in for quite a while around my Peruvian family. I mean, if I avoid talking about it, I won’t feel anything, right? I won’t turn into a blubbering mess. But his words were something that we needed to share with our family here, and in that moment, my heart broke. I have a feeling it will break a couple hundred more times in these final months for us. I was sitting next to a dear sister, Manuela, and all I could do was lay my head on her shoulder and cry. She is family to me.
Family in Christ is real with each other. Family rejoices and weeps together. Family holds each other up. Family loves and trusts. This group of misfits— it feels like family now. And when we get on that plane to come “home” in a few months, I am going to bawl my eyes out. Because leaving family is hard.