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On This Rock, I Will Build My Church

A Letter from Jed and Jenny Koball, serving in Peru

August 2020

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Write to Jenny Koball

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I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.
Matthew 16:18

Dear Friends,

This is the story of Peter. Three Peters, actually. Or, in this case, three Pedros:

White flags hang sadly from broomsticks fixed to the roofs of shanties stacked on top of one another along the desert hills of Lima. The flags do not indicate defeat in the midst of war, but they are indeed a call for help in a battle for survival. They indicate that in this home there is no more food. Pedro Garcia, the pastor of the House of God Presbyterian Church in the Villa El Salvador district of the capital, tracks through the dusty terrain with groceries in hand to deliver much needed aid to families barely hanging on. Since the arrival of the coronavirus to Peru, he has looked out for the least of these, and the people have heard his cry. With the support of his church members, his larger community, and the Peru Mission Network in the U.S., he has gathered the resources and people power to organize community kitchens in the most impoverished neighborhoods of Lima, keeping people fed in a place that has been otherwise devastated, if not forgotten, by the pandemic-induced economic crisis.

On the far side of the country, in the heart of the Amazon jungle—the “lungs of the Earth”—oxygen has become a scarce resource. Families line up at state hospitals with ailing loved ones in tow, hoping for a bed, for treatment, for any care available. Many of them are indigenous peoples who have trekked long miles from the depths of the rainforests. How the coronavirus reached such far-away places is difficult to comprehend. How the health care system has failed to maintain its most basic infrastructure—like medicinal oxygen generators—is inconceivable. A single tank of oxygen that may last a matter of hours costs more than $1,000 on the black market—more than a year’s wages for many. Families not only await the opening of a bed for their loved ones, they await the death of their neighbor so that they may appropriate the final gasps of air from their oxygen tanks. Monsignor Pedro Barreto, Cardinal Priest and Archbishop of Huancayo—a longtime friend and ally in our fight for the health of communities impacted by mining contamination—has now taken to the airwaves to advocate for immediate investment in new medicinal oxygen plants. The people have heard his cry, and they have lifted their voices. Within a matter of days new oxygen generators will be producing life-saving air for the most desperate among us.

A year ago, Pedro Bullón, a pastor in the Lutheran Church of Peru and a board member of our Joining Hands Network partner, invited me to walk with him in the streets of Piura on the northern border of Peru in search of refugees who had recently arrived by foot from Venezuela. Following a journey marked by hunger, exploitation and other abuses, he sought to be a face of welcome, to offer hospitality and provide food and shelter to those escaping a most untenable situation. With the onset of the pandemic and subsequent rise of xenophobia, many refugees lost their sources of income, were evicted from their homes and are living again on the streets. Undeterred, Pedro continued to offer himself as an ever-present help in times of unimaginable trouble and in so doing he now faces his own struggle for survival as he rests alongside his wife in an Intensive Care Unit fighting the virus that discriminates against no one. And, the people have heard his cry, as we gather in prayer and continue his call for solidarity.

It has been said that many people are alive today because of the solidarity of others. Indeed, amidst the overwhelming death that shadows Peru and so much of the world, there is a light. That light is the life of Christ which is found in our solidarity—the strength of our oneness. It is like a rock that gave Peter his name. It is the foundation of the church. Of course, one need not be named Peter or Pedro, nor be a pastor or priest to become this church. One must simply be human—fully aware of one´s fragility; fully compassionate of the other’s struggle; fully committed to our coming together—because that is our strength, our hope, our salvation.

For hearing the cries of Pedro, for joining with us in this walk, for supporting our call to God’s mission, and for being the church wherever you are, we thank you!
In the name of the Risen Christ,

Jed and Jenny

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