A letter from Sara Armstrong in Peru
Can dogs evangelize?
In the fall of 2008 we were asked to serve as mission co-workers in Peru. One of the biggest traumas of our departure from the U.S. in 2009 was "what to do with Jenni the dog?" She flunked her home visits with friends and family and the only option we were left with was to bring her to Peru. This is generally frowned upon for mission co-workers and now we know why. They get lost, sick and lonely and experience culture shock just as we do. But she also has brought unexpected joy to our lives.
Jenni the dog needs to be walked three times a day. With her Border Collie–Blue Heeler bloodlines she has lots of energy. In all of our walks through the neighborhood parks we have met some wonderful Peruvian dog owners and even one lady in search of a Presbyterian church. (She stopped me to say how beautiful Jenni was.) The need to walk Jenni forces us to exercise even when deadlines loom. Her enthusiastic greetings give us joy even on the gloomiest days of winter.
We hear that there are sometimes robberies in our neighborhood, but our house has been untouched, thanks in part we think to our fierce sounding "watchidog." Of course she has learned to bark loudly from the other dogs in the neighborhood. She also wakes us up to announce any catfights in the vicinity. We throw glasses of water on any nearby catfights to get her to quiet down.
In recent Peruvian history dogs were only for protection. There were very few animals that were treated kindly as pets. That meant that the meaner the dogs were, the better. Most elderly people tell us they have been bitten. Many mothers are terrified to let their young children near dogs. Jenni has been a gentle teacher helping people to relax around good animals.
The most difficult adjustment for Jenni has been our time away. We travel at least half the year, which means we must have pet/house sitters. Two Peruvian Presbyterian students came from the provinces to Lima to undergo the exhausting and expensive preparatory courses before taking college entry exams. Yanet and Erick lived in and out of our house for a year until they both got into a university. Without pets we never would have gotten to know these delightful young people.
In our pre-service training we were urged to look for "cultural interpreters," people who could help us understand, and thrive in, a totally new culture. Yanet and Erick were our first interpreters. They taught us how to do things like travel for an hour to a post office to fill out the correct paperwork and stand in line for two hours to pick up a Christmas package. They showed us things such as how to choose between several dozen kinds of potatoes at the market and which ones were for baking, boiling or frying. We were bamboozled by the Lima transportation system. How do you know which of the hundreds of buses buzzing by you go where you want to go? They helped us learn to get around in this huge metropolitan area.
In turn we taught them about U.S. holidays, food and customs; pumpkin pie made from zapallo squash for Thanksgiving, gingerbread for Christmas made with algarobina syrup rather than molasses and cut by a budding architect into strange new Peruvian cookie shapes; how to write a resume or draw up a business plan. They still join us for the holidays when they can’t get home to Ayacucho. Easter egg dying occasions a lot of laughter. We go to odd events with them such as the University Day on the plaza downtown where Yanet was dancing with her class.
In our travels to serve with our Peruvian Presbyterian partners we are blessed to visit the jungles of the Amazon, the beautiful Andean mountains, and the stark coastal desert of Peru. Preparation for and travel with mission teams can be exhausting. There are days when we visit pastors who are overwhelmed with challenges affecting their church and community. Family abuse, extreme poverty, reconciliation from a war that divided families, church politics, and an increase of narcoterrorism are realities we strive to help address in camaraderie with those we serve. It can be trying.
Yet when we return to our home we are met by such an enthusiastic welcoming friend that the worries and concerns of the day simply melt away. Jenni the dog teaches patience, shares joy, and shows us how to reach out with welcoming, enthusiastic, unconditional acceptance and love. Evangelism 101?
Because of Jenni, we have met some fascinating people and she has led us to some life-changing friendships. Si, nosostros pensamos que Jenni la perra es una buena evangelista.
Sara Armstrong and Rusty Edmondson
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 23