A letter from Sara Armstrong and Rusty Edmondson in Peru
Late Winter 2014
Many Peruvian pastors have partnered with PC(USA) mission teams. They awe us with their willingness to serve God at great personal sacrifice, both to themselves and to their families. Robinson (Robi) Castro and his wife Elita del Aguilar are two such people.
Robi, a pastor with our partner church in Peru, and Elita established the first church here in Santa Rosa PROFAM in 2010. Presbyterian teams came to help build. As you can see in the photo, the church is built in the sand on the side of huge dunes. Internal immigrants come from rural Peru to this huge metropolitan area with nothing. They set up a tarp on a sandy hillside and start to build a new life.
In 2011 Robi and Elita left a comfortable life with extended family in a middle-class suburb of Lima to serve God in a new community on these sand hills in Santa Rosa PROFAM.
They built a house next to the church. Elita and Robi house visiting work teams in their own home, which Elita designed with ministry in mind. She believed visiting work teams would come to work, and they have. In 2011 Robi and Elita moved in with their three children. Two of them now commute 1 1/2 hours to college each day.
They began several kinds of outreach to children. Un Vaso de Leche (a glass of milk) is a way to give kids a protein drink on the way to school each day. After-school programs, Vacation Bible School, and Sunday School brought in kids who were hungry and lonely because their moms work 12-hour days.
The mothers started coming on their days off to see what the kids were up to. Elita offered opportunities like a ‘manicure party’ with a Bible study and refreshments. Since everyone in the community is new and they come from all different parts of Peru, most people don’t know their neighbors too well. A visiting work team left nail polish so the parties could go on in future months and continue to teach these women that Christ loves them and that they are beautiful and valued.
A work team of young women from upstate New York also helped with the installation of a water tank. Water is very valuable since it is all trucked into this desert community. They also built a retaining wall for an elderly woman in the church to keep her house from sliding down the hillside. In one photo that’s Robi waving the shovel.
When you stay at their house you notice that there is always someone knocking at the door. One woman arrived in Santa Rosa without even a pan to fix meals. Her 12-year-old daughter sold herself for food and ended up pregnant. Elita helped them through the bureaucratic nightmare to get identity cards for the children so they could receive a single-mother pension and attention at the health post.
One troubling thing for Robi and Elita was to see the stream of malnourished children. These new mothers [see photo], far from family and community, living on a very restricted income, were feeding their family rice and potatoes, the cheapest foods. The tiny local market offered withered vegetables at three times the price at the nearest formal market. Robi had a dream. “Let’s buy a market stall, a truck, and go into the vegetable market in downtown Lima at 4 a.m. to buy fresh produce, and then sell it at fair prices here in our market. We can employ some moms selling produce. We can teach them how to cook nutritious meals, and we can tell them about Jesus in the market every day!” (Of course Elita is already doing this in her morning shopping. Robi says sometimes it takes her hours to get home from the market.)
When Robi and Elita went to buy vegetables in the nearest formal market they discovered that the vendors don’t want to travel into downtown Lima. So the vendors established a huge vegetable market on the north side of Lima near Santa Rosa. Robi and Elita get up and leave by bus at 4:00 a.m. to get to this market, buy produce, and return home before the moms get up to shop. Now kids in Robi and Elita’s neighborhood are learning to eat fresh vegetables!
Robi serves the national church—Iglesia Evangelica Presbiteriana y Reformada en el Peru—as Treasurer. He is pictured with the national President, Pastor Adrián Fernandez. We met with these leaders at Robi’s home recently.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) comes alongside pastors like Robi and Adrian to give them strength for the journey and encouragement for their marvelous ministries. In so doing, we are renewed in our own faith and renewed in our commitment to serve together here in Peru.
Maybe someday you will have the opportunity to receive a huge hug from Elita and enjoy her cooking. She makes a marvelous solterito salad out of all kinds of vegetables. Or maybe your gift to our work will mean that we all can continue to undergird Robi and Elita’s work in Santa Rosa PROFAM. Regardless of whether you serve with your presence or your presents, God will be glorified through these servants. Thank you!
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