A letter from Sara Armstrong and Rusty Edmondson in Peru
We believe in the transforming power of short-term mission. Members and friends of Albion and Byron Presbyterian Churches in upstate New York visited Peru recently. They spent two years planning their 10-day mission trip. They partnered with members of a new small Presbyterian church, built on sand dunes in a growing and impoverished desert community—part of Lima’s urban sprawl. One team member offered to share her experience with you through excerpts from her blog.
Before the trip she wrote:
"Joyce"—the name my first-ever passport reads.
You know, when that booklet came in the mail...everything got a bit more real: On March 28, 2013, I will be leaving North America for the first time and going to Peru! A senior in high school, I have already decided upon my future: I'll be attending university to dual major in Broadcast and Digital Journalism along with International Relations! Therefore, to travel abroad would probably be a good idea, so here we go!
Today is the day! The day of frantically finishing a physics exam, differentiating kinetic and potential energy, the day of compiling 30 scholarship essays into legible formations, the day of hugs and "Be safe!"s. Today is the day I go to Peru...
The first full day in-country included an orientation to Peru, a visit to the Plaza de Armas on Holy Friday, and travel to the work site.
After an overview of Peru from Rusty and Sara, reality began to set in...
Here is what I got from orientation:
1. Dogs will attack you.
2. Cars will run you over. (Taxi drivers in Peru are the craziest people you will ever meet.)
3. Hang on to your passport because everyone is trying to snatch those up.
4. Actually, people are trying to snatch everything up.
No matter what you do, however, do not live in fear.
[Note from Sara and Rusty: It is humbling to see that our hour-long orientation can be reduced to this!]
And then, off we went, to peruse Lima and its Catholic tradition of visiting seven cathedrals in honor of Holy Week... I entered a world I had never been in before... As people walk by, they stare, not trying to hide it, they just stare...sometimes with a smile, sometimes without.... A mother stops her children to point out "las gringas." And you know what? Es bien. I mean, having a place where my vitiligo is envied is definitely rare... maybe I will just stay here forever...
Santa Rosa, my home for the remainder of the trip, was the next destination. And quite frankly, no one knew what to expect, but it was not this. As the destination neared, the awe of the city disappeared. Slowly mountainous structures came into view as the smell of the Pacific, paired with heavy pollution, came into the taxi... It was beautiful...the sand, the ocean, the eccentricity of the whole situation. But then, reality set in. As I looked around I fought back tears... We witnessed the most beautiful sunset...but in the forefront was something entirely different. There was poverty, uncleanliness, stray animals (including people). I cannot put into words the emotions that this place instills.
... However, the people I have met are truly an inspiration and what I know I will benefit most from the trip: the relationships. Hugs, kisses, the pastor and his family gave us the bienvenido/welcome to his home and church! This family started their church three years ago in Santa Rosa when there was nothing but sand dunes. Three years later an explosion of poverty, overpopulation, and terrible living conditions sprouted up. Yet, this couple powers through, bringing Christ into the lives of many of these people.
The time in Santa Rosa included worship, hosting a women’s group, worship with the church youth group, teaching in classrooms and an after-school program, and pastoral visits to homes.
Self-confidence and self-worth: two problems that circulate the globe... Today some women in the community gathered at the church as we talked about God's love... As a reminder, each of the women received a manicure—hand massage and all! The laughter and smiles that filled the room as I made a fool of myself was worth every wrong pronunciation or ridiculous dance move. These women were smiling...happy.
... Following dinner there was a service for local teenagers and young kids... Near the end of the service, each of the North American girls sat in the front of the church/la iglesia y shared a testimony, translated by Gabriela, our new friend/amiga nueva... Each of us shared personal stories, the most personal struggles we go through, and how our relationship with God has applied to that. Yes, the lifestyles of Peruvians and Americans are very different and the problems we experience are different. But in the end, we are all brothers and sisters/hermanos y hermanas in Christ...
... As everyone else went to bed...Gabriela and I accompanied Elita, Robi, and a few others to church. Arriving a little before 10 pm, I do not think I realized what I was getting myself into. Until 3:30 in the morning we sat in the church with about 10 others, listening to local preachers, including Robi, speak in honor of the Resurrection. I would be lying if I said that I stayed awake the whole time. In fact, not a single person in the room stayed awake the whole time. The hosts provided us with coffee...and other nourishment... Now, I may not have had the slightest idea what anyone was saying, [but] I knew what they were feeling because I was feeling it too...
As dogs fight outside, the music blares from the house nearby, and the roosters begin to cock-a-doodle-doo, Joyce finally went to bed. Fast asleep was everyone else in the house, but the late night was worth it, for I experienced firsthand the profound place Christ has in the hearts of Peruvians. I literally stood for one hour for one song, clapping my hands and shaking a tambourine. How does it get better than that?
On Easter Sunday we spent the morning on the beach and dyed Easter eggs in the afternoon. We celebrated Easter at an evening service, and the kids enjoyed their first-ever egg hunt! The next day we went to work.
... The church put on an after-school program every day this week. Although teaching is quite difficult when you do not know much Spanish, this program was a highlight of my week. From it came new friendships. Ingrib still stays by all of our sides, and Fiorella, Samira, and Anghy cling to me... As they traced their cursive letters, I helped a boy with his homework. Broadening my talents, I drew pictures for him to color, i.e., fire, matches, a boy, an outlet being overused. Others would come up to me with a piece of paper, craving to learn English vocabulary. I had to sing our national anthem four times and "Jingle Bells" twice. Let's just say that my flexibility in situations has increased...
The real excitement came when I went to my room and brought the universal language out to the kids: fútbol (soccer)! Junior, Ingrib, Enrique, and lots of other kids ran to the field and set up a game... I represented the United States well and finished as top scorer...
As we settled down after a tiresome day, Robi, the pastor, came to us to speak of his church. His passion when he speaks is inspirational. His words, although translated, are heartfelt. This man...is one awesome man. His dreams for the church are big; and his faith in God is bigger. He hopes to bring hope...love...smiles...education. He hopes to bring Jesus into the hearts of the people.
I have been home now for a few days. Blisters on my face, redness blanketing my body, hammers tapping my head, and explosions coming from all sorts of places, it is easy to say that I am in rough condition. It's ironic, you know, the fact that I can adjust in Peru easier than I can adjust in America. Maybe that is because upon returning to America, my body is at a discomfort. Everywhere I look I see the eyes of Fiorella and the smile of Anghy; I feel the kiss of Samira and hug of Ingrib; I envision the soccer game with Junior and Juan. Being in America, I miss Peru...these 10 days in Peru were the best days of my life. These 10 days proved to bring laughter and fun, tears and sorrow, growth and inspiration, love and religion for me.
I sincerely recommend mission work and travel abroad to all those who have any interest in the inner growth and development that I was lucky to [receive]... God bless each of you.
As mission co-workers we, Sara and Rusty, are blessed to be part of Joyce’s journey. This is only one of hundreds of ways we see God work through short-term mission. Thank you for making this possible as you work together with us. Please pray for us for courage and wisdom to deepen relationships and encourage more mission involvement in both countries. We thank you for your prayers and your financial support of our partnerships in Peru.
Sara Armstrong and Rusty Edmondson