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Beyond Words

A Letter from Chenoa Stock, serving in Peru

October 2019

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Well, we can officially say that we survived our first ‘season’ of accompanying U.S. church teams in their accompaniment of our Peruvian partners. Hallelujah! We, of PERUSA, are so very grateful for the churches who traveled here to work and walk with our partners in the many, different expressions of partnership – medical missions, land labor, planting and simply being with and learning from our partners.

Our final team from First Presbyterian Church Burlington (NC) arrived in early August. They have had a long-term partnership with institutions in Moyobamba, a city in the jungle area of northern Peru in the Department of San Martín. For this year’s mission experience, the nine-member FPC Burlington team literally learned that words are not needed to communicate. We spent our days with children of the school for the deaf in Nueva Cajamarca, a district just outside of Moyobamba city. As I have found throughout my years of mission service, it is usually the people who are experiencing so many challenges, struggles and setbacks who are the ones who truly show you what joy is.

Our van drove up to the two-classroom school, in the outskirts of the town, and we were overwhelmingly greeted by all of the children, anxious to get to know us, spend time with us, and sign to us, even when we did not know a single bit of sign language to sign back. There was no need to hear screams or words of welcome fanfare; the giant smiles on their faces and the energy exuding from them was more than enough. We began our time in one of the two classrooms, where all of the children introduced themselves, while one of their teachers translated their signs for us. Each student had a simple sign for his/her name – perhaps equivalent to a nickname. Each group member then introduced themselves, and the students, after much debate at times, gave each member a simple sign/nickname for their name. And just like that, we all knew at least one word of sign language.

The focus of this mission experience was not to construct something. There was no final objective or goal to be achieved. The purpose was simply “to be” with these children by sharing our love, time and attention with them. And we did just that. We played various, silly get-to-know-you games outside of the school. My hero that day was Rodrigo (name changed for privacy), a boy probably about 10 years old, somehow getting around with a walker on the rocky, dirt school grounds. But was that a deterrent to him while playing the chasing game of cat and mouse? Oh no. When looking for the next ‘mouse’ (the chasee), to escape from Taylor, the tall, young guy from the U.S. who had caught the rest of the ‘mice’ (and also FPC Burlington’s Youth Pastor, thus a professional at these games), Rodrigo walked right into the middle of the circle, an excited grin on his face, ready to play with no doubts or fears. If only we all had courage like him.

We accompanied the children in creating more life around their school by planting students’ personal flowers, brought from home, in tires, that they had donated as well. Team members were chosen by the students and they went off to find a place on the border of the grounds to begin planting. While gathering dirt, planting, placing the fertilizer and hay, and creating beauty for the school, we made connections and friendships, all without words. One hard worker who especially caught my heart was Miguel (name changed for privacy). As he worked with Pastor Ron Shive, he was diligent, kept to the task, and supported his team and others in any way possible. We later learned that Miguel did not go to public school, but worked with his family at home and in their agricultural fields, only attending the School for the Deaf. Without this school, Miguel would not be receiving any formal education.

The School for the Deaf in Nueva Cajamarca, supporting these children in difficult circumstances, is a project of Paz y Esperanza (Peace and Hope), a member of the Peruvian Joining Hands Network. The school was founded years ago, in order to advocate for these students, given that Peruvian law only allows inclusion in public schools but does not provide special education teams to support these students. Thus, they go to school to just sit, watch and learn nothing. This school, currently neither public nor private, but solely supported by donors, offers these students who are deaf an education that is relevant to their life circumstances, while also providing a safe environment to learn among friends, as all children deserve.

We met the three teachers of the school. Diego is a mild-tempered young man, with great rapport with the students, and is paid by the municipality. Yannet is a volunteer, but provides her energy and support unconditionally. They are both deaf. Jessy is a young woman whose life was changed after taking a sign language course in Colombia years ago. She taught at the school a year ago, but then had to accept a government teaching job, due to the lack of school funds to pay her. Though, after months in her government job, she bravely decided that she needed to be with these students, providing the support that they lacked from the government, even though she would not receive a steady salary.

These three teachers support the school’s parents’ association that is advocating for the approval of an education code by the Ministry of Education to become a fully-funded government school. This has been an ongoing bureaucratic battle, as they submitted their documents months ago, which were archived without notice. They continued in their advocacy and, thankfully, their voices were heard, and the case was re-opened for review. Though now waiting for months for a response, the parents tirelessly visit the Ministry of Education office to be sure their children’s case is not forgotten. A U.S. church team even joined in on a visit this past summer!

We closed our time with these joy-filled and energetic students by sharing our experiences, feelings and hopes for the future. They gifted each of us a personalized, decorated banner with our names and a laminated paper with the sign language for our name attached to a pipe-cleaner butterfly. Perhaps the world was not changed during this week or a project was not completed; but new life, as symbolized by that butterfly, was definitely felt and experienced.

This special time reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by St. Francis of Assisi – “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”
May our love for neighbor and our actions for justice be what moves us beyond words to positive and long-term change. Please keep the School for the Deaf in your prayers as they continue their daily advocacy to achieve the passing of the education code. We, as PERUSA, will be walking beside them and it is your support and prayers that make it all possible. Thank you!

With gratitude and hope,

Chenoa

chenoa.stock@gmail.com

Please read this important message from Sara Lisherness, interim director of Presbyterian World Mission

Dear friend of Presbyterian Mission,

Greetings in Christ! As the interim director of Presbyterian World Mission, I am grateful to have the opportunity to thank you for your continued support of PC(USA) mission co-workers.

The enclosed newsletter bears witness to some of the many ways in which God is at work in the world through long-standing relationships between global partners and the PC(USA). These partnerships are nurtured and strengthened by the presence of mission co-workers in over 40 countries; you are an important part of this partnership too, as you learn about and share how our church is involved in global ministry; as you pray for our partners and mission co-workers; and as you take action to work with others for God’s justice, peace and healing.

I write to invite you to continue joining us in partnership in three ways. First, your prayers are always needed. Please pray that God will continue guiding the shared work of the PC(USA) and global partners as we engage together in service around the world. Pray, too, for mission co-workers, that they may feel encouraged in the work they are doing under the leadership of global partners.

Second, please consider making a year-end gift for the sending and support of at least one mission co-worker. There is a remittance form at the end of this letter and an enclosed envelope so that you can send in a special year-end gift.

Finally, I encourage you to ask your session to include one or more mission co-workers in your congregation’s mission budget for 2020 and beyond. PC(USA) mission co-workers’ sending and support costs are funded by the designated gifts of individuals and congregations like yours; your gifts allow Presbyterian World Mission to fulfill global partners’ requests for mission personnel.

Faithfully in Christ,

Sara Pottschmidt Lisherness
Director, Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry
Interim Director, Presbyterian World Mission


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