Category: ministry

More than just a mission trip

My adventure in Pampachiri started long before I even got to the city.  I left from Chiclayo on Saturday morning, headed for the airport in Lima.  I got there late in the evening, and settled in to spend the night in the airport.  I got an email later from a few of the other people on the team who were also camping out at the airport and trying to connect with me, but I didn’t see it until later, so I just found an isolated corner of the airport, used my backpack as a pillow and pulled my jacket over my face, and went to sleep.  Thank goodness for earplugs :). Early the next morning, I got in line to check into my flight, and finally met up with the rest of the group – it’s pretty easy to spot a large group of foreigners with extensive amounts of medical supplies in the small airport in Lima.

The flight to Andahuaylas was fairly uneventful, other than the normal chaos that comes with transporting lots of bags and people.  After we landed in Andahuaylas, we had to hang around the airport for several hours until the buses came to get us on the 3 hour trip to Pampachiri.  And when it finally did arrive, it was too big to actually make it all the way to the “airport” (I use the term loosely), so we had to bring all of our bags and the medical supplies by foot until we got to the buses.  I was very glad at that point that I had packed so lightly – my backpack that I used for the entire month was actually much smaller than most of the other personal bags for the week and a half mission trip.  Always an adventure!  I love it ^_^.  It was even more complicated because of the enormous amount of medical supplies that they brought – it was too heavy to fit in the tiny plane from Lima to Andahuaylas, so it had to be bussed in several days earlier from Lima to make sure that it got there on time.

Before I met up with the group, I had some concerns about how I would assimilate with a group of people I had never met, especially since I had missed all of the training that they had together in the States before leaving.  I needn’t have worried.  They accepted me instantly.  By the time we got to Pampachiri, I felt like I had known them all my life.  Same thing with Ingrid and Carlos (our hosts), and the other Carlos (Ingrid’s cousin).  I like to call him Carlos the Second :).  In fact, as the week, went on, I found myself spending more and more time with the Peruvians in the evening, and less with the Americans.  I loved them all, but since I got to see so much of the Americans while we were at clinic during the day, I tried to spend my time in the evenings learning from the Peruvians.  They taught me slang Spanish, and Peruvian folk songs, and all about their national and personal histories.  It was really fascinating; definitely time well spent.  I really connected with the Peruvian culture and the people that I met while I was there.  It’s definitely a place that I will be going back to.

My job as part of the mission team, since I have absolutely no medical experience and zero desire to change that fact, was serving as a Spanish-English translator.  Definitely one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever done.  I would say that my Spanish is at a pretty decent conversational level; however, speaking medical Spanish is a completely different language.  Whew.  Many of these terms I didn’t even know in English, let alone Spanish.  On several occasions every day, I found myself having to ask the doctors what a word meant in English first, before I could move over and translate it into Spanish.  And then sometimes there was an added bonus if the patient only spoke Quechua; then we had to do the same process through 2 separate translators.  Yikes.  It was quite a challenge.  But it was fun.  Of course there were some times when I wanted to give up and go home, but overall I really enjoyed it.  Something I’ve noticed about when I travel: when I’m in the States I’m happy and comfortable, but when I’m abroad I feel….fulfilled.  In a way I’ve rarely or never felt when stateside.

The daily devotionals we had as a group were also a huge encouragement to me.  I particularly liked Tuesday’s devotional, which was on the story of Jesus healing Jairus’ daughter.  The title was “seeing the unseen,” and talked about how God is working behind the scenes to put the pieces of our lives together for our good.  We may not know or see how He’s doing that, but we can be confident that He is.  As I talked about in my previous blog, my trip to Pampachiri was the culmination of weeks of God teaching me just that very thing.  As a translator, I not only got to tell people about good health and hygiene, but I also got to tell them about Jesus and what he’s done in my life.

Aside from that, my ability to communication in Spanish meant that I was also able to enjoy a traditional festival that happened while we were in town, go on a couple of hikes with Ingrid and Carlos the Second and some people from the group, and have late night discussions with Carlos and a few of the younger doctors, with me serving as a translator and lots of laughter all around.  Pampachiri was more than just a mission trip.  It was a time of relaxation and rejuvenation, an answer to my prayers that my trip be more than just sightseeing, an encouragement and affirmation of my worth as a child of God, a reminder of His fervent desire to bring more people into that family, a glimpse into the lives of some very passionate and inspiring people from several different countries, a taste of human hardship – but also grit and determination – and what I can do to lessen that hardship.  It was truly an incredible week.  I can’t wait to go back!!!

A peek behind the curtain

I have mentioned in some of my previous posts about the random and unexpected series of circumstances that caused me to serve as a translator for a medical mission trip in southern Peru, rather than spend a week in the jungle with Caro like I had originally planned.  But there is much, much more to the story than a mere series of unexpected and fortuitous coincidences.  Before I go into the details of what actually happened while I was serving in Pampachiri, I would like to first take some time to talk more in depth about how I got there. I apologize if the story is a little disjointed.  I will do my best to be coherent, but you will see that the details themselves are quite scattered, which may make it difficult to have a linear tale.

I suppose my story – at least to the depth of my knowledge – begins about 4 weeks before I left for Peru.  I was trying to figure out what to pack; although I knew that I was going to be there during the Peruvian winter, Peru is also a fairly tropical country, so I wasn’t sure how cold it was actually going to get.  I talked to a very outdoorsy friend of mine, and she said that it would be better to be safe than sorry, and recommended that I buy a nice Patagonia winter jacket.  I listened to her advice, and purchased it; it arrived just a few days before I left the country.  But for most of the trip, I was regretting bringing it.  It was not far enough along in winter to need it in the south, and as we journeyed further north, closer to the equator, it became even warmer.  I found myself frustrated with myself for packing this heavy jacket, and in the end having to lug it all around the country without ever actually needing to wear it.  But then I ended up in Pampachiri, and wouldn’t you know, it got below freezing every single night.

But wait!  I have completely skipped over one of the most exciting details – how I actually got to Pampachiri in the first place!  About halfway through our trip, both Caroline and I, independently of each other, had started to come to the same conclusion – that 5 weeks of pure sightseeing is too long.  The idea of spending an entire week in the jungle was starting to seem like not worth the effort to both of us, and I was starting to really regret having left our friends in Cusco so early.  We had pushed so hard so that we could see everything (including the jungle), but now we didn’t even want to see the jungle!  It was frustrating.  On top of that, Caro was beginning to think about leaving me and flying down to Argentina to see her fiance’s family, who live down there.  It was around this time that we arrived in Chachapoyas – I remember that we arrived on a Saturday evening.  Little did I know, but a conference called JAQ (Jesus and the Q’uran) was happening at the same time back in Atlanta at Grace Snellville, the parent church of my own church.  When we checked into the hostel in Chachapoyas and I checked my email, I had a message from a woman I’d never met.  She said that her name was Julie, and that she had met a friend of mine, Monica, who was serving at the coffee counter at JAQ.  (If you want to take the story back even further, I found out later that Monica had been volunteering at JAQ for years, but she originally asked to serve at the registration tables.  They put her at the coffee bar instead, and when she realized the opportunity that serving there gave her to meet and talk with people, she started requesting the coffee bar every time she works at JAQ.  If she hadn’t done that, she and Julia never would have met.  Isn’t it crazy how far back this story goes?!?)  But anyway, Julie and Monica met, and they started chatting about Peru.  Julie said that she was heading down there next week to serve on a medical missions trip with Grace Snellville, and Monica mentioned that I was already there.  Since she didn’t have my contact information, Julie asked to use Monica’s Facebook account to send me a message inviting me to join them as a translator (I later found out that Julie almost didn’t act on the impulse she had to write to me.  I’m so very glad that she did!).

So, switch back to me in my hostel in Chachapoyas.  I received the message from Julie, and was very excited about it.  I had originally thought that she was one of the group leaders; it turns out that she wasn’t, which makes me even happier that she chose to act on her impulse and invite me anyway.  And immediately, I started seeing how God had been working behind the scenes (although it would be weeks before I got the full picture) to get me there my entire trip.  I was looking at the calendar, and realized that if we had stayed longer in Cusco like I had originally wanted to – particularly after deciding to not go to the jungle – I would not have had time to get back to Pampachiri in time, as I was pretty far away when I got Julie’s message.  Also, I just love that Caro and I had already independently decided not to go to the jungle and to split up, pretty much just a few hours before I received Julie’s message.  So there wasn’t even a concern about leaving Caro or disappointing her by not going to the jungle with her.  Little did I know that Julie did not have regular access to internet, and I certainly did not.  But her message came in right as I was checking into a hostel that did happen to have internet, so I was able to write back immediately and get another response from her with a bit more information.  Again, if the initial communication hadn’t been so quick, I wouldn’t have had time to purchase my plane ticket and meet the team on time.

Oh, the plane ticket is another incredible example of God’s provision.  Because I was so far away from Pampachiri when I received Julie’s message, I had to take a plane down to meet the team there.  I technically could have taken a bus – and I almost did when I saw the cost of the plane ticket – but I finally decided that I simply could not handle another long-distance bus through the mountains of Peru.  So I just bit the bullet and bought the plane ticket.  Right after I bought the ticket, I checked the balance on my bank account to make sure that I had enough left to last me the rest of the trip.  Wouldn’t you know it, I had an unexpected deposit from Georgia Tech – for the exact same amount that the plane ticket had cost.  If that’s not confirmation of divine guidance, I don’t know what is :).  In my hurry, I had even originally bought a ticket for the wrong day – and was able to change it (via spotty emails in Spanish to the customer service department, since I didn’t have phone service) without getting charged any sort of fee.  I’ve never heard of an airline that doesn’t charge you to change a flight less than a week before departure.

Oh, and while I’m on the subject of numbers, I suppose I should mention my bag.  The weight limit for bringing a bag on this flight, since it was such a small plane, was pretty small.  I weighed my bag before getting to the airport, and it was half a kilo over the weight limit.  I had to bring all of my stuff with me, though, so I just went to the airport anyway.  I was planning on just begging them to let me on when I got there.  Wouldn’t you know, when the airport weighed my bag, it actually weighed almost a full kilo less than the weight limit.  And it weighed even less on my return trip, after I had bought a few souvenirs!

Pampachiri was really the summation of weeks of God gently (and sometimes not so gently) teaching me to let go and let Him lead.  Teaching me that He is looking out for me, even if I don’t know how, even if I can’t see it.  I probably wouldn’t have even considered signing up for the mission trip in the first place if I hadn’t already been in Peru – I didn’t have enough confidence in my Spanish skills to think that I would be able to translate at a medical clinic.  But because I was already in the country, I went, and I never regretted it for a second.  Pampachiri was so incredible…and seeing how God worked behind the scenes – gave me a “peek behind the curtain” – to get me there was extraordinarily humbling.  It really reminded me of why I love to travel in the first place – to learn more about myself and the world around me, and not just to learn about it, but to make a difference in it.  I’m so glad God chose to remind me – I had almost forgotten.  I’m just flabbergasted by His goodness.  Can’t wait to tell you what happened while I was there in the next installment of Sinbad’s adventures!

Be careful what you wish for

Many of you may know this, many do not; but about a year ago, I was falsely arrested and spent a night in jail before my bail was paid and I was released.  Actually, it was exactly one year ago today, which is why I finally decided to post this.  Seemed like a good way to commemorate what God’s done in my life over the past year.

Anyway, what followed after my arrest last year was a continuing saga of lawyers, court dates, tears, and stress before my case was finally dismissed and my arrest record expunged just a couple of months ago.  I agonized over whether I should write about this at all; while an unexpected and certainly unpleasant experience, I wouldn’t want to cause any unnecessary concern.  At this point I’m totally fine, and I’d honestly prefer to let bygones be bygones.

But I finally decided that my story needed to be shared.  And here is why.  The last year has not been just a continuing saga of court dates and stress.  It has also been an even stronger story of growth and redemption.  For nearly 6 months after that fateful night, I had felt God calling me to start working in some sort of prison ministry.  It’s not something I would have ever thought of before, but after having been inside and met and talked with the people in there, I just really felt like God wanted me to love on these people that, quite frankly, nobody else loves.  But regardless of how strongly I felt about it, it doesn’t mean I wanted to do it.  What I wanted to do was stay as far away from any prison or police officer as possible.

But I digress.  I finally relented and started the lengthy process required to get cleared to volunteer.  The last step was my arrest expungement, which didn’t go through until November, but after that I was officially cleared to volunteer.  My first time was a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been several times since.  I have to admit….I was quaking when I walked into that facility.  But by the time I walked out…I’m not sure how to verbalize what was going on when I walked out.

For all the prayers, all the journaling, all the talking through things that I’ve done over the past year, I wasn’t even close to prepared for what I would experience.  Regardless of my negative initial experience, I was reminded over and over again that people, even people in prison, are still people.  They’re humans with hopes and dreams and frustrations, just like you and me.  They’ve been through some terrible things – some because of choices they’ve made, many through no fault of their own.  But, at the core of it all, they still are just hurting, broken individuals like the rest of us, people who need to be loved on and shown God’s grace and compassion.

It was really an incredible, eye-opening time for me…probably the best therapy I could have ever gotten.  For all of my talk about the importance of open-mindedness and sensitivity to others, working in this this ministry made me realize that I had a whole lot of latent prejudices that I didn’t even fully recognize.  On multiple occasions, I found my heart absolutely breaking for people that I didn’t even know 3 weeks ago – people that, even now, I still only know on a first-name basis.

The old adage, “be careful what you wish for,” is equally true when it comes to prayer.  For many years, I have prayed that God would give me His eyes, that He would break my heart by what breaks His.  Well it seems that I myself needed to be broken before I could break for someone else.  But over the course of the last 12 months, I’ve finally come to the point where I can honestly say that I’m grateful for my arrest, and I’m really looking forward to going back to the prison ministry.  God truly does work in mysterious ways!