Sunday, November 3, 2019

How Kids See the World

Do you have childhood memories of a special place that was so beautiful or even magical to you? Have you ever gone back as an adult and seen that place again with your adult eyes and wondered how in the world you ever saw that place as beautiful or magical? It might be a rickety tree house or a old, rusty boat... What is it that changes how we see things as we grow up?

One week, as we were getting ready to leave a poorer part of Picota after dropping food off for a family, our 7-year-old wanted to point out some things she thought were so beautiful there - primarily a coconut tree and the river. She said she wished WE could live in that neighborhood and asked if we could stay there for the night. Her excitement and joy made me smile, especially when I looked at the same place she was seeing but with different eyes. The river and coconut tree were pretty but having seen them a ton of times this year, they didn't stand out as anything super special to me. Besides that, I also was thankful that we did NOT live in that neighborhood as we would be living in a mud house with dirt floors.

The Huallaga River that we cross to go into Picota.

The beauty that she delighted in in that poor part of town was something I couldn't see with my “adult eyes.”

Her comment reminded me of something that our 6-year-old said about a house that we ate breakfast at each week this summer while helping with a 3-week long mission trip. During one of our last visits to the house she said to me, “I love this house!” We were in the kitchen/dining room area at the time, which seemed to be put together as an afterthought. It had a rough concrete floor and walls made out of mud or tin. I asked her what she loved about the house and she couldn't articulate what it was but just that she loved it. I wondered if she loved the house because of all the missionaries that filled it in the mornings and that she loved the time we had spent with them. Or I thought maybe it was that she could walk right outside (where the wall ended) into a small “yard” and play after she finished eating. Whatever it was, her comment gave me such joy because looking at the space with its poor and lowly construction, it wasn't a house to love because of its comfort or beauty. She was seeing something I didn't.

The dining room side of the house.

The "kitchen" side of the room. What made it a kitchen was a stove top and a sink.
One of the most beautiful things of being on mission with a family of young children is getting these moments of seeing the world through their eyes.

Currently, we're in a large port city off the Amazon River called Iquitos. The poor here live quite differently than the poor in our area of Picota. 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. The warm and welcoming people there live in wooden structures that are on stilts off the ground to keep their houses dry during the six months out of the year when the river rises as much as 30-40 feet. They live perpetually among filth: raw sewage and waste mixed with trash. It sounds like an awful place by that description, but the kids don't see any of the garbage or destitution. They only see friendly kids to play with and a pretty river. We were invited into one family's home and they thought it was awesome, like living in a tree house. Some of the kids have said they wish that we could live there. This past weekend we went to Mass there and during it our 3-year old said to Robert, “Daddy, is this heaven?”

Inside the Belen chapel. Our 3-year-old on the bottom right as happy as a lark feeling like she's in heaven.
The outside of the chapel. The water rises to where the steps come up off the main door.

Example of the houses in Belen.

By the grace of God, even our “adult eyes” can be changed and healed to see the world more like children, and more like Jesus sees it.

[Jesus] took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes he laid hands on him and asked, 'Do you see anything?' Looking up he replied, 'I see people looking like trees and walking.' Then he laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.” (Mark 8:23-25)

Jesus, come and take us by the hand and lead us outside of ourselves. Lay your healing hands on our eyes so that we may see clearly and distinctly. Help us to see Your forgotten people. Your shunned and avoided people. Help us to see the poor, who are the specific people You said You came to bring glad tidings to! Restore our childlike sight that allows us to not be afraid of going into the muck and filth where we find Your people, whether that be actual, physical filth or the spiritual/mental/emotional muck of addiction, oppression, mortal sin, etc. Give us the eyes of a child so that we hardly even notice the dirty and smelly stable but only see and marvel at the Person inside of it.

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me welcomes not only Me, but the One who sent Me.” (Mark 9:37)

The river that separates the area of Belen.

These boys have become fast friends.

The kids here have so little, yet they are so generous with the few toys they have. A couple kids gave John Paul a ton of marbles and refused to let him return them before we left this day. This has happened on a few occasions. It amazes me at how giving people are when they have so little, and how stingy those of us who have so much can be. It speaks volumes of what we treasure and where our hearts are.

Monday, September 9, 2019


Collecting rain water!  Glorious rain water!  :)
Our family has been praying fervently that God would give us the grace to become great saints, and He is so lovingly shaping us, granting us the grace to be drawn closer into His heart. He has been sending us many small sufferings and trials to train us to love as He loves. There is so much that I could share and want to share (maybe more posts on this to come..), but for the sake of brevity I'll keep it to one topic: water. 

I've never thought about water as much as I have since moving to Peru. I never thought that much about it because it was always there - and always clean & drinkable! But not so here - or in most of the world, for that matter (check out this infographic which shows which countries have potable tap water)! Even in Lima, which is a first-world city, the clear water that comes out of the faucet isn't drinkable. Purified drinking water has to be purchased in large plastic containers. 

The large jugs of drinking water that you buy anywhere in Peru. 
No other water is considered drinkable, although many people
who live here do drink non-potable water. 

Trucks go around and sell these jugs of water.  You can also buy them at bodegas.


Our water tank up on the pedestal.
I have yet to figure out how our water works at
our house. We have a water tank but we don't know exactly how it gets filled up. We do know that it's purified water (non-potable) from the nearby river but it doesn't look clean; that is to say it's not crystal clear. But sometimes what comes out of the faucet isn't purified and it's just plain muddy, presumably straight from the river.
We haven't figured out yet why sometimes we have purified water and sometimes we have muddy river water. What we have noticed, though, is that after a heavy rain the water coming out of the faucet is muddy. So, we've bought large bins to collect rain water so that we have cleaner water to wash dishes with and even use to cook with (once the water is boiled for 10 minutes, it's safe to consume). We're currently in the dry season (winter) and have gone through periods of several weeks in a row without enough rain to collect in the bins. During those times, we've been washing dishes in whatever water comes out of the faucet, always ending with a water/bleach rinse and drying the dishes thoroughly. I'm now using only drinking water to cook with.

A cup of water from our sink vs. drinking water.
It's not usually this muddy; this is as bad as it gets.

Bathing is another challenge when the water is just plain brown. We get the salt off of our bodies but never feel very clean, especially our hair.

Our friends ten minutes down the road from us live in a pueblo where they have crystal clear water (still non-potable) that comes out of their faucets and shower. But...instead of experiencing the challenge of dirty water, they experience periods of not having water at all, sometimes for several days at a time.

After living in mission for this short amount of time and seeing how others live here, it already seems unbelievable when I think about how all the water I had access to back in America was drinkable – from the kitchen sink, to the bathroom sink, to the utility sink, to the outdoor spigot! I wonder how it can be that we used to water our lawn and wash our clothes with drinkable water.

Annabelle waiting to give our empty water jug to the guys delivering water in our neighborhood.
Water that people brought from their homes for Padre to bless after Mass.
I started writing this post a couple of months ago and haven't made the time to finish it until today. Just this week we were without water for several days. Praise God we had rain water still in our bins from the occasional downpours that we get. We used up all of that water by the end of the first day, and just when I thought we were going to have to either bring our bins to the river and fill them up or buy jug after jug of drinking water to use, God woke us up the next morning with a gift (something He does often): another downpour, providing us with gallons and gallons of more water! Thankfully we were able to get the water working later that day (we found out one of the water lines had broken).
Swimming in the river where our water comes from (downstream).
I encourage you today to be grateful and appreciate the clean, potable water that you have at your disposal to wash your dishes and clothes with, to cook with, brush your teeth, take a shower, and flush your toilet with. As you use water throughout the day, be mindful of the millions of people who live day after day without access to clean water, and pray for them. Maybe even try to limit the amount of water that you use for a few days as a sacrifice to offer up for those who have so little clean water, and as a way to grow ever closer to the beautiful and pierced Heart of Jesus, who told us “Blessed are you poor,” (Luke 6:20) and who lived his life as a poor man - “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Sunday, June 30, 2019

A House to Call Home

The front of our house.
Shortly before we moved here, we had the opportunity to go to Mass at the new chapel right at Big Woods (where Intake was held). After Mass, Sarah, the new Executive Director, approached me and said she received pictures of the house that had been arranged for us to move into once we got to Peru.  We had been told that there wasn't much available housing in our small pueblo so I felt grateful that we would arrive and have a place already waiting for us. Naturally, I was excited to see the pictures. As I was looking through them, though, I was thinking, “Hmmm. This looks... a little rough.” But still I smiled and expressed my excitement to Sarah and asked her to forward the pictures to us. [The following pictures in this post are the ones she sent to us].
The living room

Bedroom 1
Bedroom 2
Kitchen.  Yes, that's right. This is the kitchen.
As the day went on, and as I kept going back to look over the pictures, it started to sink in. This is where we're going to be living?? Does it even have electricity? Is there a toilet? Our kids will never be clean again with dirt for a yard! And...yep. That's the kitchen. A counter and a sink. Jesus, are you for real right now? If it was just Robert and I, sure. But we have seven kids, one being 5 months old! How can we possibly live here?
I knew we obviously weren't going to be living in a place that came anywhere close to an American standard of living. I've seen how people live in other first-world countries (much less 2nd or 3rd world), and it really is “bigger and better” in America, what with our seemingly endless amounts of potable water, 3-car garages, and half-acre yards. I expected our house to be poor and simple because we were going to living among the poor after all! But expecting something and seeing what that “something” really looked like were two different things.
Dining Room
Dining Room with door leading to backyard.
I felt silly, maybe even guilty, asking Jesus “How can we possibly live here.” The privilege that reeks behind it wasn't lost on me. Obviously people around the world and throughout the ages have lived and raised children in much worse living conditions. Besides that, I was asking Jesus, who Himself was born in a barn among livestock and lived His entire life in poverty, how I could live in a house without lights and a fridge. But, He quickly reminded me that there was no shame in how I was feeling. I've never lived in such impoverished conditions before so naturally there would be some fears. I was comforted at least in knowing that the Lord would meet me where I was at and that my feelings were valid.
Later in the day, as Robert and I looked over the pictures together, he put me more at ease when he shared ideas he had to try to fix it up a bit and make it more homey. Thanks be to God for a husband who could also meet me where I was at. At that point, we only had a few days left and a long list of to-do's before our move, so I put any concerns about the house to the side and focused on the tasks at hand.
Covered patio in backyard.
The outdoor bathroom - toilet and shower through door on right.
By the time we arrived in Peru, I wasn't feeling overly concerned about our house anymore. I had since found out that the house indeed had electricity and a toilet, which put my greatest concerns at ease. Still, I wondered how I was going to feel after seeing the house in-person.
When we drove into our pueblo the day of our arrival, I felt excited and thankful for finally getting to the place that I had been praying for for nearly 4 months. We were blessed to have tons of kids coming out of the woodwork to welcome our family and play with the “gringos.” And as we walked into our house for the first time - lo and behold! - it didn't seem so bad! It needed a good cleaning and it obviously didn't meet American standards (completely open “windows” for anyone to climb through, a shared bathroom and backyard with our neighbor, etc.) but by the grace of God, I could see the house through rose-colored glasses and its potential.
I started writing this blog post 2 months after we moved here and it's now been 4 months! It's been a whirlwind of activity since we got here and we still have yet to paint the walls, which will make a world of difference in making the house look nicer. But nevertheless, our house already feels like home. We may not have nice furniture, curtains or pictures up on the walls, we may have critters and bugs galore, but we have a roof over our heads that doesn't leak (a real blessing around here)! We have dirt in our (big!) yard, not dirt for our floors (like many of our neighbors). We have an actual bathroom with a shower and toilet that both work, which we now realize is somewhat of a luxury.
Without seeing a picture of the toilet, I wasn't
sure if there was one!
It's funny – already now when I look at these pictures that Sarah sent to me before we moved here, I see them with different eyes. I look at them and just see my home, not some scary, hard place to live. I look at them and think that one day, after God calls us to move to another place, I'm going to look back fondly at these pictures and I'll miss so many things about this house we call home.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life...Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” Matthew 6:25, 27, 33-34
Backyard complete with coconut tree & chicken coop.
"I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.  I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me." Philippians 4:12-13

I was excited to see that there was a hammock. LOL

The following pictures were taken a few weeks after we moved in...

Annabelle in bedroom 1, which is now the kids' room.
This was dubbed "the Spider Room" right after we moved here
because of all the spiders and spider webs we found in it.
Bedroom 2, which was and still is being used as Aaron's
bedroom and a place to keep our clothes. 
It's also since become the catch-all room for storage.
Our mess of a dining room.  We now have a table! PTL!
Notice the lovely family reunion poster our landlord
graciously left for us on the wall.  LOL
The kitchen prior to buying a fridge and 4-burner gas cooktop.
I was using a crockpot that I brought from home to cook
whatever I could in it (even scrambled eggs, which I don't recommend).
  I was grateful for that thing until it got fried from the 220 v
electricity that comes out of the outlets here.  We ate a lot of ready-to-eat
foods and ate out quite a bit during this time.

The living room became our family bedroom as we had to
wait for bunk beds to be made for the kids.  This room is
currently being used as Robert's and my bedroom.
Once we get the house painted and better organized, I'll post updated pictures!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

We Have Arrived!!

It's been a few months since our last blog post (ACK!), and we've been in Peru for 2 months now, which seems hard to believe. We recently got internet hooked up at our house so we're finally able to post this long-overdue update.

We ended up having to wait longer to leave for our mission post than most of the other new missionaries because we were waiting on a certain document that we were going to need for the visa process. We ended up flying out on February 26th and arriving in Lima on the 27th.
At the airport in Tarapoto with the other FMC missionaries.
We had a one-hour connecting flight into Tarapoto, which is in the San Martin region of Peru.  We were very warmly greeted by all the other FMC missionaries serving this area (11 people at the time, however 2 more families have come since then. The total number of FMC missionaries here is now 30, including us).

After loading up all of our stuff, we went out for lunch together and enjoyed time with this awesome community of missionaries. The single guys team then drove us out to Tingo de Ponaza, the pueblo that we now call home. We marveled at the beauty of this area during the two hour drive from Tarapoto. Along the way, we stopped briefly in Picota, the main town under which we serve. This is where the priests and the church are located.

Coming in to our pueblo, God gave me a sense of peace and gratitude for being in this particular place and community that He has called us to serve. We had been praying for these people ever since we found out that we had been assigned to “Tingo” and now we were finally here!

Looking at the road from our house, which is at the end of the road.
We walked into our new home (which requires its own blog post...stay tuned.) and were soon greeted by tons of the neighborhood kids flooding into the yard to see who all these white kids were. They pulled coconuts down from the tree in the back and opened them up for us to have coconut water, and then proceeded to play with the kids, asking their names and how old they are. Their immediate kindness and excitement meant so much to us.

Since then, we've been busy trying to get settled in here. One thing we were told during our 3-month intake was that we should approach our mission as a marathon and not a sprint. Since we're here long-term as opposed to a brief mission trip, we don't need to hit the ground running, saying “yes” to every ministry opportunity that presents itself. Instead, we should give ourselves time to adjust, to really make our house a home, and to set up a healthy schedule and routine for our family. That way we can serve more freely and generously knowing that our family life is in order and thereby reduce the risk of burnout. We have taken this advice to heart as we do intend to be here for at least the next two years, quite possibly longer.

It's been a longer and more expensive process than we thought it would be. We have had to buy everything to set up a home all over again: beds, mattresses, pillows and sheets, a kitchen table, pots and pans, silverware, a fridge and “stove” (a 4-range cooktop), things to store food and dishes in (to keep out bugs and mice), etc. The hardest part for me, being the thrifty person that I am, is that there are no second-hand stores here so we're having to buy everything brand new and I wasn't expecting things to cost as much as they do. Some things, like the sheets, were even more than what we'd pay at Target or Wal-Mart! I don't know how the average person here can afford to buy some of these basic household items.

After a trip in to Picota on our second day here to get mattresses, fans, and other necessities. 
The vehicle is being loaned to us from the single guys' team. Miraculously, all nine of us can squeeze into it!
We had one big family bed in the living room until we got beds for the kids.
Our backyard with aforementioned coconut tree.  The structure is a
huge chicken coop that houses our neighbor's chickens. 

Before coming here, we were told that this area has a great need for catechesis as the parish itself is less than 50 years old. We are beginning to see this for ourselves as we learn that some (most?) of the people in this area think it's more important to attend their own pueblo's Liturgy of the Word service on Sunday than to go to Mass, even if one of the priests comes to celebrate Mass in a pueblo just down the road. Few (if any) people from our pueblo make it to Sunday Mass. We thought it might be because of the expense of getting a motorcar (a taxi service) to take them, and while that is a factor, we are learning that the primary reason is that few (if any) don't realize that they should be trying to get to Mass on Sundays. Although many people identify as being Catholic, it seems there is little understanding of what that means. We are hoping to buy a truck soon so that we'll have the ability to transport some of the people from our pueblo into Picota for Mass on Sundays. So far, just our neighbor has come with us a couple of times.  

Motorcars and motorcycles are the most common modes of transportation. There are very few cars.

What a motorcar looks like.  It's a motorcycle with a seat in the back that fits about 3 adults.

The type of truck we hope to buy soon.  "Cages" on trucks, like this one, is very common to see.
Lots of people pile into the back of them to get around.
Our little pueblo's chapel
Speaking of our neighbor, she is a God-send!!! I'll write more about her in an upcoming post about our house, but I just want to say briefly now that she has been the biggest help to us in getting settled in and figuring out how things are done here. She has patiently put up with our very little Spanish-speaking abilities and sometimes has gone out of her way to show us things or point us in the right direction. I thank God for her daily.
I hope to start writing posts more regularly now that we have internet. Please know that we are incredibly thankful for your prayers for us and for this mission. God is so good to have entrusted us with this particular mission – and when I say “us,” I also mean all of you back home who are praying for and sponsoring us! Your participation in the work of foreign missions through your prayers and sponsorship is a very important and critical part! We could never be here without the prayers uplifting us and the people we are here to serve, nor without the funds to even come in the first place. So we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
St. Rose of Lima, pray for us.
St. Martin de Porres, pray for us.

Helping out at a medical mission trip with students who came from Benedictine.
The line on the right are the people who came to be seen by the doctors.

The kids' job at the mission: playing with the other kids! 

Getting a lesson in Spanish by one of the girls from our chapel.

Baby Aaron gets a lot of attention wherever we go.
Many people have no problem taking him out of my hands to hold him and make over him.
These teenagers are part of a youth group in Picota.

Robert with our neighbor Roberto.  They're just a few months apart in age.

Learning which caterpillars that crawl in and around our house are poisonous. 
This one is.

Buckets of water that people brought to Mass so Father could bless it for them.

A few of us with the Bishop in Moyobamba, the capitol of the San Martin region.
John Paul walking to our chapel for an unexpected Friday night Mass.
...And immediately following Mass was an unexpected Stations of the Cross around the plaza.
We've come to realize there's no sense in gauging how long things will take
because there's always something happening that we don't know about or aren't expecting.
It's all God's timing anyways.
The elaborate and beautiful palms that people made for Palm Sunday
People always point to our legs and exclaim, "Zancudos!!"
Robert's responded a couple of times with, "Zancudos amor gringos,"
which garnered lots of laughs.
When a motorcycle is your only means of transportation, you get creative.
I wish I could have pictures of all the things I've seen people holding while riding their bikes.
The craziest was a children's bike.  I think I actually have a picture of it.  I'll add it if I find it.
Alaina (5) loves to draw.  She has now started drawing people with brown skin and black hair.
Alaina, Michael, and our neighbor Jherson in a group hug.  He has become an almost constant companion.
He likes to draw pictures and then show them to me and say what they are in Spanish.
It's his way of building our vocabulary.  I've learned quite a bit from him!
This day he taught us the word "abrazo" (hug).

Our neighbor, Cimy, and her sister taking the feathers off 3 of the chickens in our yard (we share our yard).
This was the first time any of us had seen chickens being killed and de-feathered (is that a word?)