Peru shut down fast. With less than 24 hours notice, all flights in or out of the country were cancelled and everyone was ordered to stay home. In the cities, the quarantine and nightly curfew were being enforced by police and military.
Isaura asked me what the Resurrection was. Angela and I looked at each other shocked, realizing that this couple, who had a large image of Jesus’ Cross on a poster above their table, had never heard of the Resurrection. The Resurrection changes everything, and this man was about to die without knowing about it.
When we talked about whether we would stay [in Peru] during this time or try to get back to the States, Robert and I were both on the same page. God, in His mercy, gave us clarity and peace about staying and continuing to serve the people—our own friends and neighbors—during this difficult time of uncertainty for many.
I never knew living in solidarity with the poor meant being locked away from them for weeks! I think about what St. Paul must have felt when he was imprisoned: his ministries were halted by the authorities and he was unable to share the Good News as he planned. However St. Paul did not sit idle during his confinement.
I looked in his eyes and told him he was a special young man. I asked him why he did it; His response was simple, “It’s what Jesus would have done.”
I burst into tears. Perhaps one of the hardest things about being a missionary is seeing that, in spite of our efforts to live in solidarity with the poor, there exists a world of difference in the opportunities available to us and to them. Try as I might, I’ll never truly understand the plight of the poor.
I began to cry quietly in my little spot in the dark. It was an invitation. An invitation to poverty and generosity in a way that I had not yet known. An invitation into this part of Jesus’ life––and it felt impossible.
We’re in a large port city off the Amazon River called Iquitos. One of the poorest areas that we’ve been visiting often is called Belén. I just learned that Belén is the Spanish word for Bethlehem. That realization was so profound to me because we have encountered Jesus in His poor and lowly stable every time we’ve gone to this Bethlehem.
I passed by a simple concrete home where a woman was standing outside sweeping. We exchanged customary greetings, and when I asked her how she was, she responded with something about being in her home all alone. That was a clue from the Spirit that I need to stop here.
It’s been almost two weeks since we moved to our new mission post. From the jungles to the “Heart of the Amazon” (as it’s known by its inhabitants). It was a 10-hour drive through Peru and its mighty mountains, where our new home awaited. We arrived safely with only the belongings we were able to fit in our truck.
Early on into our time in Peru, I heard about this youth receiving her Sacrament of Confirmation, and that youth her Baptism, and yet another who would be receiving all three of the initiation Sacraments. But I never heard about any classes to teach what the Sacraments were. A man who was supposedly the Catechist told me formation was happening every Sunday. Sundays came and went, and I never observed any classes. Four months had passed: it was time to get to the bottom of this Faith Formation mystery.
But talking to Segundo was not merely an outward act of Christian bravery or heroism that only foreign missionaries can do. This is common courtesy. This is acknowledging and encountering other human beings because they matter and because God loves them. This is how we love others, by paying attention. And this is a call for everyone.
On the third day we held the medical clinic in our own town of Pucacaca. One lady came in with her elderly cousin, an 88-year-old frail woman who struggled to walk. The sweet elderly woman must have had her hair colored for the occasion, as she still had the remnants of dye on the skin around her hairline. She had a pleasant demeanor and may have been blissfully unaware of what was going on around her.
As I walked, my blood started to boil, I was so angry that I was close to tears. We found Fernando hunched under a tree and the boy towering over him.
Crawling. Isn’t that how we sometimes live the Christian life? We talk about the Christian walk, climbing the mountain, running to attain the goal…but in reality, it seems that we’re slowly creeping along on our hands and knees, doing all we can not to give up before we reach the top.
We have been in Peru for 2 1/2 weeks. We have had a lot to process as life here is very different from our life in Minnesota. Our children want to share some of their perspectives with you!
These few weeks have taught me more about living in sync with nature. We cook with foods that are available locally instead of going to a grocery store with hundreds of options. We decide when to wash our laundry based on the rain forecast, since they are hung to dry—after they are hand washed. Many conveniences that I’ve taken for granted are not part of our life here. There is both beauty and challenge in the simplicity of it. But we choose this route so that we can walk in solidarity with the poor whom we serve.
We began our descent into Lima, and when the clouds finally cleared, we could see the ocean and the beautiful mountains. As we looked out the window, Jimena’s eyes filled with wonder and she leaned over to me and said with a gentle and warm smile, “El mar! Bienvenidos a tu hogar nuevo.”