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. 

One Way to Look at It: Recovery Takes Time

I spent the better part of the month of July taking care of sick kids.  Stomach bug followed by a random fever followed by a head cold that led to a cough and passed to the baby who quickly developed bronchitis and required shots and breathing treatments.    And I went through a few of those myself.  Needless to say, I didn’t get out much.  

But I did spend lots of time calming ill children, trying to help them be comfortable enough to rest and heal, fighting them to get down another dose of medicine.  They were unhappy and resisted my efforts, not understanding the benefit that would come if they would trust my intentions and let the prescribed solution work.  They were exhausted, stuck in a vicious cycle of not resting well due to feeling bad, leading to feeling worse due to being extra tired.  I knew they needed sleep, but they struggled to relax.  I was fully focused and invested in their well-being, but they weren’t experiencing well-being at the time and didn’t understand why I wasn’t fixing everything faster.  

Have you made the metaphoric jump yet?  

It hit me one night as I tried to soothe a flailing baby who was just tired of coughing and needed real rest:

I’m the baby and God is the parent. He’s working to make it better and I’m just crying my eyes out that life is hard and if this is His concern for me, why does it sometimes seem all wrong?  I end up frustrated with God for not snapping His fingers like Mary Poppins and having everything swoosh right back into place.

I must remember that this world is broken, even splintered to the core in places.  Kind of like a tire swing that has been given a violent shove, the world got off kilter when sin entered and we are holding on for dear life as our reality flips and spins and sways.  If you're facing the right way and holding on well, it can be fun.  But then the tire spins and the ground seems to tilt the wrong way and your hand slips and you can't tell which way is down, and it's at least unsettling, if not downright scary.

And the thing is, God isn't doing it to us.  He is right there with us, caring for us, fully focused and invest in our well-being, even if we are not experiencing it at the moment.  Our fear or loss doesn't change that.

Sometimes I must accept periods of recovery, when things aren't going well for real reasons that need time to be set right again.  When I experience unwellness, it's natural to want it all better, right away.  But just as I want my children to trust my efforts, intentions and timing, so must I trust God's for me. 

Big Things are Happening

I feel like I start every library article this way, but...  things are really exciting in the library program.  I wanted to write an article on all that is going on so that you are well-informed when I come in for furlough.  I have several things to share.  

1. I went with the CUDA staff to talk with the directors of the education and psychology departments about our program.  My job is to model for the teachers reading comprehension strategies that they can use across the curriculum.  But what I have found (among the third grade classes where I am working) is that many of the students we are serving cannot benefit from learning the strategies until they learn to read fluently.  In order for the children to work on fluent reading, they need daily one-on-one attention. We went to Alas Peruanas (one of the major universities) to ask for student volunteers to come and read to students.  I hope to see this paired reading program kicked off by the end of this month before I leave.  The directors were excited about the opportunity, and gave us permission to advertise the need among their student body.  Please pray for this program, and pray for open doors to share the gospel message with university students.

2. Along with one-on-one attention, we need to know exactly what reading level these children are on.  I feel immensely blessed that God has brought a fellow missionary onto the field here in Arequipa, Neil Cantrall, who is equipped to train us in the ways of evaluating these students. Neil just recently moved here with his family.  They are looking to partner with other NGO's and Christian groups where they can be used.  Neil taught 4th grade reading in a bilingual setting in the US.  It really does seem like God knew exactly what we lacked in the program and sent Neil our way.  There really is no other way to describe it.  What is even cooler is that Neil will be working with the classes and training my good friend, and sister, Nadia, in the evaluations. They are taking over for me, and they will be leading the volunteer program while I am gone.  Please pray for their work, and pray for the evaluation component of the program to help us serve the students' needs even better.

3. The program has some really exciting opportunities in the near future.  Greg and I will be talking to different Rotary clubs to raise awareness and initiate a discussion of applying for grant money to go toward our library program.  The grant would come from an international partnership between a US chapter and a chapter here in Arequipa.  For those of you that don't remember, Alfredo, the executive director of CUDA, is a past president of the Arequipa Rotary Club chapter.  Pray for our presentations, and pray for open hearts of Rotarians to see the needs of the Peruvian school children that we serve.

4. I am in contact with the directors of education at both Harding University and Abilene Christian.  I am scheduling times to meet with faculty and students in the area of education to plan for future internships, a possible education campaign, and just to bounce ideas off of professors that are more knowledgeable than me.  I am very excited to share about the program and meet new contacts to further the good work God is doing among us.  Pray for all of those things that I will be discussing.

5. And finally, working in these schools has opened a door for us to become more active in the school culture.  We will be offering a series of talks on different topics for parents.  Schools want to offer education to parents.  We are blessed in our Peruvian church family with many who are experts in different areas.  So please pray for the planning of that series, and the ones that will share with others that may have never received the opportunity otherwise. Now do you see what I mean?  It is overwhelming to me to think of the potential of this program and where it is headed.  God is in control, and he has blessed the work immensely.  Glory to his name!

Some of you may have already been thinking this way, but something new struck me the other day.  We are serving in Arequipa, trying our best to live out a holistic ministry– serving the whole person.  I have reached a conclusion for one end goal of the library work.  We are teaching children to read fluently.  We are teaching children to use comprehension strategies to better understand and delve into texts.  If those children can master those things, what can stop them from picking up a Bible and understanding the gospel story?  So many Peruvian adults cannot read well or comprehend the passages we read with them.  It is my deepest longing that out of this program, Peruvians will be equipped to read the Gospel message for themselves and proclaim it among their family and friends. 

The Better Question

In 2005, Kyle and I flew to Lima, Peru for the Pan American Lectureships.  We hoped to gain some perspective on the Peruvian church and meet other missionaries from around Latin America.  We were aware that the “marriage-divorce-remarriage” controversy had split the Peruvian church.  In fact, in addition to the usual Lectureship activities, some of the visiting missionaries attempted to bring the two sides together for the first time in many years.  It was and is an ugly situation.

As observers still years from entering the mission field, we did not expect the controversy to touch us personally.  Moreover, while the conflict was clearly real, it all seemed caricatured—tales of preachers trained to travel around and insinuate themselves into congregations in order ferret out the false brothers; which is to say, in order to split churches.  Fixating on an issue or reducing salvation to a single conclusion is one thing–a historically typical thing—but a country-wide witch hunt was another thing altogether.  It was surreal.

Then a young Peruvian preacher who had heard were were planning to work in Arequipa approached us during a coffee break.  “I hear you are going to Arequipa,” he said.  “Yes, that’s right,” we responded.  “What do you think about marriage-divorce-remarriage,” he inquired directly.  There was no avoiding the confrontation.  It was already pursuing us.

Yet, we’ve had no part in that internecine strife.  Instead, our friends’ marriage struggles have confronted us.  What Scripture says about marriage has come alive as God’s own wisdom for living well in our most challenging relationships.  It is only by contrast that the tragedy of using Scripture as a bludgeon to defend one’s legal verdict.  The urgent question that comes from every direction is not whether one is allowed to get divorced or remarried but how to stay married despite the difficulty it involves.  The former is a question worth exploring, but the latter is far more important.  Jesus himself said that divorce existed because of hardness of heart—the same affliction that he diagnosed in his apostles—which leads me to believe that the more fundamental question in his mind was how to soften hearts.  Our friends who ask for biblical guidance to better their marriages are not asking which commandments they must obey but how to obey.  They are asking to be discipled; they are asking for softened hearts.  Imagine if the Pharisees had asked that instead.  Imagine if the Peruvian church had.

Requests for sound counsel led Abraham and me to offer a marriage seminar, which we recently completed.  For five Saturday evenings we explored the nature and purpose of marriage.  The sixth and final class was cancelled because of José Luis and Miriam’s wedding.  Preparations for the ceremony were more than they could manage alone, but the church members worked together to make it happen.  It was a tremendous thing to witness the church rally behind Miriam, who is a new Christian, and bless their union with service and love.  I much prefer to see the unity of the church upholding a marriage than to see a teaching against divorce dividing the church.

CUDA News: August

Last year we wrote about the “plan” we had for CUDA.  That plan included bringing three Peruvians (Alfredo, Paty, and Abraham) on board as paid full-time employees.  Like all plans, good or bad, they run their own course and the new year found us only able to bring Alfredo on as the Executive Director for CUDA.  Though we really wanted to hire them all at the same time the funding simply wasn’t there so we started with Alfredo and decided to work towards a middle of the year hire for the other two.  Well we missed that mark as well but thankfully we found ourselves in a position to hire Abraham and Paty on a part-time basis starting in August.  So it is with a lot of joy and thankfulness to God that I can announce, officially, that CUDA now has three Peruvian directors working together to bring about justice, wellbeing, and joy in the city.

Megan’s article gives an in depth update in her article this month so you should check it out and pray over all that is happening with the teachers, volunteers, and students involved in the program.  On the micro-finance side things are running better than ever.  We have added two new groups in as many months and have one new group that just began forming this week.  Bringing Paty on board this month has been a huge blessing to the program.  Instead of just diving into the middle of things (which is where she already was) she decided to go back to the beginning and re-familiarize herself with all of our plans and practices regarding the loan groups which has led to some healthy questioning of our policies.  Abraham jumped right in this month and began the difficult process of becoming familiar with everything we do, every program we have and every person we work with so he can help make all of what the NGO does more holistic.  Sometimes we get bogged down with the details and mundane process of running a program that we can allow the spiritual side of our work to slide to the back burner.  Abraham’s job is to make sure that doesn’t happen.  One thing he did this month was plan and hold a seminar on motivation (a necessary topic for college students who just began a new semester) at Alas Peruanas, a university where we are making connections.  Pray for our directors as they learn to work together as a team, ministering to the city of Arequipa.

One last thing to mention and petition prayers for is our continuing education.  While on the field we are always learning.  Sometimes that learning happens through books or classes and sometimes (often) through trial and error.  In September Alfredo will begin a masters program from a university in Lima (via distance learning) in NGO management and I will begin an online program in international development from a university in England.  Our hope is that with further education we will be better equipped to serve the people of Arequipa to whom CUDA reaches out.

One Way to Look at It: The Kingdom

Jesus likes parables.  He used them to illustrate lessons in a variety of settings and circumstances.  He understood that in order for us to try and wrap our minds around intangible, deep spiritual truths, we must equate them to something familiar, something we can grasp.  

We still benefit from this approach.  Images of lesser things can give us new perspective on God and His work, bringing us to a fuller understanding.  I know it helps me.  When I push myself to dig deeper into a concept or question, clarifying pictures often come to mind.  And as one whose job is to teach others truth in understandable ways, this has proved to be invaluable.

One concept that Jesus explained by image time and again is that of the kingdom of heaven.  He likened it to a mustard seed, yeast, net, treasure, and more.  It was an idea too broad to be captured by one simple view, but is a multi-faceted, rich presentation of all that God is doing.  It is central in what we do and teach here in Arequipa.

But why does it matter here and now?  If it is what God will deliver ready-made at the end of time, why don’t we just keep our noses clean and wait patiently for His timing?  Lots of parables talk about readiness, so let’s just focus on being ready ourselves and sit tight.  Right?

Consider it this way:

I like my house clean.  My family knows this and pitches in, but when it comes down to it, I’m the only one who can tweak and polish the last little details to my satisfaction.  I value completion.  For now, I am teaching my kids how to clean up, giving tips, instructions, developing their ability.

Let’s keep it real; we live in this house and it gets trashed just like everyone else’s.  It’s a constant work in progress. But let’s say I am leaving the house for the day and I ask my kids to get started cleaning up while I’m gone.  I tell them that when I get back, we’ll finish up together.  They know that at the end of the day, the house will be clean and that the final product will not have depended on them.  I told them I would help and I’m the real polisher in this situation.  I’m not truly demanding any particular performance or perfect results delivered at an exact time.

But I am expecting participation.  They have time and enough know-how and understanding to head in the right direction.  The only wrong action is lack thereof.  Their progress will directly affect the result; I won’t undo what they have done.  There is value in each minute that they choose to spend completing what I have requested of them.  It is an active, honoring, obedient love that contributes to what I value seeing completed at the end of the day.  

Shift back to the kingdom of heaven.  Everywhere Jesus went, things were put right.  Bodies healed, spirits encouraged, sins forgiven, arrogance condemned.  The balance shifted, if only for that moment, and things were as they should be.  This was the teaching by example, showing us how things can and should be when the King’s influence shows up.  He was demonstrating to us how to “clean up”.

Then He left.  He told us to keep cleaning up until He returns to finish the job.  We all know the world is trashed.  But rather than throwing up our hands in despair or simply withdrawing to a safe, quiet corner to wait for Him to come to all the work, we are to roll up our sleeves and dive in.  He teaches us how, gives little instructions, tips and strength.  The final product doesn’t really depend on us.  He is the real power in this situation.  He is not demanding anything in particular.  

But He is expecting participation.  The only wrong action is lack thereof.  He won’t undo what we do, but will use every bit of kindness, hope, service and love in constructing the finished, beautiful, restored world that He knows can be achieved.  There is value in each moment that we choose to do what He has asked of us, when we live out an active, honoring, obedient love.
It can be discouraging, when we tire and feel like our efforts have been wasted.  It can be overwhelming, when we look up and see all the brokenness still unaddressed.  We can feel beyond inadequate, understanding Moses’ plea for God to send someone else.  

But the faithfulness He asks is just that to do the work He puts before us.  That person who needs encouragement.  That class that needs a leader.  That family that needs a financial boost.  That single mom who needs a babysitter and a night out.  That lonely person who needs a kind word and invitation to friendship.  That broken person who needs to be reminded that Jesus is head over heels for broken people.  

It’s hard.  It’s needed.  It’s our job.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
— Paul, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

CUDA News: July

During June and July we have had seven interns from the US living and working alongside us.  They came well prepared to be learners and servants; we have been so impressed with them.  While here they have worked at the cafe, served in our house churches, built solar panels, covered library books, visited borrowers and more.  Always ready to help, each one of them did their part and helped us out during a very busy time in our development ministry.

Each of the interns were encouraged, and required, to choose a specific facet of our work to dedicate themselves to during the summer.  For Emily and Sean that project was the libraries.  Almost every week they accompanied Megan to the different libraries to work with the classes on their reading projects.  Sean was even asked to sponsor one of the classes during a recent celebration at one of the schools.  In the boys class the students were divided up into groups and tasked with choosing a book, reading that book, and presenting the story to the whole class.  Sean and Emily were in charge of planning the party that the kids earned from doing a great job on their projects.  It was your classic kid party - snacks, ice cream, and soda - and they all had a great time.

Two other interns focused more on our micro-loan program.  Taylor and Rebecca are both business majors studying at Harding University and decided to come to Peru to see what our loan program is all about.  While here they were able to participate in forming a loan group from the very first interview to handing over the loan and signing the contract.  As their major project they will lead two meetings of this group.  In the meetings they will facilitate relationship and trust building, teaching on business principles, and receipt of the weekly payment.  During our meetings this summer they have helped me refine some of our processes, solve problems with various borrower groups, and start forming a more comprehensive entrance and exit interview.
Extensively trained or not each year’s interns bring something unique to our team.  Fresh perspectives, extra hands, willingness to serve, business acumen; whatever we are lacking God provides.  Thank you Sean, Katie, Rebecca, Ann, Emily, Taylor and Jordan.  The work in Arequipa, the Peruvians you came to know, and our families have all been blessed by your presence.

Taking Sabbath

Something I love about my personal walk with God is when I am struggling in an area or trying to learn something new he just has a way of putting the right words of encouragement or teaching in my path to guide me in the way I should go.  This happened just recently for me.

Every year we meet with the other mission teams in Peru for a retreat.  Greg and I were super stoked about this “get-away” because the last time we took a family vacation was our last furlough (almost a year and a half ago).  You may think that sounds crazy, but in reality, when you look at visitors coming in, interns staying for extended periods, the time when the other missionary family is away for furlough, conferences or campaigns happening, time goes by quickly.  I will admit, my ministry partner sometimes struggles with work-aholicism.  We do have our day-off in the week for rest, no Spanish, and time with our kids as a family, but I miss taking that weekend trip to see family of friends just to “get out of town.”  In my heart and mind, I have been back-and-forth in what is biblical for taking vacation.

I realize there is a side to maintaning a healthy well-being, and sometimes a vacation is how we rejuvenate ourselves.  I realize that we are in charge of taking care of our family, and that might mean taking a vacation in order to get away from everything and make them feel important and loved.  But on the flip side of that, something that doesn't sit well with me is when I hear people from the states telling missionaries, “Take a break.  Do something American.  You deserve it.  We know how hard it is for you there.  It is fine to enjoy the luxuries of your home.  Take some time off.”  Let me explain...

I am convinced that Jesus fulfilled the law.  One of those laws was in keeping with the Sabbath.  There are multiple examples of Jesus pointing out that the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.  So what does “taking the Sabbath” look like for me in my ministry right now?  I have been thinking about this a lot.  So I look at Paul- a fellow missionary.  Do I ever hear him say, “Take a vacation.  Take a break.  You deserve it.”  No.  What do I hear him say?  “Persevere.  Take courage.  Persevere.  Die to yourselves.  Persevere.  Run the race.  Fight the good fight.  Persevere.”  Hmm.  That sounds a bit different.  So then I look at the ultimate example- Jesus.  What does he say?  “Disciples, let's take a break from this world.  I mean, look at me.  I grew up in Heaven for pities sake.  Let's find a resort somewhere and reenergize ourselves.  I can't take these cultural differences for much longer.”  I don't think so!  

How did Jesus take Sabbath?  

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
— Mark 1:35

Jesus took Sabbath in resting in the arms of his Father.  That was rejuvenation for him.  That is what kept him going.  That is what prevented burnout.  

So we took this retreat last week with the other mission teams (which can I just tell you was an absolute blast!).  I was so relieved to get out of Arequipa, but something tugged at me in my thinking about “needing a retreat.”  I live among people that have never been outside of the city where they were born.  I live among people that work solid days from sun-up to sun-down Monday through Saturday.  I live among people that can't afford “vacation” and would look at you like you were crazy if you asked about their “vacation days” in their work schedule.  I felt a bit guilty.

Shortly before leaving for the retreat, I read a blog post from a missionary mom in Thailand.  She wrote about living radically and what that means.  “Radical” has become a pop-Christianity culture word lately.  Many would say that moving to a foreign country is living radically, but that isn't what this girl's message was.  She said something I needed to hear.  Living radically is about living in the presence of the Lord.  Living radically is basking in the presence of our Father and laying it all at his feet.  She quoted from Psalm 27:4  “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

During our retreat, different missionaries shared at various times.  One of these times, Greg led some thoughts about reflecting over the year.  He shared that he has learned a lot in the book of Acts regarding Paul's life and example.  As much as we want to idolize Paul as THE missionary example, he is just like one of us.  At one point in his story, he writes to the Christians to say, “Look at what the Lord has done through my ministry.”  It isn't about Paul.  It isn't about what he has done.  It is about what the Lord has done THROUGH Paul's ministry.

The next day, another missionary shared about “Sabbath” specifically.  This is the point in my course of thoughts where something just seemed to click.  Our brother pointed out that God rested on the seventh day.  We have the Sabbath because God made that day holy.  It wasn't just because God needed a rest.  It was because “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good...Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 1:31;2:3)  Sabbath has everything to do with stopping to rest, and looking at what the Lord has done.  Stopping, and realizing that we are not in control.  God is.  Stopping, and thanking God not for what we have done, but for what he has done, and knowing that it is good.

Sometimes, I need a week-long retreat to step away, stop, and look at what the Lord is doing.  It isn't me.  He wants me.  He wants to work through me, but I am totally dependent on him.  And living radically isn't pouring myself out day after day until I reach burn-out.  Living radically is living in him.  Living radically is pouring myself out day after day, but taking the time to go to that solitary place and basking in the presence of the only one that can fill me up.

I am so thankful for the time of Sabbath we were able to share with our fellow workers in Peru.  Greg and I will come home with our family for furlough the end of next month.  You can count on us living it up on Tex-Mex and doing some fun “vacation-like” things as a family.  But what I am most excited about is sharing what the Lord has been doing through our ministry.  I can truly look back over the last two years and tell you, “It is good!”

Time Is on My Mind

Sherwood Lingenfelter and Marvin Mayers published a little book called Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships in 1986 that is now in its second edition.  It is a worthy introduction to both the concrete application of an incarnational missionary approach and the use of anthropological paradigms in mission work.  I’ve adapted some of it this year for the internship.  The book features a simple questionnaire, the responses to which allow one to plot several of the respondent’s basic cultural orientations.  This exercise, in the first place, allows the missionary to know his- or herself better.  But I’ve also set the inters to the task of translating the questionnaire (in language class) and surveying random Peruvians.  This gives us the opportunity to compare our orientations as Americans with our Peruvian neighbors’.

There are all kinds of reasons that this exercise is of limited value empirically.  We have not ensured that the translations communicate as well in Spanish as they do in English.  We have not attempted to understand the cultural biases that might be affecting the survey methodology itself.  And we certainly have not surveyed a statistically significant sample size.  But the results have stimulated profitable discussion nonetheless.  I will share an observation gleaned from one of our conversations.  

Each cultural value surveyed is coupled with a corollary value and plotted on an X–Y axis.  In other words, for each value there is another value in tension with it, but Lingenfelter and Mayers do not construe this tension as polar.  For example, there is time orientation and event orientation.  The graph on which they are plotted looks like this:

Thus, one can be high or low on either orientation, in many different combinations.  The book provides the following summary explanation of these two values: 

So how do Americans usually test?  You might easily guess: higher on time than on event.  Between myself and the interns, the average scores were about 4 on event and 5 on time.  These scores, I suspect, reflect the interns’ stage of life (incidentally, this is and example of why statistical validity matters).  The authors hypothesize that the average American is at about 2 on event and 6 on time.  The point is, Americans generally value time (“time is money”) markedly more than event.  

We also have expectations for Peruvian results.  We expect Latin Americans typically to be less time conscious than North Americans.  For example, Lingenfelter and Mayers characterize the difference in terms of tolerance for lateness: 

While we have definitely struggled with this difference, my study of Peruvian culture has often been a process of overcoming generalizations about Latin America when they do not apply to Peru.  One point of confusion for an American trying to interpret the behavior of Peruvians is actually not their concept of lateness but their inconsistency regarding time orientation.  (Note: I am not referring here to variance in individual personality, for which Lingenfelter and Mayers allow in a given culture.)  I think it would be easier (for me) to adapt and experience church life accordingly if the apparent Peruvian time orientation were uniform.  

There are major facets of Peruvian life that are clearly time conscious, such as work and school.  Even here there are notable differences from American modes of operation, but generally speaking, employees in the business sector are expected to be at work on time and are penalized if they are not.  Formal businesses open and close when they are supposed to and movies show on time.  Children are expected to be at school on time (I’ve been reprimanded for dropping off the kids late because of traffic).

Yet, there are other aspects of life that are radically event oriented.  I was just invited to a party scheduled for 7:00 pm, with the caveat that people won’t show up until 8:00 or 8:30.  Compare that with the Latin American concept of lateness above.  For parties, excused lateness is an hour to an hour and a half.  Family gatherings, which are frequent, function similarly.

So how did Peruvians score on our questionnaire?  Admittedly not how I expected—but just how I might have expected had I thought more about the above dynamics.  


I have to reiterate that we can’t possibly take these survey results as statistically valid—there may be some factors skewing the respondents’ answers (such as their understanding of the Likert scale), and we are not working with a representative sample.  But after considering the results, there is something at least intuitively right about them.  Peruvians feel compelled to affirm strongly both time and event.  There appears to be a pressure within the culture to hold these two values in significant tension.  

I speculate that, were we to conduct the same exercise in rural Peru, we would find event to outweigh time greatly.  The stereotypical portrayal of Latin American countries like Peru, I believe, reflects traditional cultures.  In a city like Arequipa, where globalized modern paradigms such as those of business and education demand conformity far more than they adapt to local culture, there is a powerful compulsion to value time in the same way those paradigms’ countries of origin do.  This comes as part of a very aggressive narrative about the meaning of progress, development, accomplishment, capacity, and power as a country.  The narrative’s implicit claim from grade school on is that success in the global marketplace is contingent upon valuing time, for example, in the same way one’s competitors do.  This is a prerequisite to success in education (Peru adopted the American education model) and in business.  I believe this is a possible explanation for why Peruvians, who traditionally value event, would respond to our survey in a way that equally values time.

Though we might critique this phenomenon extensively, that is not the aim of the present article.  Whether good, bad, or both, the contextual reality is what concerns me—how do we locate our experience as church within this value system?  As missionaries, what tendencies do we affirm or reject, what values do we incarnate, and how do we interpret our Peruvian neighbors’ interaction with us and each other? 

Because our value system is truly time oriented, our tendency has been to ask, “If they can be punctual to work and school, why not to church meetings?”  We interpret Peruvians’ behavior quite literally in terms of value: they must think church is less important than work or school, if they cannot accord it the same effort.  After all, it is evident they can come on time if the want to.  You can see how our values function to shape our reasoning.  But this is not the only reasonable interpretation.  

In fact, some of our explicit intentions as a team should lead us to a very different conclusion.  We are working to establish a non-institutional ecclesiology.  If it is institutions such as work and school that demand punctuality, Peruvians showing up late to our meetings should be a kind of affirmation that we are succeeding.  Moreover, their treatment of church in terms of event orientation suggests that they view it more as a family gathering, which should be positive for us, since our fundamental paradigm for church is family.  Similarly, we might compare this event orientation with their disposition toward parties.  Scholar Justo González has postulated that culturally attuned Hispanic worship is essentially experienced as fiesta (party) (Justo L. González in Justo L. González, ed., ¡Alabadle!: Hispanic Christian Worship [Nashville: Abingdon, 1996], 9-28).  If Peruvian Christians are experiencing assembly as family, fiesta, or both, we should be thankful to God; and we should also expect them to show up late!  

These conclusions might have been obvious to others, but it was in fact the process of talking through the survey results that, after four years in the field and a significant amount of previous study, finally helped me to see the reality of our cross-cultural struggle differently.  My deeply instilled values still dominate.  I am not one of those missionaries who finds acculturation easy.  Appreciating the differences cognitively is one thing; really seeing the world differently is another.  But I do feel less frustration when I manage to grasp little insights such as these.  I’m grateful to the interns for participating in the survey process. 


I am a missionary.  “Duh, I knew that.”  I know.  But what you may not know is what that means is different for me than you (probably).  

People ask me questions.  Lots of questions.  “Why do you do ?”  “Why don’t you believe ?” “How do I teach my children about ?” “How do I make so and so stop ?  And because I’m a missionary, it’s assumed that I know.

But I don’t. I’m a Christian wife and mother, and I’m slogging through this mess of a life just like everyone else.  All too often with a rotten attitude about it.

The questions used to rattle me.  Our American focus on education and testing means that when there is a question, we should have the right answer.  And if we don’t...bad grade.  I really don’t want to get a bad grade in being a missionary.
But now I imagine it this way: If I were walking up a hill behind someone and came to a difficult step over a rock, it would make sense to ask whoever had made it over that rock to reach back, grab my hand, and steady me so that we can continue on together.  And that’s often all the questions are really aiming for...requesting that someone provide a boost, a steadying presence in this continual climb toward growth and well-being.  They are asking, “Are you available to walk with me? Or am I in this on my own?”  

Now I’m not as thrown off by questions.  There are lots of things I don’t know, lots of answers that haven’t been mine to wrestle.  But I have already crossed lots of rocks, already asked God lots of questions and sought His redirection in how to think and live and love.  I can lend a hand. 

Folks, Jesus was all about giving a boost, being a steadying presence, and walking with anyone who approached Him.  

Therefore, we should be, too.  

It’s not about having answers.  It’s not about fixing people.  It’s not about condemnation, judgment, categorizing, condescending, managing, entertaining, legislating, or constructing.  No gimmicks, tricks, bullet points, illustrations, do’s, don’t’s, or how-to’s will suffice.

It’s about presence.  His in us.  Ours in the lives of others. His kingdom is wherever He is and how his arrival changes the world.  

They are hungry for Him and are asking us if He has come near in us.