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A letter from Sara Armstrong in Peru

July 2012

The Joys and Challenges. How Do You Host a Great Youth Team?

A Dream
Our partner church, the Iglesia Evangelica Peruana, asked us to find a team for the badly needed renovation of their Quechua language pastor training institute in Sicuani, located two hours south of Cusco in the altiplano of the Andes Mountains. That same week we received an email from Shea and Zach Chambers of Avondale Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C. They were taking their youth group to Peru to hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Would there be any work for them in that area? Of course! A dream encounters Godʼs timing!

Pastor Melquiades Tapia and the building that became a chapel.

Set Up
We toured the seminary with synod leader Melquiades Tapia (photo) and found the church with a sagging roofline, a bulging back wall, and a lot of damage.

While the Chamberses invited U.S. youth to Peru, the seminary director, Rev. David Arroyo, began to plan a week of work that would stretch $1,600 into some dramatic changes.

Once the team was committed to the project, the planning began on our end. Where would they sleep? (In the classrooms.) Where would so many people get warm showers in the cold season? (Three bathrooms were renovated before our arrival and the student bathroom was completely replumbed by the team.) Would there be Peruvians taking part in the work? (Yes—about 20.) Who would make food for our 14 and their 20? Would it be safe, nutritious, typically Peruvian, and delicious? (Yes! Our friend Naomi agreed to come south from Cusco to buy and cook the food each day for all of us. We have never met anyone who is better at pricing, planning, purchasing and cooking delicious food for large numbers of people with smiles.) How would we travel? (David found a reliable bus.) What fun events would accompany the work? (A visit to hot springs, a sʼmores cookout and campfire/fogata, live music, and other youth taking part.) What would be the costs, the timeline and set up for the projects? This all took time to figure out. Since it was the first time Sicuani has hosted a team, the U.S. folks had to be patient and in many cases act on faith as they prepared.

Quechua women joined in all the work. They wore many layers to keep warm.

Travel, Meet, Orient
The team arrived exhausted from a day of travel and rested in Cusco. We traveled to the site and then returned to Cusco to meet them, enjoy a meal, and give them a brief orientation (personal safety, how to greet a room full of Peruvian Christians, how to eat to stay well, and some history of their IEP partner church).

We arrived at the seminary to find that the building pictured in the first photo was being totally renovated. It had a new end wall, a new and raised roof, and a crew of 20-30 people who loved the seminary and were already hard at work. Some had traveled seven hours on foot to contribute a day of work. Pickaxe and sledgehammer crews got to work taking out narrow old sidewalks and saving the rocks for the new sidewalks. A team of electricians started rewiring from the main box to the new chapel and on to other buildings. The new plumbing began in eight stalls and two student showers. Quechua-speaking women carried stone and adobe mud. Others helped peel potatoes, fix food, and make sure we all kept hydrated at that 12,000-foot altitude. It was warm all day and bitterly cold at night. The Quechua women kept comfortable by wearing many layers of clothing both day and night. Who is best at hoisting the 20 lb. sledgehammer?

Here is one of the group leaders with one of the master builders laying rock for a sidewalk outside the student restroom.

The team members carried their own journals and found time for reflection each night. Sara enjoyed translating the devotions and reflections each day so the Spanish speakers could be included. We discussed cultural differences, the joy of sharing the work across language barriers, food and work habits...

400 people gathered on Sunday in the small town of Sicuani to celebrate a church that was joining the denomination. The team was given 20 minutes during the service to share how they each saw the cross in the midst of their work and play during the week. The congregation reacted to U.S. students singing “Sing alleluia to the Lord” in English, Spanish and Quechua with surprise, acclamation and then participation. Peruvians responded with thanks and gifts and they all sang together.

A sign in Quechua in one of the classrooms: “Therefore we care for ourselves and for our people.”

The seminary work teams continued after we left—finishing the facade, interior plastering and painting, and getting the building ready to be dedicated both as a chapel where students could practice preaching, and as a place for retreats and conferences for the wider church. Pastor David is encouraged to think about a bigger plan for this huge property. His new dreams include agricultural and sustainable technologies training for pastors. The U.S. young people left with the challenge of documenting their work for the folks back home and reflecting on what impact this experience will make on their lives. For us the next step is to look into the future and find more ways to encourage people here at the only Peruvian seminary for Quechua-speaking pastors. Which of you want to travel and work in the Peruvian altiplano? Let us know!

Rusty and Sara


The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 23

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