A Ministry of Presence

A Letter from Jed and Jenny Koball, serving in Peru

July 2019

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“What will we be doing if we won’t be sharing the Good News?”

The question came to me in the fall of 2018 by way of text message from the leader of the short-term mission team from the Korean Presbyterian Church of Westchester County, New York (KPCOW) that would be arriving in Peru in July of 2019. “It is not that we won´t be sharing the Good News,” I texted back, “It is that we won´t be using words to do it.”

When called to Peru over ten years ago to facilitate partnerships between Red Uniendo Manos Peru and PC(USA) congregations, receiving short-term mission teams was not in my job description. Such experiences were not part of the strategy of our global partner in addressing root causes of poverty. But upon my arrival in Peru, the inquiries began trickling in from PC(USA) congregations interested in sending mission teams to Peru for a week of service. With some reluctance and trepidation, I approached our global partner about the incoming requests.

Conversation followed over the course of several years in which our global partner established criteria for receiving such mission teams. One, it must be made clear that God is already present in Peru; those who come to Peru will be coming to bear witness to God´s love already at work. Two, relationships formed must not generate dependency; the communities with which we work must know that the love of God already present gives them power and courage to confront the unjust realities in which they find themselves. And three, the mission that takes place must be rooted in accompaniment; those who come to Peru shall come to be present — physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually — alongside us and the communities where we are active. Rather than coming to save or to solve, those from the church in the U.S. must come willing to learn and to be transformed by the love they encounter, and in so doing, they will provide a service beyond measure.

The trip leader from KPCOW explained to me that his church had many years of experience sharing the gospel in other parts of Latin America. The congregation´s starting point in mission is the Great Commission in Matthew´s gospel — to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. As I listened to understand what that looked like, I also shared that any words they might express would quite literally be falling on deaf ears because the community that our global partner was inviting them to accompany was in fact deaf. The KPCOW short-term mission team would be spending a week with the School for the Deaf in the high jungles of San Martin, Peru.

In the region of San Martin, Peru, more than 10,000 people have been identified as hearing impaired. In relation to the overall population of the region, the percentage of deaf persons in San Martin is seven times higher than the national average. The cause of this high rate of deafness is unknown, but is likely attributable to lack of access to pre- and post-natal health care, environmental contamination, lack of infectious disease prevention and awareness, malnourishment, and genetic factors. Many of the deaf persons in San Martin live in rural areas and in extreme poverty, making it difficult to meet basic needs of food, secure housing, health care and education.

The School for the Deaf seeks to help mitigate the impacts of poverty by providing a path to fuller inclusion for the deaf community in the larger society. It was started nearly eight years ago by Paz y Esperanza, a member organization of our global partner. Through the hard work and advocacy of the students´ parents and with the growing support of the State, it is the first public school for the deaf community outside of Lima.

A welcome sign from the school greeted the church group upon arrival.

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On the day KPCOW arrived at the school, Jessy Chavez, the head teacher, led us in a time of introductions with twenty of her students and the twelve members of the short-term mission team. Two hours later and across four languages (Peruvian Sign Language, Spanish, English, and Korean) we almost learned everyone’s name! It was clear that the love encountered through the week would be a love known more by time well spent than by thoughts well spoken. And so we did just that — we spent time together — playing games, sharing food, creating art, exploring nature, and learning how to just be with one another. As Jessy later noted, our being present spoke volumes not only to the children and their families but to the larger community and churches who have largely ignored and discriminated against the deaf. Echoing the sentiments of St. Francis of Assisi, she continued, “words are rarely necessary to preach the Gospel.”

Indeed, in Chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel, prior to the Great Commission, Jesus gives us a vision of what it means to be a disciple:

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

What the gospel teaches us and what our global partners remind us of is that the Good News of God´s love is shared less through our mouths and more through where, how, and with whom we are present.

Upon returning to the US, the trip leader from KPCOW sent me a text: “Next time you are in NYC area, let me know. I would like to invite you to guest speak at our church.”

While we enthusiastically welcome such invitations, I could not help but chuckle at the irony. I already know what I will speak about — an invitation to go to Peru, to experience the Good News in person. Know that such an invitation is extended to you, too! But regardless of whether you are able to come, know how very grateful we are for your generous support of this ministry we share and for your presence with us in Spirit through prayer.

In Christ,

Jed and Jenny Koball

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