Monday, May 25, 2020

Quarantined, Out of Work, and Hungry

This man's "shoes" were made out of belts.
Imagine what it would be like to not know where your next meal is coming from, and trying to comfort your children as they go to bed hungry again.  None of us can even come close to knowing what that’s like, but for millions of people throughout the world, this is everyday life.

This is also the new norm for many, many people in Peru during the quarantine.

As we mentioned in our previous blog post, the quarantine here is preventing people from working.  And when you don’t work, you don’t eat.  People here who otherwise are able to feed their families fine are lacking adequate food day after day because they simply don't have the money to buy it since they're not able to work.

After we had been quarantined for 5 days, another missionary family contacted us to ask if we could help a couple families in the pueblo they used to live in with getting food.  Like so many others, the quarantine kept these families from working and so they were out of food and out of money before the week was even over. 

Robert brought them into the nearest town of Picota to take them to the market, and while he was there he noticed a number of people who were buying tiny amounts of food.  He asked them if he could help them buy more food for their families also.  After this trip, it got us starting to think about ways that we could start getting food out to so many others who were in the same predicament. 

We started making bags of common staples that we handed out to some of the poorer people in our pueblo.  Then we talked with one of the ladies that we had taken grocery shopping about other people in her pueblo who were also in need of food.  She put together a list of people and also a list of food she thought would be best to have in the bags we put together.  So the guys went back to Picota and bought food in bulk so that we could put 28 bags together.  We brought the food to her house, bagged it all up, and they called the people to come over and grab the bags.

After this, we realized that some people were getting financial help from the government but that was only people who have bank accounts, which not everyone has.  We also learned that the municipality of Picota was providing some sort of food basket for the people most in need in certain pueblos, our own pueblo being one of them.  But pueblos categorized as “rural” were not receiving these baskets. 

The bags provide enough food for a family for 5-7 days.
Knowing this, we were able to better determine the need in the different pueblos we visited.  We would ask people at the pueblo’s municipality if food baskets were being delivered from Picota.  We also asked how many people in the pueblo were not receiving any financial assistance from the government.  The people at the municipality would make up a list of those households that weren’t getting help and then we would come back a couple days later after making that number of bags (and a few extra as usually a few more people show up than what’s on the list and our contact person lets us know whether they, too, could use the help). 

Our next stop, then, was a small community of 40 families off the main road near us.  We found out that none of the families there had received any help.  So we bought more food in bulk and delivered bags out to that community, and then to another pueblo down the road from us. 

By that point, we had run out of funds to buy more food so we sent out an e-mail update to all of the people who support us on mission.  We explained what we were doing and asked for help in raising more money to keep buying food to reach other areas that hadn’t yet received any help.  We were blown away at the response!  Not only did that group help out but they also got the word out quickly to others and we immediately had more funds to visit more pueblos.  

At one of the towns we visited in our district, they said no one there needed help but they told us about pueblos up the foothills a few hours from where we live that were in need.  Although those pueblos were in our district, we had never been to them before.  We bought enough food to make over 300 bags and delivered them out to this area which consisted of 4 different pueblos.  We made a video of that trip to share with all the people who had donated and made the trip even possible.

This entire community was in need of help.
After that, we finished visiting each of the other pueblos along the Ponaza valley road that we live off of, and made more videos of most of those visits. 

There are still many more people in need in other pueblos up the foothills that we weren’t able to visit on our first trip up there.  We had plans to go back there but the travel restrictions have since become more strict and we’re not allowed to go past a certain point on the road into Picota.  So not only can we not visit those pueblos now but we also can’t go into Picota to buy more food. 

Meeting Jose on the road to transfer the food.

Luckily, our friend Jose lives near Picota and has been buying the food for us and has been allowed to meet us at one of the checkpoints (most recently, he’s been allowed all the way to our town) and the guys transfer the food from his truck to ours. 

So now at this point, we’re making a second trip to all the pueblos along the Ponaza valley road.  It’s been at least 2 weeks since we visited them last and the food that they had received has been gone for awhile. We will continue to keep bringing food to these pueblos for as long as the quarantine continues and as long as we have the funds. 

Our quarantine began on March 12th.  It was supposed to end on May 24th, but has been extended for the fifth time until June 30th.  It is shameful what the government is doing by keeping the people quarantined for so long.  The financial assistance and food baskets are temporary fixes; they only help for short periods of time.  More people are going hungry as a direct result of being quarantined than would have ever contracted the virus.  It is ironic that the purpose of the quarantine is to keep people healthy, and yet it is the quarantine that is causing so many people (here and throughout the world) to be malnourished, and for some, literally starve to death.  

As you cope with the effects of the quarantine in your own life, please remember the poor and offer up your prayers, trials, and suffering for them, and for an end to the oppressive mandates and restrictions here in Peru and around the world.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Why Our Family is Staying in Peru During the Pandemic

We had been getting some questions by friends, family, and sponsors about how we're doing during this pandemic and wondering if we are planning to stay in Peru or go back to the States. So, I wanted to give an update regarding all of this and explain a little bit about our decision to stay. 

The first day of our quarantine. No Mass.
On March 15th, the president of Peru announced that the country would be going into a State of Emergency the very next day in response to the spread of the Coronavirus.  As a result, the borders closed, all public and private sector operations were suspended (there are no public Masses now), and people have been put under a police and military-enforced quarantine. It was initially supposed to end on March 30 but it was extended to April 12 (Easter Sunday), and now extended again until April 26.

A medical mission trip had been here the week before the State of Emergency went into effect, ending on the 14th just in the nick of time to get most of the participants back home as planned.  During that trip, we had less people coming to the clinics compared to the trip last year.  It seems people were already concerned about catching the virus and especially when they saw a group of “gringos.”

We had been following the news of the virus spreading around the world since January and had been wondering when it would come to Peru. When we talked about whether we would stay 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. 

Outside the hospital in Tarapoto, figuring out how to get to Lima.
Although we don't have access to quality healthcare here, that isn't anything new.  We accepted the fact that we wouldn't have great healthcare options when we moved here.  And only 5 months after moving we got to experience first-hand the drastic difference between healthcare here and in the United States when Robert broke both bones in his leg in a motorcycle accident (As an aside, we haven't done a good job of updating this blog.  I’ve found it to be very time-consuming.  But I hope to still write a post about Robert's accident). 
 Our decision to stay despite the lack of decent healthcare may be puzzling to some. To us, there’s no fear or worry over what could happen if we caught the virus, and it’s not because we aren’t aware of the severity of it.  Our decision is based on what we hear the Lord say now, and what He has spoken to us in the past as we discerned the call to foreign mission work, and throughout our first year as FMC missionaries.  What we have heard Him say is that if we choose to answer this call to bring the love of Christ to the poor, we can trust in Him and in His Providential, Fatherly care. 

We don’t interpret that as meaning we’ll never get hurt or sick or suffer in a variety of ways.  In fact, we fully embraced the fact that we absolutely would get sick with different illnesses common to the area we live in, and that accidents would happen to us just like anyone else, and that this call would require suffering. 

When the Lord promised we could trust in Him and in His Providential, Fatherly care, what that means to us is that we don’t have to be afraid or worry about any obstacle, trial, or tribulation that may come our way because nothing will happen that God doesn’t allow.  And if He allows to us suffer in various ways, all praise and glory to Him! Because “…it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” (Philippians 1:29) 

This verse is speaking specifically about suffering persecution for following Jesus, which we don’t experience in Peru like others do - overtly in non-Christian counties, and “soft persecution,” like in the U.S. and other first-world “Christian” countries.  But we enter into different suffering – cultural differences, food that we aren’t used to, living in a house that’s open to the outdoors where bugs and critters can come in, dirty water, and…the lack of good healthcare, as a few examples.  We willingly accept these things as the cost of bringing the love of Jesus to His most beloved people, the poor.  

Multiple mosquito bites is a constant thing.

What it looks like to buy meat here. Grocery shopping is completely unsanitary.

This is what the water out of our faucet looks like most of the time... we collect as much rain water as we can so that we'll have clear water to use. Also sometimes we don't have water after it rains.

This is our "pantry." It has to stay closed in this bin or bugs or mice will get into it.
Baths look like this. If we want warm water, we have to warm a big pot on the stove.

Laundry requires hours of time to hand wash, and clothes aren't dried sometimes until the next day or two days if it rains.

The lack of good healthcare is one of many things that make the Amazon region of Peru an undesirable or not ideal place to live, humanly speaking.  But spiritually speaking, coming here and living among the poor, we have experienced a beauty we could have never known and an excitement that brings an abundance of life inside of us that oftentimes we didn’t even know was missing.

There are many good and desirable things about living in the United States, but they all pale in comparison to this abundant life that we have found by taking God at His Word and selling our possessions, giving to the poor, and following after Jesus where He has lead us, which is Amazonia, Peru. We can be free from anxiety and fear about the future knowing full well that we can’t control what happens to us no matter how hard we try.  Going back the States doesn’t promise us that we’ll be better off there than we are here.  Only God knows what is best, and for now, He has invited us to stay put and we’re happy to accept that invitation. 

The simple, abundant life.



It's a treat when the lady selling jello comes by!

I'm schooled in generosity by the poor. The kids were given sweet popcorn at this lady's house, which you can see what kind of poverty they live in.  The poor give cheerfully and generously out of their need, where we give out of our abundance.

Schooled in generosity by the poor.  We brought food to a family in need. In return, they gave us an enormous rice bag full of oranges and limes from their trees (way more than what's pictured here).
What hand washing clothes looks like to kids.   In other words, FUN!

Our kitchen is nothing to be desired, yet we all are so grateful for it when we see what other people's "kitchens" look like.

Going for hikes is always a new adventure.
Swimming at the "Sliding Rock," as we call it, which is downstream from our water source.



This is why we're here.