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Bursting Bubbles

A Letter from Jed and Jenny Koball, serving in Peru

Summer 2023

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Write to Jenny Koball

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Dear friends,

“I lived in a bubble created by the church where only God could take action in this world, and all I could do was pray for others.” Andrea Peña´s reflection on her youth and the immense social challenges she has witnessed in her life while growing up in Lima is a perception held by many young people raised in the church here in Peru.

It is a perception that starkly contrasts with those of many young adults from the United States who have come here to Peru to serve as Young Adult Volunteers. From far away they come with big hearts, open minds and deep desires to make a difference in a part of the world they barely know or understand. Despite their unknowing, they come with the belief that God can use them in the service of their neighbors and all of creation. They come from a very different bubble.

Jenny welcomes YAVs from the United States for the 2017-2018 YAV year in Peru, and looks forward to bringing back YAVs from the U.S. to Peru in the near future.

When I became the coordinator of the Young Adult Volunteer program in Peru 10 years ago, I embraced the role I would play in accompanying 20-something-year-olds from the U.S. in making an impact in the communities they would serve in my country while also helping grow their understanding of the world and their place in it. I felt such privilege to see up close the miraculous work that God does in and through such faithful young people. And I felt great pride that God would call me—a Peruvian!—to play such a role.

But I confess: as the years went by, and I saw the positive impact that this program has on young adults from the United States, I also felt jealous. Why can´t the young people of my country today—the very place where folks from the U.S. come to serve—also have the opportunity to let God work through them and to re-shape them? Why can´t we as a church create more equitable and just opportunities for mutual growth and bursting of bubbles?

Three years ago, when the pandemic hit and the YAVs from the U.S. were evacuated home and the doors to Peru were closed, another door opened. Amidst the immense loss and suffering experienced throughout the country over the ensuing months, a recurring refrain came to me from global partners throughout Peru: when will the YAVs return?

Andrea Peña (second from left) accompanies partners at the Red Uniendo Manos Peru during her year of service as a YAV in 2021-22.

What was being expressed through their question was a longing for accompaniment and connection. It was in many ways a validation of the program itself, that in the midst of such uncertain times our partners longed for the presence of caring and compassionate young people – not because they would be able to resolve the overwhelming problems being faced by Peruvians, but because they would be a sure and present reminder from God that the people who walk in darkness do not walk alone.

If there is one thing that the YAV program does exceptionally well it is walking with others in their times of trial and tribulation. I knew then that despite the health risks, economic challenges and travel bans that the program must find a way to continue. And so, I responded to the partners, “what about Peruvian YAVs?” And just like that an opportunity was born.

Despite travel restrictions and an extremely limited budget, together with global partners, we sought out young adults in the church in Peru who were merely waiting for the nudge and invitation to serve in ways they had never imagined. Andrea was one such young adult who remarked on her year of service, “thanks to my experience with the YAV program, I have been able to take off the blindfold and see the world as it is.”

Jenny (upper right) and Cecilia Ramirez (upper left), a global partner from Peru, lead a workshop with current Peruvian YAVs, Yuriko Beltran and Kirei Salas, on the issue of systemic racism in Peru.

Of course, the YAV program is more than just an opportunity to bring young adults out of their bubbles and remove their blindfolds. It is also an opportunity to construct with them new lenses for seeing and understanding the interconnected world in which we live. Through orientation, retreats and workshops that we offer throughout the year on themes such as systemic poverty, structural racism, welcome and inclusion, the YAV program brings a framework for helping take responsible and prayerful action in the face of suffering, oppression and injustice.

“The workshops that the YAV program offered me,” says Andrea, “made me see the reality of our country and the world. Now I am more aware of the repercussions that our actions can cause and so I intentionally try to talk to my friends and community about what I´ve learned through my experience and how we as young people have a very important role in our society.”

Today the doors to Peru are once again open. We look forward to welcoming back young adults from the United States in the near future. We also look forward to continuing to invite Peruvian young adults to serve alongside them. And we wonder and scheme about how many more bubbles we can burst: what would it look like to have Peruvian young adults serve outside Peru in other countries where there are YAV sites? What would it look like to receive in Peru young adults from other countries besides the United States? What growth and learning and service and justice might God make real when we open the doors to service for all of God´s children?

We invite you to dream together with us! And we thank you for your continued prayers, words, actions and generosity that help make such dreams come true!

In the Spirit we share,

Jenny (and on behalf of Jed)

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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