Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Peru Reflections

Near the end of The Return of the King, Frodo says, “How do you pick up the threads of an old life?  How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back?”

Even before I went to Peru, I knew I would not return the same person.  The evening after we had spent the day at the zoo, we went to a market, and my heart was not there.  Okay, so I don’t like shopping, anyway, but it seemed so incongruous after what we had experienced.  (Not a criticism toward the trip planners, who are awesome; just how I was feeling at the time.)

After shopping, we went to dinner at a Chinese (Chifa) restaurant where we had a room to ourselves.  Sean asked for people to share about the day, and I wanted so much to do that, but all I could do was cry.  

I cried for the people who have so little but give so much.  I cried for all the smiling faces of all those sweet childen, and for the hugs and kisses they gave us, the way they accepted us unconditionally without even knowing us. 

I cried for the beautiful country I was leaving behind, with its coastal plains, majestic mountains, and amazing jungles.

I cried for Jack, who lives in one room with his mother, sister, and nephew and has no father now, who has to walk 30 minutes to school in the dark, who plays futbol, the trumpet, and the violin, who is a leader in his church Bible study, who is fourth in his class academically . . . who means so very much to me and is such a blessing in my life.  I cried for the love he has for me and the love I have for him, love that can only be born and grow through Jesus.

I cried for how God has brought us together in a supernatural way because He knew how much we would bless each other in His name.

I cried for the people who don’t quite get it--those who have no idea how we can change the world simply by changing the life of a child.

I cried for the people with whom I had become close and to whom I would soon have to say good-bye.

I cried because I may never see Jack again on Earth.

I cried for reasons only my heart knows.

My heart was touched, and I will never forget it.

I know as time goes on, the Lord will reveal to me even more lessons that I learned on that trip.

So how do I “pick up the threads of an old life”?  

I don’t.  I am forever changed, and I pray that the change will be reflected in my daily life, in my encounters with my friends, in my encounters with people I don’t know, in my Compassion Advocacy, and in my job where I'm not even supposed to talk about God.

Compassion Peru--my heart is with you and with your people.  I will never forget you.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Peru, Part 5--The Most Special Day of All

I woke on Saturday in Lima more excited than I can ever describe.  I couldn't believe that I was actually going to meet Jack.

I decided some time ago that if I ever visited one of the kids I sponsor, it would be Jack because he was the oldest at that time (I now have a girl two years older than he), but more importantly, because we had developed a close relationship through our letters.  I could see him grow spiritually, and I knew that he loved me very much without ever having met me.  I prayed for well over a year for the opportunity to go to Peru, never imagining that as a teacher I would actually have the funds to do that.  I received a letter from Jack in January of 2012 that said his greatest prayer request was to meet me in person.  I didn't know at the time how important it is to the kids to meet their sponsors.  Two weeks later, I received an email from Compassion about this trip to the jungle.  My first thought was that I wasn't good enough to make a trip to the jungle, and my second was that I needed to pray about it for at least a week.

Then I said, "Duh, Mindi.  You've been praying about it, and so has Jack.  This is the answer."  So I signed up.  I had never been to a place where English is not the official language, and I had never used my passport.  And there I was saying "yes" to go to the Amazon jungle!

Before I made the trip, I received seven more letters from Jack, and four of them said that his greatest dream was to meet me in person.

We met our kids at the Lima Zoo, spent a few hours there, had lunch at Pardo's chicken, and then spent some time in a park next door.

As we approached the zoo, I was so excited, I couldn't contain myself.  I knew that somewhere beyond those gates was a 16-year-old whose dream I was about to fulfill.  I can't say I've ever been able to do something like that before.

Sean, our leader, told us that our names would be called, and that we would be matched up with our kids in an orderly manner.  Once we went through the gates, I pretty much led the way to the place where the kids were all waiting with a parent, a project worker, and a translator.  I tried to find Jack in the crowd, but suddenly there he was in front of me, and he grabbed me and hugged me as if he never wanted to let go.  After all the "strong hugs" he had sent me in his letters, there I was receiving one in person.  I can't even describe the feeling.

The translator told me that he (the translator) was looking for my name tag, and Jack came running up behind him to say that he saw me and then ran to me.  I don't even know what to say about that.

Jack's mother was with him.  She's also a worker at the project, so no one else had to come with them. She said that she considers me to be a part of the family and a second mother to Jack.  How many mothers are willing to say something like that??  One of the first questions she asked is when I would be able to visit again.  By the time we had made our introductions, I showed them how my hands were shaking from the excitement.  I was thrilled!
Jack and his mother.  I made him smile.  Teenagers!  :)
They live in Trujillo, so they had made an 8-hour bus trip to Lima.  Jack said the bus was boring, but he was excited that they were able to stay in a hotel. He had never been in a hotel.
I asked when he was told that I was coming to visit, and he said that the director of the project asked if he'd ever been to Lima and told him they had a surprise for him in Lima.  That was two weeks before my visit.  Then they bought bus tickets for him and his mom, but they still didn't tell them why they were going to Lima.  Jack said he finally guessed on the bus ride.  I think it's awesome that they weren't told, that it was a total surprise.  I'm not sure why they weren't told, but I liked it that way.

We walked around the zoo for a few hours, and we took a ride on the peddle boats.  Jack drove, and he kept running into walls around the pond.  We had a lot of fun doing that.

This is the pond where we rode the boat.  Jack wanted to go through the dolphin topiaries, but when we got close, we noticed that we were blocked.  Here's Jack driving the boat.  My camera focused on the boat rather than Jack, but it's not too bad.

When we found the penguins, I told Jack I had to take his picture there because the Penguins are my favorite ice hockey team.  He thought that was hilarious.

Throughout our time together, we talked about things we like.  I knew that Jack plays the trumpet in school and at his church, but I didn't know he also plays the violin!  He said he wants to play the saxophone, but it's too hard.  I told him I played the saxophone in high school, along with a few other instruments.

Jack's mom said that he'd had three other sponsors, but they never wrote to him and none of them visited him.  Actually, I began as Jack's correspondence sponsor because his third sponsor didn't write at all.  Then when he or she dropped him, I became his financial sponsor.  Some people have told me that I write too much to my kids, but after hearing in person how much both Jack and his mother treasure my letters, I will never believe that.

Jack told the translator that he writes to me every month (he does), but he wishes he could write to me every day.  That melted my heart.  (Just one of many things throughout the day that did.)

I asked Jack about his favorite food, and he said that he has watched Garfield, so his favorite food is lasagna.  I definitely laughed at that!
Here is Jack feeding a leaf to a rather unattractive goat, as far as goats go.
I took a Frisbee for Jack, so once we reached the time that we had to meet back at the gate, we played with the Frisbee while we waited for everyone else.  The translator took a couple of pictures and said he hoped it was okay.  Of course!  I wish I had asked for more pictures of us together, but I didn't think about it.

We had a lot of fun playing.  That's one thing I can do pretty well.  Jack liked the Frisbee because I had bought it at one of the tourist shops on Atlantic Avenue, so it says "Virginia Beach" on it.  He thought it was especially cool that the back says, "Made in U.S.A."  I'm so glad it wasn't China!!

I taught him the meaning of the word "cool."  I also pointed out that one of the guys in our group is "loco," so every time we passed him, Jack said, "Loco."  He has a great sense of humor.  Even though I don't speak Spanish fluently, we communicated well, and of course, we had the translator to help.

Next we went to Pardo's for chicken.  Man, that chicken was SO good!  I couldn't eat all of the food, but it was awesome.  I asked Jack if he liked desserts, and he said that he likes ice cream and that chocolate is his favorite.  I told him that's my favorite ice cream, too, and that I also love chocolate cake.  His mother then said that she was amazed at how the Lord had brought together two people who have so much in common.  That reminded me of Sean's comments about Jhuniors, whom I had just sponsored.  And beside us was a couple with their little girl, and she was NOT shy!  Not in the least. Sean had said to them, "How did you find a girl with your personality?"

It's amazing because we just look at the pictures on the website and choose one that grabs our hearts, or in my case, I was just given Jack.  We know nothing about the personalities of these children, but God knows who needs whom.  He amazes me.

Pardo's had paper crowns like Burger King, so Jack wore one:

He discovered the uber coolness of my iPhone, and he loved tobyMac's music.  Toby--you have a new fan in Peru.

I showed him how he could take a picture of himself with the iPhone, so he took this funny one.

He was eating chocolate cake--our dessert!  I said that God was celebrating with us by giving us chocolate cake.

After lunch we went to the park where we gave the kids the gifts we had brought for them.  I had crocheted a shawl for his mother and his sister and took some things for the home for his mom.  She was so, so grateful.  She hugged each item and cried.  I am so glad that Jack has such a wonderful mother.

She apologized for not bringing a gift to me since they didn't know they would be meeting me.  I told her that I need nothing, and that being with them was my gift.

Then it was Jack's turn.  I ended up with two backpacks for him.  One is a Steelers drawstring bag that someone gave me after I got to Peru.  I had knitted a blanket for Jack, and he wrapped himself in that. He loved it.  It warms my heart to think of Jack using that blanket to stay warm at night.  I also took him some school supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste, playing cards with Virginia Beach on them, and a bookmark with Virginia Beach on it.  I got a deal on tee shirts from one of the tourist shops (why I always go there after Labor Day), and each time Jack took a shirt out of the bag, he said, "Virginia Beach!'  He loved it.

The two biggies were a new soccer ball with a pump and a Spanish study Bible for teenage boys with his name engraved on the front.  I thought he would like the soccer ball the best, but when he took the Bible out of the bag, he said, "La Biblia!" and jumped up and hugged me!

At the end, I asked him what his favorite thing was, and he said, "La Biblia."

Jack found Psalm 23 in the Bible, handed me the Bible, and then proceeded to recite the Psalm. :)

I may or may not have propagandized Jack a little:

New soccer ball:

It was really fun to watch Jack play with the ball.  He's a very good player, and last year his school team was in the championship. His mother said she thinks he's good because when he comes home, he's always very dirty.  I agree!  Good athletes get dirty.

Jack leaves his house at 6:00 AM to walk 30 minutes to school.  He is fourth in his class academically.  He plays in the school band and the church band and has practice after school.  He also has futbol practice after school.  He sometimes doesn't finish with those practices until 8 PM.  He also attends a Bible study for teenagers on Friday nights.  And he goes to the project for the program there.  He loves the Lord with all His heart.  I encouraged him to continue to follow Him fervently.  (Okay, so I don't know that word in Spanish, but that was the basic idea.)

Jack kept saying all day that he felt like he was in a dream that he didn't want to wake up from.  I agreed, and yet I STILL couldn't believe I could be so important to someone.

After we prayed together, it was time to leave.  The time had gone so, so fast.  I will never forget that day or the love that I was shown by Jack and his mother.  It has helped me to understand God's love for me in a new way.  I went to Peru to bless Jack and his family, and I received a blessing along the way.

As soon as Jack and his mom got on the bus to leave, I started crying.  It wasn't all because of sadness.  There were so many emotions that I can't even come to grips with them more than a week later.  I just know that it was an experience like no other I've ever had.

I cried a lot.  Other people on the bus pulled themselves together, but I just kept crying.  I cry even now as I type this.  How can I have so much love for someone with whom I have spent only a few hours?  God.  That's how.

My goal is to go back again, this time on an individual visit, to see Jack before he finishes the project in two years.

¡Hasta pronto, mi amigo!  Dios te guarde.

Part 6http://minscompassion.blogspot.com/2012/10/peru-reflections.html

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Peru, Part 4

Thursday was a day that we didn't visit any children.  I really wanted to go to another project, but this day was designed to allow us to have some fun and to take a break from the emotions we had been experiencing.  We went in several vans into the jungle with a tour group.  Our guide, Omar, was hilarious.  He gave us some historical background, but he also told jokes.
First, we went to a very old bridge which I would have been afraid to cross a few years ago, but I can do it now.  I had to have my picture taken with my Terrible Towel on that bridge even though I don't like pictures of myself, but this is a Steeler Nation tradition.

Then we went to a place where two rivers converge to form a third.  I sort of chuckled because I have been to Pittsburgh a million times where the Allegheny and Monongahela form the Ohio, and those rivers are much bigger, but this was nice.

The highlight of the day for me was swimming under a waterfall.  Because I have a Lifeproof case on my iPhone, I was able to take it into the waterfall.  I have a ton of pictures, but I'll try to share just a few and a couple of videos from my phone.

There's no way I was willing to test the power of that waterfall!!  I'm sure it would have slammed me onto the rocks, but apparently it was very refreshing--the jungle was quite hot that day.
Watch on Vimeo.

Watch on Vimeo.

Here is a picture of one of a few series of steps we had to climb to and from the waterfall.

After that, we walked to a nearby waterfall called "Vella de la Novia," or "Bride's Veil."  We had some serious steps to conquer there, too, but it was worth it.
From the top of the waterfall
This is much better on Vimeo.

I loved the beauty of the jungle.  I couldn't believe I was actually there.  We did a couple of other things, but the waterfalls were the best, for sure.  The very last thing we did was to visit a coffee factory where I had to buy some coffee, of course.  I also bought some chocolate for baking.  Coffee and chocolate--how could I go wrong?

The next morning, we left La Merced to travel back over the Andes Mountains to Lima.  I was disappointed to leave the jungle, but I knew that going back to Lima meant I would be meeting Jack.

I took a few pictures from my hotel room before we left:

Motor taxis are a common form of transportation.

Then it was off to the Andes.  I took most of these pictures through the bus window, so you might see a reflection.

 In Peru, people can just choose a piece of land on the side of a hill or mountain and build a house.

My new favorite drink
That night back in Lima, we went to a grocery store after dinner, and then a few of us went looking for coffee and hot chocolate.  Actually, I didn't want the drinks, but I wanted the adventure.  At first we tried McDonald's, which sold neither.
Some members of our group, who don't speak Spanish, asked some police offers, who don't speak English, how to get to Starbuck's.  Not surprisingly, we went the wrong way.  After we realized that, we stopped a guy on the street, I asked him in Spanish how to get to Starbuck's.  He answered in English!  He had lived in New Jersey for four years, so he spoke fluent English.  I was laughing at myself because I thought I would save the day by speaking Spanish, and it wasn't even needed.  We finally found Starbuck's:

I went to sleep that night excited to be able to visit Jack the next day.  I couldn't believe I was actually going to be able to meet him in person!

Check back for details on that amazing day.