When I was fifteen years old, right before Roman and I started dating, I went on a week-long mission trip to Peru. For anyone who is not well versed in geography, Peru is located on the West side of South America, right next to Brazil. My school partnered with Compassion International and we traveled down there right before Christmas to deliver the children's Christmas gifts paid for by their sponsors.
Two things you need to know about me:
1) I have always known that I have been called into some sort of missions, ever since I can remember. Whether that means I am a missionary overseas or a missionary in my hometown.....I've just always known that.
2) I have always loved the Spanish language. It is so beautiful to me. I caught on so quickly in high school. My #1 regret is that I went to college for Accounting rather than Spanish. I think if I had been listening to God when it came time for me to pick a major then I probably would have gone for Spanish....but that story is for another post. Back on track. Just know that I love the language so much that even though its been four years since I took my last Spanish class, I still dream in Spanish on a pretty regular basis. Which is actually quite rare...normally after that long of a time period you forget almost everything you learned. I have not. (A sign, perhaps? haha)
So when my high school teacher announced the words "mission trip" and "Peru" at the start of my tenth grade school year, I jumped all over that one. My parents heard endless pleading by my adorable fifteen year old self to please please please won't you please let me go I promise I will raise the money and that I'll stay safe while I'm there so please please please please!?!?
It didn't take long for them to say yes. Thank God I have godly parents.
We knew right from the start that I was meant to go, within just a few weeks of me sending letters to sponsors, I had already raised the money I needed.....and some people still had not responded yet. Don't quote me on the number, but I believe by the time we left for Peru I was $1,500 over what I actually needed. That turned out to be so great because we were able to use that money to buy extra supplies and gifts for the kids.
I never knew how big of an impact seven days in a different country could make. I remember flying into Lima (the capital of Peru). I remember getting our bags and walking outside....getting my first taste of the country that would still touch my heart seven years later. I remember the smells....the smoggy air of a city filled with beat-up cars that could probably burn a hole into the ozone layer all by themselves. I remember the people....some with friendly faces, some with faces filled with pain. A pastor in Lima was there to bring us to his church...they were going to feed us breakfast before we got on an eight-hour bus ride to Huaraz. I quietly sat in the bus.....just soaking in the culture around me. Looking at the billboards, the people, the cars, the buildings, the scenery.
I remember that Pastor's tiny church with that tiny kitchen. I remember the taste of the best orange juice I have ever tasted in my whole entire life (I'm not joking-I wouldn't drink orange juice for years after I got home because American orange juice is nasty in comparison to theirs).
The bus ride up the mountain was filled with beautiful scenery.....and very interesting passengers. I couldn't tell you which city I enjoyed the most, because they both touched my heart. But Huaraz was the most beautiful place I've ever been....a good-sized city tucked away in the snow-capped mountains of Peru. We stayed in the Hotel Santa Cruz. It had high walls surrounding it to help keep us safe. The food was glorious. The hotel itself was beautiful.
But it was not the scenery or the hotel or the food that made such an impression on me. It was the people.
Thousands upon thousands of beautiful people. They worked so very hard, just to put a little bit of food on their tables inside of their mud and clay homes. Their houses were stacked right next to each other, as far up the mountain as you could see. They walked on dirt floors...not fancy hardwood or tile or carpet. They had no electricity. They had to walk to the closest pump for water. Yet they smiled when they saw you. They swept their dirt floors and lined up their shoes in a row and invited you into their tiny homes and offered you food to eat. They would introduce their children.....and probably other children that they have taken in after a family member died.
They sang so loud in church. They would clap their hands and dance. They walked for miles....just to go to a church service. Rain or shine, they were there. Hungry for God. Aching for His hope. They didn't complain about what color the walls were or whether the pews were comfy or not. All they wanted was to meet with God in that tiny building.
I saw face after face. I met church workers and pastors. We traveled a couple hours away to minister to a city even more destitute named Yungar. And again.....we were greeted with smiles and energetic children.
We gave away Christmas gifts to the children in all three cities. A bookbag with some shoes and school supplies inside. So simple....yet so gratefully accepted by every one of them. I can't tell you how many times I cried while watching these precious kids get so excited over a pair of shoes and some pencils. I can certainly tell you that I cried for a long time on the bus ride back to Lima.
Lima was bustling with energy, yet wrecked with pain. Drugs and sex trafficking was a growing concern. Houses were literally stacked right next to each other for miles. It was hot (Lima is a desert climate). It was dirty. But another city managed to capture my heart. I met a little girl named Josalyn. She fell in love with my blonde hair and white skin that turned pink if you pinched it. I sat there for hours with her in my arms. "Como se dice en espanol?" (How do you say this in Spanish?) I would ask, and then point to an object. She would reply, and then return the question "Como se dice en engles?" and then I would tell her. It was a fun game to her....me asking her what things were called in Spanish and then her asking me what they were called in English. And every time she would repeat the English word over and over like it was magical.
She cried on the last day when I left. Her little arms clung to me and she made me promise I would come back one day and see her. She pulled her hairbow out of her hair and gave it to me. .......She gave something to me. This little girl that had worn the same outfit for two days in a row because it was probably all she had gave me her hairbow. That made me cry too. I quickly pulled the one out of my hair and gave it to her. She smiled and clapped and showed her friends. I waved goodbye from the bus...and then I cried again once she was out of sight.
The last day we were able to go shopping for a few hours before we had to board our plane and go home. I told our group leader over and over again that I would one day return to Peru....maybe even live there one day. I bawled my eyes out when our plane lifted off the ground to come home. I cried again when we landed in America. The orange juice tasted awful on the plane.
This morning on my way to work, the clouds were broken up and the sky was orange as the sun began its slow ascent. For some reason, it took me back to that country. Things like that happen all of the time. I'll see a Hispanic child in a store or catch a scent in the street that will yank me back seven years to a tiny town tucked away in the mountains of Peru. I'll see a little girl and wonder how Josalyn is faring in such a harsh country.
A friend of mine was able to go back to Peru in 2010 and actually got a picture with Josalyn....she was just as beautiful as I remembered her.....and my friend said she was speaking excellent English. That warms my heart and gives me hope that she will have a better life than those before her.
Some of the memories are starting to fade, which makes me sad. I can't remember all of the pastors' names that we met. I can't remember the name of the hotel we stayed at in Lima. But I believe that even if I forget some of the specifics, the impression that country made on me will never fade.
Peru helps keep my perspective in check. It's hard to complain about your car when you've seen people walk for miles on treacherous paths throught the mountains in Huaraz. It's hard to complain about your government when you've been to a country where the government won't help its own people that starve to death.
I still hope to go back one day. I would love to take Roman with me so he can meet some of the people I met seven years ago. I hope that one day I can return. I don't know if God will ever call us to that country as missionaries. I think that right now He has our hearts planted in our current city...a broken city inside of a broken country. But a piece of me will always belong to a country 3,100 miles away.
And today, I miss that country very much.
"And this gospel of the Kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." ~Matthew 24:14