A letter from Jed Koball in Peru
When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from, the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:9-11)
It was a grand event! The wine was flowing. The people were dancing. It was a wedding not to be missed. In fact, it was my wedding!
Dear friends, it fills me with joy to announce that Jenny Milagros Valles and I were married in her hometown of Moyobamba, Peru, on October 9. Surrounded by dear friends and our families, from across two continents, we celebrated our love and commitment to one another.
For those among you who have traveled to Peru to visit our partners at Joining Hands (Red Uniendo Manos), you may know Jenny. She has worked with Joining Hands since 2003, and it was in the office where she and I met nearly two years ago. Yes, it all started in the office! And we continue to be blessed by co-workers and partners in mission, who support us and encourage us in our love.
To be sure, despite the love and support we have felt from so many different people in our lives, the days leading up to our wedding were filled with nervous moments and doubts — but not doubts about our love, nor nervousness about spending our lives together. Rather, the nerves and the doubts had to do with this grand celebration we were planning that would bring together various cultures and languages and customs and traditions to a place, Moyobamba, that few knew. Inspired by our love for one another, we were attempting to bring the world together in the high jungle of northern Peru.
But this event was not only multicultural and multilingual, it was also ecumenical. It was bringing together of peoples of different religious traditions that most concerned us.
Peru is a predominately Roman Catholic culture. Jenny herself is Catholic. I am an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Most of my friends and family in the United States are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, agnostic and even atheist. Many of Jenny’s family and our mutual friends here in Peru are Catholic. Yet we also have dear friends here in Peru who are Evangelical.
To be Evangelical in Peru is in many ways to not be Catholic. And to be Catholic is in many ways not to be Evangelical. Some Evangelicals pride themselves concerning customs and beliefs that clearly define them as not being Catholic. Many Evangelicals believe strongly that one should not drink ... or dance.
Wanting to be sensitive to this, Jenny and I knew it would be important to have an abundance of nonalcoholic beverages in addition to the beer, wine and pisco sours that would be flowing through the night. And so we had natural juices made from exotic fruits from the jungle — taperiva, maracuya, cocona, aguajina and more! And as for the dancing, there was not much more we could do than provide sufficient and comfortable seating for those who would not partake.
And soon enough, following the dinner, the toasts, the cutting of the cake and our first dance as husband and wife, the DJ opened up the dance floor and the people were moving to the rhythms of salsa, meringue and cumbia. A fiesta was happening!
After sharing dances with one another and still more with our families and friends, Jenny and I sought out our friends who weren’t dancing in order to share a moment of joy and gratitude with all of our guests. We looked intently for one couple in particular, Maria and Octavio, a young Evangelical couple who had made the long and costly trip from Lima to celebrate with us. Searching the outskirts of the dance floor we could not find them anywhere. Worried that they may have left early, having been offended by the ample spirits and dancing, we frantically began asking others where they were, when suddenly Jenny tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Jed, look on the dance floor!”
And there they were, Maria and Octavio, dancing in the middle of the crowd.
After sharing a dance with them, Jenny and I said to them, “We didn’t know that you two danced!” They replied, “We don’t! It’s against our tradition. But this is your special day, and we’re here to celebrate, and we want to celebrate with you, in the way that you do, to know and share your joy and happiness.”
In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) today we talk about doing mission in partnership. We talk about walking with our partners, being in solidarity with them. Humbling ourselves and sacrificing in order to know the pain and suffering of our partners. However, we forget sometimes to talk about knowing the joy of our partners. Less still do we talk about setting aside our customs, traditions and beliefs (if even for a moment) in order to more fully understand that joy.
Jenny and I are blessed. We are blessed by the presence of one another in each other’s life. We are blessed by our families that support us unconditionally and encourage us in our love. And we are blessed by friends, like Maria and Octavio, who humbly set aside their own traditions in order to share in the fullness of our joy.
May our mission as the church be blessed likewise. May we be so inspired and so humbled to set aside our ways in order to share in the abundance of life that is overflowing in our partners here in Peru and around the world.
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 294