Two Roofs Better Than One

I’m currently sat with my foot bandaged and elevated on a chair and some chilled rice in a bag tied to my ankle with a tea towel. I think that means I’ve got 20 minutes to write this before the rice has to go back into the freezer. So, I think it’s only proper that first mention goes to Lori and Neil Brighton who arrived about 10 days ago, survived through last week’s Training Week with a thankfully short-lived re-introduction to the local microbial life. I’m particularly glad that Lori was the first to pull through so that she could expertly bandage my ankle when I got a bit over-excited in the Training Week Women v. Men football match yesterday afternoon. Aside from that all that, the Training Week went pretty well and the gauntlet is down for a re-match in November.

If I’m honest I do struggle a little with having such a small group: the class numbered eleven. This is the smallest class I think we’ve ever had which wasn’t a one-off. In human terms, it’s hard to justify the cost of running the event, including bringing in international speakers, for such a small number of participants. But then it’s important to remind oneself that in human terms, the whole endeavor is un poco loco and I shouldn’t even be here to write this…So I fix my focus on the immediate encouraging evidences, like the four students who take a week to get here and just keep coming, high water and low; like the way I freaked everyone out by showing them the micro-organisms whizzing about in some drops of water I took from a local stream using an old microscope. Only one person in the group had ever seen a microscope up close before.

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Talking about poop

The teaching on water and basic hygiene that day had an impact I hadn’t seen before. And then the way in which the students, exhausted on the last session of the last day, perked up when an agronomist from the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana (IIAP) arrived to advise them on how they really should be rearing their chickens for long-term greater success. Reflecting on six years running the training program, we decided that small may in fact be more effective and inspiring the pastors to try small scale productive projects for the benefit of their families, rather than trying to launch church-based community projects, could be more sustainable, have a more profound impact and fits logically into the framework of our integral training program for pastors and church leaders.

So, I guess I’ve come full circle. A friend said she once heard a famous preacher who would speak before crowds of thousands, say that for him, if only one person out of the thousands came to know faith in Jesus through his message, it was worth it. My friend’s response was something like “Well why not just focus on the ‘ones’, then?”.

Blessings and peace friends.

Love Laura

P.S. Last month we finally got the dormitory roof fixed (see last blog!). It’s a bit hard to picture as we basically built a second roof under the first, but the second roof is a metal roof. No more leaks, stays quieter when it rains and cooler when it’s sunny. I’m thinking of moving in.

new dorm roof

The New Roof

old dorm roof

The Old Roof

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The Challenge of Keeping Things Dry

So I arrived back home to Perú about 4 weeks ago and I’ve been considering everything that’s happened since then; what should I mention? Perhaps the welcoming of the Mahon Family to Perú for the first time and the experience of getting them and their three little children safely installed at their apartment in Arequipa (for 6 months of language school) via a missed internal connecting flight, ten suitcases and an impromptu overnight stay at the airport hotel which, in the end, gave us time to connect with the Clark Family (BMS mission workers in Lima) too.

Or maybe the Training Week, when all news indicated that the rivers were too low for our record-breaking students from a village 5-days upriver to be able to make it – but they did, breaking their own record by an extra day to get to Nauta. They came, they told us, dragging their boat over the mostly dry riverbed for the first few days until they reached the next larger river where there was enough water…

I’d like to mention the day I went to visit a composting toilet pilot project called Thrones for Homes, initiative of US-based NGO “Mission Outfitter”. We boated out from Iquitos, snaking between sandbanks for 45mins; hiked over sandy dry riverbed in blazing sun for 30mins; took a 10min ride in a little truck down a single-lane paved track through forest and past homesteads and arrived at the village of San Pedro de Saramuro where we were welcomed into a raised wooden house and shown the toilet. It’s difficult to convey the significance of this, but this is the first home I’ve ever visited outside of Iquitos or Nauta that has a toilet inside the house. Even the number of homes on my street in Nauta with an indoor water closet can be counted on one hand. This toilet gives dignity to this family, even when the village is flooded in the rainy season, as well as liquid fertilizer and mulch as natural by-products which they use on their fruit trees and root vegetables. Food for thought.

And then around 2am this morning a big storm descended on Nauta: deafening thunder and lightning right above the town; rain seeping through the brick walls and dripping through the roof onto my head. I got up and had a stumble around to check that nothing else was getting wet that couldn’t be dried out later (laptops: SAFE). And what came to mind was the parable of the wise and foolish men, who did and didn’t build their houses on rock, respectively. Now there’s not a lot of rock here in the low jungle. Even gravel is gold dust. Rural houses are generally built on stilts or they sit directly on the earth, so foundations aren’t necessarily such a big concern and it’s the roof that makes the house secure. At the Training Centre, one large dormitory, the kitchen and the dining room are all roofed with palm leaf thatching. The thatch roof looks great, really rustic, and it keeps the rooms cool through the heat of the day. But no matter how many times we patch them up, whenever a rain storm comes through, the preceding winds lift the leaves again just enough to let some rain in. At some point, we have to decide to stop patching and invest in something more resistent. Preferably before the inevitable end of the dry season.

Love Laura x

P.S. Big thanks to all my UK family and friends who made time to catch up with me throughout June and July. Missing you all!

UK Travel Assignment

On a 572 mile journey by car between Porthcawl, South Wales and Inverness, Scotland, which includes a 60mph average-speed-controlled section around 136 miles long, the difference between travelling worry-free at 55mph and trying to maintain an average speed of just-about-legal 59mph, is about 10 minutes out of an estimated journey travel time of 9 hours and 25 minutes (not including comfort breaks, of which several were comfortably enjoyed). And yet not travelling as close to the speed limit as possible without risking *shock* and *horror* GETTING CAUGHT seems to be the order of the day.

Over the last 4 weeks I’ve travelled around 3,300 miles, a lot of that being me driving myself. Thanks must be given to my parents who accompanied me, sharing the driving on our trip up to Inverness BC (thank-you Scotland for the lovely people and stunning landscapes). And to my sister and brother-in-law who have caught on to the fact that they can ease my driving load, hear about what I’ve been up to over the last 20 months in a fairly concise format with pictures and have a good excuse for a weekend away if they offer to drive me to a speaking engagement (very shrewd and provides a real relief for me). Many others at the different churches which I’ve had the privilege of visiting have also provided relief in this area too, not to mention the numbers of homes and dining tables which have been opened to me along the way, which have also been nothing but blessing.

Driving in Peru has been described as an extreme sport and even if I had access to a road network, I wouldn’t want to have to drive on it. Between families on scooters who swerve in front of you without looking or indicating and the roads liable to landslides and flash flooding, I’m quite happy to stick to public transport and let someone else worry about it.

In contrast, the roads in the UK seem almost comically well-behaved for the most part and I’m happy to report that the only incident in over 3,000 miles was my scraping the passenger-side wheel arch as I failed to navigate the narrow drive way of my parent’s new home within my first week of being back on the UK roads.

So why do I feel the need to get as close to breaking the rule as I can without actually doing it, even when on balance it makes so little difference to the outcome? The whole way my eye is flitting between the road ahead and the speedometer and I’m missing out on stunning scenery. It feels as though there must be a life lesson for me here somewhere…

Much love,

Laura

 

Mission Possible (but still quite hard)

I’m sat in Iquitos airport next to a precocious little girl who wants to go with her uncle to Lima. Now she’s crying even as they explain to her that she hasn’t brought any extra clothes apart from the little dress she’s wearing and doesn’t she realise that it’s cold in Lima? And nobody likes being cold!

At the beginning of the week I took a short trip up the Momon River with my colleagues in order to visit some of our former students from the pastors training program. They are an inspirational group of brothers and sisters who, over the two years that they were coming to us, went from being self-confessed “church bench-fillers”, living one day at a time, to leaders in their nascent church and in their community, now making plans for the future, including building their own fish farms so that they will have the resources to send their children to secondary school in the city in five years time.

There is no doubt that change is hard. Whether it’s saying good-bye, or making a paradigm shift in the way you think and live your life. Hard, but not impossible.

Blessings and grace,

Love Laura

The Enforcer: Part II

Last month I told you that I’d added ‘Debt Collector’ to my CV and that I’d let you know how it went. In the first place, out of 60 homes, there were only four major offenders on the list: one paid her debt when we visited – visiting definitely seems to do the trick so much of the time; one blamed the other co-owner of the house which I see is now up for sale – we’ll be cutting them off this weekend; one happens to be the neighbourhood delegado, or committee president and he’s still not paid…and one, we went ahead and cut off because there was no-one home and it was reported that they were very rarely there. On our way around the neighbourhood, a good number of people decided they could pay off their less offensive debts too, plus several wonderful people who got very excited and decided to pay a couple of months in advance.

Of course, all that was almost 4 weeks ago and the bill is pending once again…

In the meantime, other parts of the country are receiving more free water than they know what to do with. Unfortunately, this water is delivered in the form of mudslides and burst river banks and is not exactly fit for the dinner table. A product of the El Niño phenomenon, many towns and villages on the north coastal zone of Perú have been affected: mortalities; loss of homes, livelihoods and infrastructure, including access to clean water and uncontaminated food. Please pray for those who have lost, the government authorities who have the material resources to provide relief and reconstruction and the Christian community who have the spiritual resources to provide comfort and restore hope.

Love Laura x

P.S. Here are the record-breaking students from ‘2 de Mayo’ who travelled 5 days to attend the training week last week – the longest anyone has ever travelled to get to us. The adults from left to right: Manuel, Saira, Pedro and Merardo. God bless them!

2 de mayo

The Enforcer

Last week I took on an additional new role as Debt Collector. I find that Money is one of the trickiest languages to learn, the most difficult culture to understand, the most challenging etiquette to practice. These days I tend to simply plunge in and later apologise, playing the “I’m a foreigner, sorry if I offended you/sorry if there has been a misunderstanding”-card if anything goes wrong. Nevertheless, the community voted me in as Treasurer for the La Unión Water Committee because, they said, they didn’t trust anyone else to do it. I also recognise that no-one else wanted the jobs of calling people out who hadn’t paid their monthly contribution, of debt-collecting from those who never come to the meetings and deciding when to cut off unrepentant offenders. Everyone was agreed the day we made the rules, some even wanted harsher terms. But nobody wanted to be the enforcer. That’s another area where there the gringa comes in handy.

Aside from my cynicism, I’m glad that I’m seen to be honest with the things I’m entrusted with and I hope the community can see the connection between this and my Christian faith. The Word has a lot to say about money, not all of it easy to understand and most of it pretty challenging to practice. Even after a few years now and many conversations with others in similar situations, I’m still working on knowing how much to give, how much of the time; being generous without encouraging dependency; practicing grace and good stewardship.

Tomorrow, or sometime this week, I’m supposed to take another member of the committee, with a spade, to visit each house that hasn’t paid (there are 18 of them), find out the situation and if no resolution can be found, officially cut them off. It’s not an irreversible situation but a necessary incentive. My prayer is that our mere appearance will stimulate an immediate monetary response before any ground needs to be broken…I’ll let you know how that goes!

Love Laura x

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Hark!

As I’m sure it was for most of you, December was a particularly fun-packed month for me too. We installed the La Union community water system and transformed the main street into one generously proportioned mudslide as the wet season kicked in just as we broke ground to install the pipeline that now conveys water from our storage tanks at the Training Centre to 60 homes in the neighbourhood. Whilst some challenges still exist – like getting everyone to actually pay their monthly contribution for the service! – I felt incredibly relieved that the project had finally been realized and just in time for Christmas too.

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One thing I did miss, but which I suspect that most of you did not, was the singing of Christmas Carols. I’m not referring to Jingle Bells, White Christmases or any songs to do with Rudolf or reindeer, but actual Christian carols about the actual Christmas story, such as Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful, O Holy Night and my all-time favourite, O Little Town of Bethlehem. The longer I’m away from the UK at this time of year, the more I find myself to be moved by these songs, their tone and their message. They’re songs proclaiming such joy over the profound mystery which is at the heart of the nativity story, of God With Us. A message which yes, is especially precious when one is long way away from family, but also a message that resounds, if one lets it, long after the traditional festivities are over.

“O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell.

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel.”

Happy New Year to you all!

Love Laura x

iquitos-plaza-tree02

Reconnaissance on the River Nanay

FRIDAY 12:30hrs Leave house in Nauta sporting yellow poncho due to heavy rain. First destination: Nauta ‘taxi’ station to board a colectivo.

14:55hrs Arrive at Iquitos taxi terminal. Off to buy rations for the river journey and check-in to hostel for overnight stay. Rendezvous with colleague, Luis, confirmed for 07:00hrs tomorrow morning.

SATURDAY 06:55hrs At rendezvous point.

07:20hrs Luis arrives by scooter and explains his wife is following in a motokar. He’ll leave his scooter at the port just in case there’re no motos when we return on Sunday. Now am wondering exactly where the port is: haven’t been to the port of Nina Rumi before…His wife arrives in moto, I climb in and we’re off.

08:05hrs Arrive at river port of Nina Rumi, way out of Iquitos on rutted dirt road through the woods. Son of our host meets us at the port. He left Samito, our destination, at 03:00hrs this morning.

08:30 hrs Luis and I board the 18ft lancha, the peque-peque is juiced up and we set off. ETA in Samito: 15:30 hrs. Luis affixes hammock and promptly falls asleep whilst pretending to read spiritual book. I lie down on wooden bench and soon nod off. Wake up periodically to graze on food rations.

luis-on-scooter

Luis on scooter

samito

Destination: Samito

boat-facilites

Boat: all mod cons

 

15:35hrs Arrive at Samito. Pr. Humberto meets us off the boat and takes us to the accommodation at this home.

19:15hrs Following supper of boiled salted fish and boiled plantain and best attempt at a wash in a location with ample water but zero privacy, Luis and I go to the church. People from neighbouring village churches are arriving. The all-night vigil starts up promptly with lively singing and clapping.

21:25hrs Luis and I are invited to the front to introduce ourselves and talk about the training program in Nauta, followed by questions from the pastors, followed by Luis preaching.

00:00hrs The vigil pauses so that people can get some air and drink chicha, made from ground maize, semi-fermented. Luis and I excuse ourselves and return to our accommodation to sleep.

SUNDAY 05:30hrs The vigil has finished and everyone comes back to the accommodation for chicken soup breakfast and more chicha. Pr. Humberto is very encouraged by the invitation to the Training Program for next year and has a list of 14 pastors and leaders from the five churches present at the vigil. Luis and I pray with him and his wife before getting back on the lancha.

07:00hrs Leaving Samito. ETA at Nina Rumi: 13:00hrs.

13:30hrs Arrive at Nina Rumi. Not many motokars whose drivers aren’t drinking beer! Finally find one who already has a passenger but agrees to take me back to Iquitos for reasonable fee. Luis heads off to find his scooter.

14:05hrs On dirt track back to Iquitos in moto with unknown man in passenger seat beside me who starts to ask me what I’m doing in Nina Rumi and how it is that I’m travelling alone. I explain that I came with my colleague, a pastor, who left on his scooter and we’d been up-river visiting churches. Five minutes later we pass a local watering hole with various young couples bobbing about in the water. My travelling companion turns to me and asks “¿Te gusta el pecado?” Translation: “Do you like to sin?” I’m a little shocked; it’s a loaded question. I decide to clarify: “¿Cómo? ¿Me gusta el pecado?” (“What did you say? Do I like to sin?!”).

He laughs, “!No! ¿Te gusta el pescado?” I realise he’s holding a fishing rod. He had asked me if I like fish. I laugh. A lot. (Yes, I do like fish.)

15:35 hrs Arrive home in Nauta. Successful trip.

Mind the Poop

The days after a training week or the visit of a short-term mission team, are both blessedly and strangely quiet. Today was such a day. Sara, the secretary, has turned up at her usual hour and is elbow deep in receipts and spreadsheets in “the office”. Pedro, maintenance and grounds-person, wanders by with machete in hand, off to do battle, so he says, against the greenery, again. He tells me there´s a freshly harvested pineapple with my name on it in the Dining Room. Yummy. I get on with some light-weight house-keeping: gather up the bedclothes from the dormitories to be sent for laundering (in this case, Deysi, my neighbour has already asked to do it by hand so she can earn a bit of cash); collecting all the left-over hand-outs, bits of paper and assorted stationery items from the classroom to be filed and put away for the next time; sorting and disinfecting the kiddies toys as best as possible; bringing up the bits and bobs lent to the house where the Poynton B.C. team ladies had stayed for the last two weeks (wellies, a saucepan, a cooking gas canister etc.). A very different kind of morning from a week ago.

Top three moments from the last two weeks, in ascending order:

  1. Watching pink dolphins breach within metres of our boat whilst sat in the mouth of the River Samiria, just where it joins the River Marañon;
  2. Last Friday, when two fish-farm specialists from Iquitos came to talk to our training-week pastors about how to set-up their own domestic-scale fish-farms. They were followed by pastoral couple, Pr. Agustín and Hna. Isulina, also from Iquitos, who have already done this and who shared some of their personal experiences. It was a really good day for demonstrating God´s holistic mission.
  3. Getting three ladies from Poynton B.C. to act out a drama, on several occasions in different locations, to children and adults, showing how poop can get into our mouths via dirty hands and make us sick. The stars of the show were “Dad”, who demonstrated some expert squatting and open defecation and “Chicken”, who traipsed through the poop and promptly traipsed it through the house and over the baby, who had been playing innocently there.

Conclusion: wash your hands before you eat and after you poop! I´m sure I don’t need to tell any of you…

Love Laura x

Still with Cat

At the very least, I probably owe a sequel to the “Cat Lady” blog. In short, last month Mum-cat underwent surgery to permanently remove the “Mum” half of her name and she’s currently dozing on my lap. It would seem that what was permanent loss for the cat has become permanent gain for me, although I continue to encourage her to spend her nights outside and that rats and spiders should continue to be part of her weekly nutrition.

I’ve been away at a conference this week and coming home, I always like to have a little walk around to see how the “garden” is fairing. I should make it perfectly clear that Pedro does the real bulk of the work, regularly spending hours at a time expertly slashing away at the weeds and liberating the smaller fruit trees from the tangle. I mainly mince about taking photos, like these:

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And getting excited about things like this:

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Yes, this is a pineapple plant. Consulting Pedro and a book on tropical fruit gardens, I learn that we’re supposed to cut off the new plants budding off the base of the fruit and they’ll grow into new pineapple plants. I think that’s a pretty good return on our initial investment. Now we just have to work out what we’re going to do with the fruit: market? Jam? Or jam market?!

So I’ve spent the last few days at a Peruvian Baptist conference on integral church growth, in a retreat centre about an hour inland and up from the north-coast city of Trujillo. It’s a bit of a journey (a couple hours of sweaty mini-bus travel and two super-chilled aeroplane flights); the climate and scenery changes completely (flat rainforest to hilly desert); the urban scenery changes completely (I went to a Mall – and got excited over DIY supplies in the Peruvian equivalent of ‘Homebase’); and the speakers, all directors and lecturers from the national Baptist seminaries, debated the topics referring to words in Greek and using terms like ‘homiletics’ and ‘hermeneutics’. I really do hope that one day we’ll see a pastor from a jungle river village grappling competently with a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance but for now we focus on providing that pastor with the tools to be able to understand what he reads in Spanish.

I generally find that a mild psychological shock sets in when I arrive home and am reminded that I’ve been in Perú the whole time. The everyday needs, challenges and expectations of my friends and neighbours in Nauta and Iquitos are a world apart from those of my friends and colleagues in Lima and Trujillo. Nevertheless, I’m pretty chuffed that Jesus, the true pioneer of extreme cross-cultural service, has already offered to meet our most profound human need in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

Right, I’m off to do some DIY.

Love Laura x