21 Aug 2011

'Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name...'

This week I (Julia) have been reflecting on our coping strategies whilst we’re here in Arequipa. Every weekday morning our routine is predictable. We go to language school, we come home and have lunch and then do our homework. In the evening we normally stay in and play a game or watch a film in our room. This makes every day much the same as any other. For this reason it helps to pepper the week with other things to do – perhaps a little sightseeing or a visit to the post office to check for mail or, about once a week, a trip to Starbucks!

We have a Starbucks about 25 minutes walk from our house. It’s in a mall called ‘Parque Lambramani’, a relatively new addition to the consumer scene in Arequipa. As well as Starbucks there are a few restaurants, mostly chains from the USA, and there are small and very expensive boutiques and clothes shops too. I really like it! It reminds me of familiar diversions at home – mooching round the shops, drinking coffee with friends, people watching! So the weekly visit to drink a vanilla frappuccino in Starbucks is eagerly anticipated! It’s never very busy in there. It strikes us that most Arequipeñans probably can’t afford the prices, and there are lots and lots of other eateries and cafes nearby that are certainly more ‘Peruvian.’ Perhaps because it’s quiet, or perhaps because we’re gringos we have begun to be recognised by the staff. A few weeks ago one of the ladies who works there greeted us by name. It was a shock! We didn’t expect it. Very few people in this city know our names and we felt ok with that! But then one day the assistant said ‘¡Hola Julia! ¿Cómo está?’

Now it could be argued that there are ‘more worthy’ places that we could be making a name for ourselves. Indeed, our initial reaction was to wonder if we come here too much. We can easily get missionary guilt complexes about how we spend our time and money and arguably contributing to the profits of the multi-million dollar giant that is Starbucks isn’t the best use of either. Our guilt complex is made slightly worse too by the knowledge that we won’t have anything remotely like a Starbucks in the Sacred Valley. We’re going to have find other places to go to relax; we’re going to have to, for a while at least, let go of the familiar comforts of home.

I have come to the conclusion though that whilst we are here and whilst we have the means to enjoy a vanilla frappuccino each week, we need to thank God for it and enjoy it! It is a blessing and as the old song says, we should count our blessings: the blessings of various tasty beverages ending in the suffix ‘-cino’ yes, but also the blessing of being known. For whatever reason we’ve become known here and so we pray that when our Spanish improves we’ll be able to chat and to share why we’re here in Peru. Maybe you’ll pray with us for the staff in Starbucks who know our name. Pray that we’ll get to know their names too...

11 Aug 2011

Cristo Blanco (White Jesus)

Look up from almost anywhere in Cusco and you will see, towering over the city, a giant statue of Jesus; arms outstretched, his eyes staring impassively into space as he stands guard over the streets below. Of course having a statue of Jesus isn’t unusual here in South America as many cities have them, each with a distinctive character of their own. Perhaps the most famous is Rio de Janeiro’s Cristo Redentor, but other examples include the slightly controversial leaving gift of Peru’s outgoing president in Lima and the brilliant self-resurrecting Jesus in a theme park in Buenos Aires. The reasons for their construction also vary – the statue in Cusco was a gift from Palestinian Christians who lived in the city in the early twentieth century, Lima’s Jesus is a sign of ‘blessing and protection’ over Peruvians, and Rio’s Christ the Redeemer is a symbol of oppression; even today, anyone buying or selling property under his gaze has to pay taxes to the Catholic Church.

Standing at the feet of Jesus on the hilltop in Cusco (although not too close, because of the barbed wire fence that surrounds him) is a strange experience. The statue stands (deliberately one suspects) next to, but higher than, the ruins of an Incan fortress, thus forcing into juxtaposition two cultures which continue to live in tension with each other in Peru. The statue seems to suggest, however, that in this case Jesus has ‘won’, relieving people from the fear of traditional beliefs and now standing as a symbol of God’s protection over the city: faithful, unchanging, watching everything that goes on.

All this is well and good, but as we stood there I couldn’t help but feel that Jesus had become just another symbol, just another evil spirit-busting figurine to join the myriad of shrines, talismans and charms that fill the homes, streets and taxis of this city. Of course one of the central tenets of Christianity, and one that has particular resonance here, is precisely that Christ is more powerful than the forces of evil which pervade our world, and more than able to protect us from the ‘spirits’ which torment us. However the Jesus who stands on the hill in Cusco is a Jesus who is strangely detached from daily life, who seems completely removed from the grinding poverty and desperation of so many people. And as we stood there, I realised that this is not the Jesus that we read about in the Bible, and that this is not the God we worship. The Jesus we see in the Bible does not stand above the city but comes down into it; does not remain pure and clean but instead is covered in the dust and grime of the streets; does not stare passively ahead in steely-eyed concentration but instead is brought to tears by the suffering of the people whom he meets. He is a man who allows himself to be utterly caught up in the sin, trials and torment of the world. He is a man who isn’t protected by a barbed wire fence but who instead allows the crown of thorns to be pushed into his head. He is a God who takes the sin and suffering upon himself and in doing so transforms it, offering us the hope of a new tomorrow.

My hope and prayer is that this would be the Jesus that we share. A Jesus who doesn’t dominate but who serves, a Jesus who doesn’t oppress but who loves, a Jesus who doesn’t reject but embraces, a God who loved the world first and therefore truly deserves our worship.


10 Aug 2011

Sacred Soil

This year’s BMS Harvest Resource focuses in part on the village of Yucay, in the Sacred Valley. In January 2010 Yucay and many other villages on the valley floor were hit by heavy rains and severe flooding, which destroyed a huge number of houses and ruined crops. BMS provided a relief grant, and Scott and Anjanette Williamson, along with several members of their church in Cusco, were able to take food, shelter and new seed down to the village.


We had the opportunity to visit Yucay last week and met some of the people whose lives have been affected by this tragedy. Many people are still living in temporary accommodation whilst they try and find the money to rebuild. The government has provided no help at all so most of them rely on the crops they grow for income.


However, as a result of the relationship that has built up between the people for Yucay and the church in Cusco, some of them are now asking whether it would be possible to start a church in the village. Many of you will know that we have been praying, and asking you to join us in prayer, about where exactly we should end up after language school. It seems to us (and BMS) that God is opening a door of opportunity in Yucay and so this is almost definitely where we will be coming to live in the new year.


If you haven’t already then please do consider using the Harvest Videos and other resources in your churches. God is working both practically and spiritually in Yucay and we are privileged, on your behalf, to be a part of that. However, we still need your prayers and BMS, if they are to continue reaching out to people in the name of Jesus, need your support. All the resources are free and can either be ordered or downloaded from http://www.bmsworldmission.org/resources/video/harvest Thanks!

4 Aug 2011

Smiles


This week we’re visiting Cusco, one of the main reasons for which is to spend time with our friends Neil, Amanda, Daniel and Sophia Roper.  They are also in Peru with BMS World Mission and working with La Iglesia El Puente, a church plant led by BMS workers Scott and Anjanette Williamson. It’s been great to catch up with our colleagues and most of all to have fun together. 

We’ve also done some ‘proper’ work too – which has made a really nice change from our normal routine of language study! At the beginning of the week we were able to help with a holiday club the church was running for primary aged children in a place called Huambutio, on the outskirts of Cusco. We took some time to walk around the village and invite children to come to the club, and were struck immediately by the poverty there and the sadness in the faces of many of the children that came. Some of the children didn’t look like they’d had a wash for a while and many turned up in their school uniform – a sure indicator that they didn’t have many other clothes. However as the activities began and the games got underway and as the children started to sing and clap and dance we noticed a change.  There were smiles – really big smiles!  


Following this, I (Julia) had the opportunity to visit the local public hospital with Amanda and spend time with some of the patients.  Although no stranger to hospital visiting in the UK, this was a very different experience.  So much of what we take for granted, even in a financially struggling NHS, is just not available here in Peru.  The children we visited had either suffered burns or some kind of orthopaedic trauma.  Many of them have been in the hospital for weeks and will remain there for many weeks more. No wonder then that we saw many sad faces here too - that is until the toys came out. 

One toy in particular seemed to have enormous appeal.  One of the volunteers entered the ward with a small white box and a shy, retiring boy rushed out to meet her. With his one good arm he reached up for the box and spoke animatedly – ‘Give it to me, give it to me!’  Grasping it tightly he ran back to his bed and sat down.  He then lifted the lid and the smallest sound of giggling started to come from the open box. He replaced the lid and the giggling stopped. Then he lifted the lid and it began again and as it did a small but definite smile crept across his face. The little smile grew into a wide toothy grin and in no time at all it spread from him to everyone in the ward. Parents and children alike beamed as the carefree laughter escaped into the room.

We’re not able to say very much yet in Spanish and it can be frustrating when communication is difficult. This week though we have been reminded of the fact that smiles and laughter are free, they work in any language and culture and they’re very very infectious!