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Sharing pandemic voices of hope in Peru

Join in singing a new tune of mission outreach

by Chenoa Stock, Mission Connections | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Jesusa, a member of the Evangelical Church of Peru, is thriving in her other ministry of providing U.S. teams with delicious food during their mission experiences in Peru. (Photo by Chenoa Stock)

LIMA, Peru — Throughout these times of quarantine, I have found myself singing more — children’s English and Spanish songs with our 2-year-old son, Leandro. These are songs I remember from high school and university choir, hymns, my mom’s songs or just humming random tunes. If I’m honest, my singing is not always an expression of joy. As I write this, we are on Day 71 (May 25) of strict quarantine in Peru, and we are permitted to leave our home only for groceries, bank transactions and medical needs. Our curfew, complete Sunday lockdown and closed international borders also are still in effect.

Due to the continued rise of positive cases, despite the strict measures put in place early on, the Peruvian government has extended our lockdown in two-week blocks. The most recent extension, announced on May 22, is through June 30th. This is now much longer than the usual two-week block and is one of the longest periods of mandatory isolation in the world. Leandro and I have not left our apartment at all during these 71 days. Not one toe. My husband, José, is our grocery “warrior” who puts on his obligatory armor of mask and gloves to retrieve our household’s needs. These have not been easy times, and I have found that singing is sometimes what I need to let my emotions out, and my voice be heard.

Enjoying music time during Leandro’s virtual class. (Photo by José Luis Claure)

I wonder how many voices have been lost during this time of COVID-19? In Peru, the inequality has been exacerbated throughout the months of this pandemic. While our middle-class neighborhood grocery stores check temperatures and require handwashing before entering, I am almost sure this control and care are not found on the outskirts of the city or in rural areas of the country. While many citizens have received government stimulus payments to ensure economic security, many do not have access to these social safety net programs. While some citizens are able to work from home and protect themselves and their families from this immense health risk, many are part of the massive informal sector of Peru and have either lost their jobs due to the strict measures, or are forced to work illegally, despite the risks.

Due to unemployment, experienced by about one-third of the population, there has been a reverse mass migration from the city to the rural provinces in hopes of finding work in the agricultural sector. Many are escaping their life of living in the tight quarters of informal urban settlements. Families are returning to life on the land, where the harvest has begun, and the government quarantine measures are not so strictly enforced. Sadly, it is here that the virus could soon start to spread rapidly.

Before the pandemic lockdown, Pastor Leopoldo concluded a first-aid course for the women’s ministry, led by a short-term mission team from First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Tennessee. (Photo by Chenoa Stock)

Amidst these voices lost in inequality, we find the voice of Jesus Christ, heard through our Peruvian partners. Two members of the Evangelical Church of Peru, Pastor Leopoldo and his wife, Jesusa, have continued their ministries from their home in the city of Cuzco. Prayers are needed for them both, as Leopoldo has had two strokes recently. This has left him with no movement in his right arm and hand. He is presently at home doing therapy with the help of a family member. They are trying to reduce trips to the hospital, given the coronavirus threat.

Although about half of Leopoldo’s congregation has been part of the rural migration, mostly due to unemployment, he shares sermons and messages with those who have access to online technology. Before his recent health crisis, he made house calls with two families together to worship, study the Bible and offer pastoral support during these uncertain times.

Pastor Leopoldo, Jesusa and their granddaughter, Zoe (Photo by Chenoa Stock)

Jesusa, whose religious messages were broadcast on the radio daily before the pandemic, has installed the necessary equipment in their house so she can continue sharing God’s word of love and hope with people in Cuzco and throughout the country. She is the regional leader of a vibrant women’s ministry and will soon be continuing her women’s ministry by giving online courses and lectures. Pastor Leopoldo and Jesusa’s faith and commitment to being God’s hands, feet and voice bring a new tune to mission outreach during quarantine.

And are we not all called to be Matthew 25 churches? Did Jesus not teach and show us that we are to walk with our partners and neighbors, especially those on the margins — to be a voice that cries out for justice and equality to ensure that the voices of the least, last and left out are heard?

As we share about Leopoldo and Jesusa’s ministry, we are reminded there are many more stories of mission being lived out by our partners in Peru. I would love to share how they are answering the call of Matthew 25.

We are all improving our skills of virtual worship, conference calls, creating videos and communicating in new ways, so that we can accompany our partners in their ministries and accompany you in the U.S. Together, as we develop closer relationships with our partners, we can share a deeper understanding of Jesus’ commandments. Please let me know if your congregation, your youth or any other church group would like to hear more stories from our Peruvian partners, whether through a pre-recorded Minute for Mission or a Zoom meeting. Their voices are waiting to be heard!

Mission co-worker Chenoa Stock with her husband, José Luis Claure, and their son, Leandro, 2. (Photo by Chenoa Stock)

May these unique times create a space for us to make our voices heard for the poor, the naked and the hungry. May our faith in God’s justice and love lead us to question the structures of inequality, now and beyond COVID-19. May we join together to sing a new song of praise and hope in God’s mission.

Chenoa Stock, mission co-worker in Peru and daughter of Presbyterian co-pastors, serves as delegations and partnership coordinator for PERUSA, with the Evangelical Church of Peru and the Joining Hands Peru Network. She previously accompanied the Bolivian Joining Hands Network, UMAVIDA (Joining Hands for Life), for eight years in Bolivia, and prior to that served in Sri Lanka, after completing service as a Young Adult Volunteer in Kerala, India, where she taught English in a primary school.

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