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A letter from Jed Koball in Peru

February 2014

“Hola, Señor Taipe!” Abby spoke carefully and clearly into her cell phone. The rest of us in the office, sitting behind our respective computers, immediately stopped what we were doing. Not a keyboard click could be heard as we focused intently, unbeknownst to her, on the conversation that was about to unfold.

Artisans from Huancavelica show some of their handiwork (Photo by Abby Miller)

Abby Miller is a Young Adult Volunteer serving in Lima with the Bridge of Hope fair trade artisan program of our global partners Red Uniendo Manos Peru. Señor Taipe is an artisan from Yauli, Huancavelica, a small town tucked away high in the peaks of the Andes mountains. His artisan group Sumac Rurac produces hand-knit alpaca scarves, socks and hats with intricate designs and playful colors. Abby was calling to tell him the details of a new international order for his group’s products. This would be her very first time to make a phone call in Peru and in Spanish.

Abby arrived to Peru with basic conversational skills in Spanish. Having studied Spanish in school, she knew the grammar, had a general set of vocabulary, and the practice of speaking the language with other North Americans and their U.S. accents. Señor Taipe also speaks Spanish as a second language, after his native Quechua. While he speaks both languages fluently, his limited education leaves him less concerned about correct grammar and with a vocabulary more peppered with colloquialisms spoken with a hard Andean accent. Add into this equation that Señor Taipe has the unfortunate reputation of being a little bit impatient and a lot bit hard of hearing and the fact that they were speaking for the first time by way of cell phones and a poor signal, the circumstances presented all the ingredients for a communications disaster—not to mention a step back in Abby´s growing self-confidence to manage the everyday circumstances of life in Peru.  

Abby on a visit to meet Señor Taipe and his artisan group

“Can you hear me, Señor Taipe? I am Abby, the new volunteer with Bridge of Hope! Can you understand me?” Nervousness entered her voice as she waited for Señor Taipe to respond, uncertain if he understood her or not. Across the office, out of Abby’s sight, we shot worried looks at one another, all of us silently praying the same thing—Stay with it, Abby! Don’t give up! You can do this! Calm her nerves, dear Lord! Give Señor Taipe patience!

Abby came to Peru as a YAV because she wanted to serve others, to learn from them, and to be part of something bigger—a mission, the church universal, a global family. Like so many YAVs she wanted to know again the Love of God in person, in the flesh, in tangible and challenging and transforming ways. 

“Yes? You can hear me? Very good! I am going to tell you the details of your new order!”  And Abby proceeded to inform Señor Taipe step by step about his group’s new order as he listened carefully to her every word.

Listening carefully and speaking carefully—intently and with patience; seeking understanding, seeking clarity whether due to the matter of language, accents and colloquialisms or due to the nature of the subjects being discussed—fair trade, climate change, the extractive industry, democracy, living simply, living in solidarity.  It is this careful and prayerful communication that helps shape a radical hospitality that drives our Christ-inspired mission of seeking justice by addressing root causes of poverty. Without a grace-filled environment—without hands extended to welcome all to this gospel ministry we share—our mission would be compromised, and our growing global family would be fragmented.

As she ended the call, the rest of us quickly began clicking away again at our keyboards as if nothing had happened. Abby then turned to us and with just a hint of a grin of satisfaction said ever so nonchalantly, “Señor Taipe is a nice man. His group will have the order ready on time.” The director of the office responded, “Very good, Abby! You are already one of us!”

You, too, are one of us! Jenny and I are filled with gratitude for the colorful and intricate ways in which your stories are becoming knit together with ours, joining with us and our global partners in a mission and ministry that is making a difference in the lives of so many—artisans, YAVs, communities throughout the Andes, church folks throughout the PC(USA)—people young and older, just like you and me. Thank you for the gracious support you provide and for your commitment to continue walking with us hand in hand in the journey before us.

With hope and gratitude,
Jed Koball

The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 57
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