Memories from the field

Salida

Here are a few of our special memories in random order…

Where is the salida?

I “discerned” from my travels the word restroom meant salida. It seemed everywhere I went the word salida was always around a restroom. The word actually means exit. I was at a restaurant on Saturday night asking a worker where the salida was. I was standing in the exit when I asked him.

He politely pointed toward the door. I wondered what he thought about a guy standing in the exit asking where the exit was. When he pointed out the door, I was confused. The door led out to a plaza where hundreds of people were milling around.

This did not make sense to me, so I threw down another word from my vast restroom vocabulary by asking where the toilet (toe-lay) was. And I spoke louder because if you talk louder to someone who does not understand you, they will be able to understand. He pointed in the opposite direction, toward the restroom.

I eventually did find the restroom. What a great way to learn Spanish. I did muse, though, how this is just like home: if you have to use the restroom, you go outside.

Fanning flatulence

During one of our teaching sessions I noticed one of the missionary wives fanning herself in a way that unmistakably meant her husband had passed gas. Of course, I could not let that go without drawing attention to it.

Her husband happens to be lactose intolerant and he inadvertently downed some milk, which caused immediate flatulence. Within seconds the smell had wafted its way to me as I was teaching. They were sitting the closest to me.

The wife was embarrassed and the husband–a man after my own heart–seemed to be okay with it, as though he was a pro in such matters. The whole room was bursting in laughter. In all my teaching life, that was a first. I laugh even now as I write this. To be with a group of folks who do not take themselves seriously and can give themselves over to hearty laughter is a beautiful thing.

Toothless salesladies

Going to the Anaconda Restaurant and the La Jungla Zoo in a low-riding boat was fun. The highlight was probably hanging with the toothless old ladies selling beads on the dirt streets. They had no inhibition about soliciting anyone and they would not take no for an answer.

I did not want their bracelets, but I did want to give them money, so I did. I gave three of the ladies a piece of money. They wanted to give me a bracelet for the money, but I would not take it. Once they found out the money was gratis (free), they then proceeded to sell me something.

I could not understand a word they were saying and they had no clue to what I was saying. I then begin laughing at them and calling them selfish. They laughed with me. I told them how I couldn’t believe what they were doing and how they should be grateful to receive money from me and should cease from persisting to sell me something.

It was all in jest because they could not understand a word. Even as I “rebuked” them, they were smiling and waving beads in front of my face. I asked Kyle to let them know–in all seriousness–that I wanted to give them money to bless them and it was not necessary for them to sell their wares. They could sell them to someone else and double their profits.

And what did they do? They smiled and persisted on selling me some of their bracelets. In a way it was totally charming. In a way it was sad because of their poverty and desperation.

Happy little girl

The compound of Mission Tec is out in the jungle where all the roads are hard and dirt unless it is raining. Then they are sloppy-muddy and dirt. Because we were closer to the sun, being near the equator, the heat was extremely hot and muggy. It was kinda like stepping into a sauna–something some people do on purpose to sweat.

In Pucallpa the entire day and night was a muggy, hot sauna. Therefore, I called our walk outside the compound our “sauna walk”. David, Mary, Lucia, and I took a sauna walk one day to checkout the village. During this walk there was a little girl who was about 5-years old trailing us, hoping to receive something from us.

My kids made a bunch of the now popular loom bracelets before we left for Peru to give to the missionary kids and anyone else we met. I happened to have one around my wrist and offered it to this little girl. She was happy and grateful to receive it.

This bracelet was in our business colors so I began to tell her to go tell all her friends about our business and to get them to become members of our site. You know, like John 4 where the woman at the well left her water pot and went into town and said, “Come see a man…”.

Like the ladies selling me their bracelets, she did not understand a word I said, but was ready to smile and go on her way.

I told my children about this rendezvous with God and the girl and how it blessed her. My children were pleased to know this. I also told them it probably made this girl’s year to receive such a nice gift as a .50 cent loom bracelet. I can still see her happy, sweet face.

More memories forthcoming…

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Teaching missionaries

Peru Mission Tea

I began teaching first thing Monday morning. The daily routine was breakfast from 7:30 to 8:00AM. The folks gathered at 8:30 for a time of worshiping through singing. After the singing time each couple had a time to share their specific ministry and prayer needs. Then we would gather in groups to pray for about 15 minutes about those needs and other personal requests. From there I would teach. Usually my time was from about 9:30AM to 10:30 or 11AM.

We would take a break or Mike, the director over the entire ministry Peru, would give an update about the ministry, needs, dreams, and practical matters. Some days I would teach twice. It went like this:

  • Monday – I taught on an Overview of how to help people. The second session was my version of the Three Trees.
  • Tuesday – I taught on the Fear of Man.
  • Wednesday – I taught on Parenting, the role of Fathers.
  • Thursday – I taught on The Doctrine of Repentance. The second session was Biblical Decision Making.

Nearly all of these sessions were peppered with questions from the team. This also happened after each session. It was one of my many highlights. The team was one of the most humble and hungry group of Christians I’ve met. They could not get enough. Oh what joy.

After Monday, the LORD graciously moved the hearts of the folks and they gave me extra time so I could teach longer (more than the hour per session, which was originally slotted) and they also gave me an extra teaching slot from what was originally planned. The people were so gracious to do this. They scrunched up their update time to make room for more teaching–a mercy from the LORD.

The people were hungry for the training. They asked a lot of questions. They also laughed a lot. A LOT. We laughed all week. These Christians do not take themselves too seriously and are okay, ready, and desirous to laugh. So we did. It was fun. They got almost all my humor and the humor that did not get was even funnier.

All of them spoke English. There was one couple Kyle translated for, which blessed them. They spoke English, but needed some assistance, especially with some of my quirky sayings. Kyle was challenged to keep up because he was going from Redneck to English to Spanish. Kyle is British, so there were four world views coming together for the glory of God.

Kyle also made a sign-up sheet for all of them to pick a slot to spend private time with Lucia and me. These were “counseling” sessions where we spent time getting to know each person on the team. They were some of the best times–moments where we got to know each person in real ways. Each of these sessions were about 90 minutes. We laughed and cried and talked.

They were just as hungry in these counseling sessions as they were in the teaching times. Their humility was convicting and encouraging. They wanted to learn as much as they could. Several of them were asking for extra time and we ended up not able to fulfill those requests because there was no time. If I was not teaching, I was counseling. We went from 8:30 in the morning, up to 11PM at night.

The four things I did all week were sleep, eat, teach, and counsel. There was no time to swim in the lake or do anything else. This was by design and it was a complete joy. I told them I would sleep next week because it was imperative for me to be wasted this week. I was.

You need to slap your head

Bananas and Rice

Putting on the whole armor of God in Pucallpa, Peru includes soaking yourself in mosquito repellant. They hang in swarms. No matter where you are there are mosquitoes. All the little missionary kids seemingly have knotted legs from multiple mosquito bites. One of the mercies from the LORD is I have none. I have been wearing long sleeve shirts the whole week. I’ve had a few bites, but not many.

Lucia chose short sleeved shirts and lots of repellant. I adjusted my thinking by pretending I’m in the world’s largest sauna. When you go into a hot box (sauna) you expect to have lots of unremitting heat and endless sweating. We Americans do that on purpose. Thinking like I’m in a sauna has made it easier. It’s just a 24/7 sauna so walking around in the heat, which is bad enough, with a long sleeve shirt has not been as bad with this slight mental adjustment.

It has helped my week to not be bitten by mosquitoes. It has not stopped others from slapping my head though. I would inevitably be talking to someone and they would reach up and slap my head, killing a mosquito that had landed on my noggin. Sometimes a person would say, “You need to slap your head.” It took me a while to understand what they were saying. Eventually one of us would slap my head.

Another common occurrence are the tarantulas. It’s not unusual to walk outside and see a tarantula. There was one just outside the home we were in. There was a baby one attached to some steps we were walking up, heading to a meeting. The tarantulas are harmless. They won’t bother you unless you do something aggressive to them. They will let you hold them, rub them, enjoy them. If they do become aggravated by someone they flair out their hair, from what I’ve been told, and put off some kind of poison that makes you break out in a rash.

The LORD was gracious to allow us to see a sloth on the property, on the ground. From what others have said you hardly ever see a sloth on the ground. They are typically high up in a tree and you observe them from a far. The one we observed was by touching, rubbing, and videoing. That was cool. I will be putting a video on YouTube from that. They were clear that event was an anomaly. Thank you LORD.

On Wednesday we hopped a boat to go the the Anaconda Restaurant that was across the lake from where we were. We had three low riding boats, the kind you may remember from the movie The African Queen. It was one of those “congo type” boats where you could hang your hand over the side and drag along in the water. The restaurant was in a town, the name of which I do not remember. Lot’s of dirt roads and lots of toothless old women with scores of bracelets hanging around their wrists, hoping to sell their wares.

From the restaurant we hopped the boats again and went to the La Jungla Zoo, which is not like a zoo you’ve been to before. Some of the cages you could open if you wanted to, though you would not do that. I think you could open most of them. We walked on a raised platform path that kept you off the ground. All the animals, which were all small animals, were elevated to the level of the platform so we all were on the same level.

We walked along this platform “path” as it snaked it’s way around in a jagged kind of loop back to where we began. Along the path, besides a zillion mosquitoes biting you all along the way, was an anaconda. For an additional 10 soles you could hold the big snake. I could not resist that. It was super cool to have him/her wrapped around my neck and slithering around my arms.

This is really an amazing place where souls live who need Jesus. We are not in Kansas anymore and it’s quite evident. One thing for sure is how the people are no different from me. They just live in a different kind of place.

Mission Tec

Mission Tec

Mission Tec is an extension of Kids Alive International–an organization setup to rescue orphans and other rejected kids. Mission Tec was established by Cristina Thomas’ dad, who is a second generation missionary. Her dad, John, was born to parents who moved to Pucallpa from New York back in the thirties. They gave their lives on the mission field and John took over.

John earned a drafting degree and worked for a while for Boeing. He knows how to build and built the buildings on the Mission Tec property, including the house Cristina and Kyle now live. John owns an apartment in Lima, where we stayed after we arrived and will go back to before connecting to fly stateside.

John also built a large lake a few minutes from Mission Tec, where his desire is to build homes around the lake. He also built two children’s homes on another site, which is about 6 months from opening to house children. They own a lot of property there where the homes are and have the room to build many more homes for children. They plan to build a dining hall too. In addition to the two homes that are on site, there is a tool shed that also gives access to the water tower above.

When I use the word “homes” I’m talking about small houses. The children’s homes are real nice for Pucallpa standards, but they are real small for our standards. I don’t think there is no home over 1000 sq. ft. The Thomas home would be an exception, since it was built by Cristina’s dad. It may be 1500 to 1800 sq. ft. I saw another home that was bigger, but nearly everything is “hut like”. They are small square wooden boxes that may have two rooms in them. The children’s homes are made out of brick. These are really nice compared to the norm.

All of the work in Pucallpa is just one extension of the Kid’s Alive work. There is also a work in Lima and a few other places in Peru. I think Mission Tec folded into Kids Alive years ago and now they operate under their leadership. There are several homes within the brick walls of Mission Tec where nearly all the missionaries live. There are a couple of families who live outside the walls–walking distance. There are also other missionaries in other parts of Pucallpa region who are not part of Mission Tec or Kids Alive.

The locals treat the Mission Tec team nicely and with respect. They do not bother the two children’s homes on the other property, though those buildings are not filled yet and no one is on the property, other than occasional missionaries who come in for short stays. In light of the crime and deep sin in this area, it’s a surprise the people don’t break in to steal and vandalize.

The government is also favorable to Mission Tec due to the good work they are doing. The sex and drug issues in this area is beyond belief, e.g., rape, incest, every group of siblings having multiple fathers, whole families sleeping in the same room and participating in all the activities that a normal couple would do (intimacy). It’s a sin infested place where poverty is rampant.

Pulling into Pucallpa

Streets of Pucallpa

We were up at 5AM and out the door to meet a taxi (van) the mission sent for us to take us to the airport. The driver was one of their guys. I think. It seemed to be affirmed by how he drove. Unlike Jehu, who drove furiously, he drove with discretion and self-control. It was notably different. He stopped at stop signs. He looked both ways. He was courteous to others.

Our flight was at 8AM. We were early, which was a plus and checking in was a breeze and we had time for the kids to get a Mickey D’s fix. That was nice. We sat in a cafeteria area of the airport to eat and chat. After going through security we had another 30 minutes to wait. Also nice.

The plane was a jet–three per side and it was full. We were the whitest people on the plane. Going from Lima to the interior jungles of South America reduced the number of white folks onboard. I really liked being a minority. My riding mate, Hoyle, could not speak any English. The other guy didn’t talk, but I’m sure he spoke none.

I drew a picture for Hoyle on my iPad of the United States to show him where I was from and our flight route to get here. He liked that. He said some things and I smiled. We worked pretty hard at talking to each other. It was fun. I would love to live here for six months and immerse myself in their culture and learn to speak their language.

Being white in a dark world is a great experience. It allows you to get a snapshot of what it’s like to be black or Hispanic in Greenville. Though there are a lot of blacks and Hispanics in Greenville, I still feel very white and a majority. To see things through the eyes of a person who is not the majority report is humbling and instructive. To be able to speak English and nobody on the plane (hardly) can understand you reminded me of standing in WalMart listening to an Asian or Hispanic and not being able to perceive what they were saying. It was cool. Kinda like the Gospel–seeing things through the eyes of others.

We flew over the Andes. That was surreal. It was huge, brown, and big. There were little huts and villages every now and again. I thought about the Gospel there too. Who is telling them about Jesus? What do they know? Will they know?

We landed in Pucallpa on time. It was a small airport with a “cracks filled in” kind of runway. Not bad. It was hot. A lot hotter than in Lima where the wind came in from the Pacific.

Kyle Thomas and the director over all of Peru, Mike, met us. We rode in an air conditioned truck and one that was not. Ansa, who is slow to relate to strangers was wonderfully agreeable to ride without her siblings in the air conditioned truck. That was an anomaly as far as not being with her siblings. It was not an anomaly to be thinking mostly of herself. She is like her daddy that way.

We pulled out of Pucallpa proper, into the region of Pucallpa (the same name) where all the roads were dirt. There were scores and scores of three-wheeled motorized buggy type taxis. Everywhere. Like cooters on a log, they were in bunches. All of them trying to make a living. The poverty hit you in the face, along with the dust and the mosquitoes.

It gave a whole new many to putting on the whole armor of God. Mosquito repellant is essential to put on many times a day down here. They can swarm around you. Happiness is a dead one, though it’s a losing battle. I feel like an Egyptian fighting against a plague.

We hit the compound, called Mission Tec, about 30 minutes later, after stopping to get gasoline or propane. I don’t remember which one. Their vehicles are dual purpose. The propane is much cheaper. They call it gas and they call gas gasoline to make the distinction.

Once we hit the dirt roads you had to decide if you wanted air coming in with the dust of if you wanted no dust and no air through the windows. We chose air and dust. I saw a lady riding her motor bike with her external shirt on backwards and the collar area pulled up over her nose and mouth to keep from eating dirt on her trip.

Kyle and Cristina Thomas have a nice home on the lake–a home her dad built stick by stick with his hands, back when he and others built the compound. They all are part of Kids Alive, an international organization that rescues orphans and other unwanted children and cares for them through programs like AWANA and other things. They provide counseling, parenting, food, relationship, and Jesus for whosoever will.

The kids come in from the jungle villages, some because they want to and others because their parents see it as a parental perk. In that sense it’s no different from the motives of parents who send their kids to counseling. Some kids want help and others come for lesser reasons.

We chatted with Kyle and Cristiana for a while, separately. Cristina, Lucia, and Mary were in the kitchen preparing lunch. We had talked to them through Skype, but this was the first real good sit down talk. I like Kyle a lot.

To market, to market

To Market to Market

Everyone was up by 10AM and in good spirits. This was a gift from the LORD. Our kids were up for nearly 21 hours straight to get down here. Persevering grace was evident in all our lives. This was nice.

We were out of the apartment by 11AM and headed toward the beach. The first thing we saw was a double-decker bus carrying a group of singers and dancers through the tight streets, waving to everyone. They ended up at the cliffs that butted up to the Pacific Ocean putting on a dance for everyone. David and Mary said it may have been a young lady celebrating her fifteen birthday. It was nice, festive, and latin.

From there we made our way down to a plaza to eat lunch. There was an Americanized plaza with Starbucks and a few other world names. Plus wifi, praise God. We ate at this nice restaurant that served us Peruvian dishes–sandwiches mostly.

We spent the rest of the day shopping in flea market type venues, though they were different from what we’re used to in the states–not as tacky. They all ran along the same theme–seen one, you seen them all. Lots of wool. Wool is their thing, particularly Alpaca wool. As you go through the markets the folks are nice, but persistent in trying to sell you something. Negotiating is easy because they are willing to drop their prices quickly.

I found negotiating a bit humorous. They have been trained to negotiate down, which left you with a spirit of desperation on their part. Add in their persistence in getting you to buy something, which was a notch above begging, you were left with a stark contrast between our two lives.

What they did not know is I was not interested in negotiating down. Knowing what something costs and hearing their price was enough. I wanted to pay their price. When I consider God’s mercy on me to allow me to live in America, with a standard of living that is exponentially higher than theirs, to haggle over a dollar or two, or even five seemed a bit selfish. I felt sorry for them. As long as they weren’t ripping me off, it was a joy to give them money.

I compared the money given to them versus the things we were buying and it was evident that what we got and what they got were apples and oranges. The money to them was more valuable than the non-essential things we bought. Money helped them survive. What we bought were things to say, “We went to Peru.”

We bought a couple of small things for the kids. We also bought from the street venders. I got the kids three blow pops and we all had Inca Cola, the brand of the country. The food market was exceptionally instructive as far as how folks lived. It was not a particularly sad place, but they do enjoy a standard of living different from us.

In one market we saw how the chicken and fish were made to order. The wafting of the odors was pungent, but tolerable. We also got a corn tamale, which was pretty good.

We walked a lot. This was good due to all the sitting and an inability to run (exercise) due to time constraints. We hopped a taxi back to the apartment because we all were ready to stop. It was a compact car. Mary, Lucia, Ansa, me, Haydn, and Tristen sat in the back. David and the driver were in the front. That was a memory.

Haydn likes Peru–no seat belts. I like it too.

It did remind me of last night going from the airport to the apartment. In that 30 minute drive we never stopped at a traffic light on one of the busiest streets in Lima. I’m not sure of the purposes of traffic lights. Drivers do adhere to them, somewhat. Then again, there is a free-for-all-spirit.

We hit the Pacific Ocean around 5:30PM. The waves were beautifully crashing. The shores were all small rocks–the round gray/black/brown type. No sand. It was different. You couldn’t enjoy the beaches the way you do at the Atlantic. The temperature was perfect. The people are pleasant. The day was wonderful.

The one highlight was getting locked in the bathroom at the apartment. I went in and locked the door. For some reason the door lock broke or disengaged in some way. I was locked in and the door would not operate the latch from the outside or the inside. It took about forty-five minutes with David, Haydn, and me working the lock. We ended up destroying the handle. They were able to pass me a screwdriver and knife through the handle hole, after the knob was removed. I knocked the hinge bolts out and we took the door off. Whew!

After the beach, we met David and Mary at Starbucks (rendezvous) and then found a restaurant to eat. It was good. All the food was good. We probably talked for three or more hours. That was great. The kids colored and entertained themselves, which gave us some solid time to build together.

We walked back to the apartment, showered and readied ourselves for bed after we packed and prepared for the 5:30AM taxi back to the airport to fly out to Pucallpa. It’s 12:30AM. Kids are down. Our week is about to being…

Off to breakfast

Off to breakfast

The airport was quick and easy. Customs was a breeze. The guy was nice–cordial. We exchanged our money at a no commission stand. $100 for 260 Solares. Not bad. We then went to get our luggage. I sat my carry on bags down and after a while I noticed a nice looking dog standing onto of  my bag. The security officer on the other end of the dog, connected by a leash, asked what I had in the bag. I had two oranges, which I bought in the Newark airport. He took them. I asked if I could have them, but that was futile. We both laughed. They were nice oranges. I hope he enjoys them.

We found a van for $30 or 80 solares and had our first Peruvian traffic experience. It was awesome, kinda Darwinian–every man for himself, survival of the fittest, loser leave town match. It was orchestrated chaos. All the drivers knew what they were doing and they did it with zeal. It was like if there was an empty traffic spot in any lane, everyone “dove” for it at the same time.

There was a precise recklessness to it all. The other thing I noted was how they used their horns. It was not punitive horn blowing like what you experience in Greenville. Here, there is a lot of horn blowing, but you don’t sense they are mean about it. It’s a polite warning and even when the horn seems more like “you cut me off” it doesn’t have that angry-Greenville-feel.

The quote of the drive was from Ansa–“I want to go back to the cold air.” The humidity and heat was quite city in the summer. Sticky. Thick sticky.

The apartment is in the nice part of town. That’s a relative statement. Everything I’ve seen so far is rundown and dilapidated. It belongs to the couple who founded the mission in Pucallpa. They have it to service friends and ministries who come down for the work like us.

There are three baths and four bedrooms–all small, but perfect. The dining and living room are together as one room. We slept with the windows open and a light breeze flowing through. That was nice. We were all in bed and asleep by 1AM. Tristen slept on the couch because she wanted too. Haydn and Ansa had one of the two bunk bed rooms. Lucia and I had a double-bed room. David and Mary had the master bedroom.

We awoke at 10AM to the singing of jackhammers, horns, and extraneous street noise. Oh, the beauty of living in the city. It’s really awesome to enmesh into the life of another culture and experience what they experience, to see what they see. It’s kinda Gospel-like–to become others (Philippians 2:3-7)

Off to breakfast.