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A letter from Jed Koball in Peru

September 2011

A man speaks to a group of women, as a woman behind him holds an open Bible.

Misael Campos.

Dear sisters and brothers in faith,

A dear friend and colleague recently shared this story with me:

Once there was a farmer whose one and only horse escaped in the night and ran away into the wild. His neighbor, upon hearing the news, told him how sorry he was to hear that his horse had escaped. The farmer responded, “It’s not yet time to be sorry, because I don’t know whether it will bring me blessing or not.”

The following day the farmer’s horse returned, but it did not return alone. Trailing behind the horse were several other horses—wild horses that had “befriended” the farmer’s horse. Upon seeing all the horses, the neighbor went to the farmer and congratulated him on his increased wealth. The farmer responded, “It’s not yet time to celebrate, because I don’t know whether it will bring me blessing or not.”

The following day the farmer’s son set out to tame one of the new wild horses. When the wild horse threw him off, the son broke his leg. Upon hearing the news, the neighbor went to the farmer and told him how sorry he was to hear that his son broke his leg. The farmer responded, “It’s not yet time to be sorry, because I don’t know whether it will bring my family blessing or not.”

The following day the army came to the farmer’s town forcing young men to join their ranks for a bloody war that awaited them. Upon seeing the farmer’s son with a broken leg, they passed him by, and the son was spared.

Upon first hearing the story, a message resonated with me about finding blessing even in the midst of difficult circumstances.  And indeed I do believe with all my heart that blessing abounds in our lives; we need merely to open our eyes. But I won’t deny that upon further reflection on the story, I was overcome by a more unsettling feeling.

In today’s news it was reported that another mass grave was discovered in the central highlands of Peru. This time 28 bodies were uncovered, 7 of them mere children. They had been executed and buried in 1984 by a military outfit whose captain claimed they were terrorists. This is one of hundreds of mass graves still being discovered throughout Peru—graves filled with sons and daughters whose lives were not spared during a 20-year war that ended just over 10 years ago. Where is the blessing in the midst of such terror?

Ten years ago I was not here in Peru to bear witness to the suffering of our Peruvian brothers and sisters, nor to celebrate the end of war.  Ten years ago I was pastoring a church in the near suburbs of New York City. When the towers fell that September day, I remember feeling unprepared to respond, to tend to, to care for my congregants and their families whose lives had been dramatically altered, whose lives had not been spared. Where was the blessing in the midst of such horror?

Misael Campo works with Paz y Esperanza, a member organization of our Joining Hands partner, the Red Uniendo Manos Peru, that I serve. Misael has dedicated his life to ensuring that the violence of the 1980s and 1990s never repeats itself again here in Peru. He has faithfully and successfully campaigned for the promotion of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would honor the lives and loved ones of those who were “disappeared” during the years of conflict. When a mass grave is discovered, Misael responds. He tends to the families hoping to recover the bodies of their disappeared sons and daughters. He cares for those seeking closure. When a body has been identified, he stands with the family, absorbing their grief, sharing their pain. And when a family remains without answers, without truth, without a body, Misael stands with them in prayer, with questions and with hopes.

Indeed, the farmer received blessing in his life, even in the midst of unfortunate circumstances. But the greatest blessing he received was the one blessing that was never acknowledged—the blessing of his neighbor. The blessing of presence.

What might the world be like today if we all had neighbors who responded to us, tended to us, cared about us? What might the world be like tomorrow if we were such a neighbor responding, tending, caring about the events of those around us and near us and connected to us?

September of 10 years ago will forever remind me of the darkness in this world. And the presence of Misael will forever remind me of the light that was not overcome by the darkness. I give thanks for my neighbor Misael … and thanks that I, too, might be a neighbor to him.

In the spirit of peace and hope,

Jed

The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 300

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