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!

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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

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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.

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Luis on scooter

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Destination: Samito

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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

Cat Lady

So the inevitable has finally happened: Sarah McArthur, BMS Mid-Term Volunteer to Perú since 2014, completed her time here and flew out on 11th July; and now I’ve become the neighbourhood cat lady. Sarah’s leaving wasn’t unforeseen (the farewell social events leading up to it were a bit of a giveaway) but the cats, well the cats were not part of the plan at all.

I should explain that the approach to pets here, at least in Nauta, embraces an open-house/open-street approach. Given that for most people’s homes, there is a very fine, often ambiguous, line between inside and outside space, “pets” come in and go out as they please (much like the neighbourhood free-range poultry and the neighbour’s free-range children). Generally, there are no collars, no pedigree chum, no walkies and no poop scooping. In the same spirit, the Training Centre has acquired some of its own canine and feline residents. The former we generally try to discourage because they have a penchant for ripping open rubbish bags in search of dirty nappies. The latter we have welcomed because of their impact on the local rodent population, and includes a certain little female specimen which over the years has had a number of kitten batches, achieving possibly a 10% survival rate. This year, we decided it was time to ship her to Iquitos and get her snipped but we were too late. 10 days ago she had her final clutch of four wretched critters. The last one went downhill very quickly this afternoon and died.

The thing is, the day before Mum-cat had her ill-fated litter, a short-term group that was staying at the Training Centre decided to rescue four kittens they found at the side of the road. The kittens were too young to feed by themselves and they embarked upon a regime of syringe-feeding until, what luck! Mum-cat managed to break into the dormitory and had her babies in one of the shower cubicles. She promptly adopted the four rescue kittens alongside her own and what a heart-warming sight it was…until it was realised that the substantially larger adopted kitties were hogging the milk, physically pushing the blind, clue-less new-borns out of access. And that was when, of course, the short-term group left the scene. I was left wondering how I’d ended up with eight kittens, four of whom really needed to be fed manually and a Mum-cat who’d acquired the impression that she was now a house pet – probably because I’d brought the whole lot into the house when we had to bleach the shower cubicle.

So, to save four abandoned kittens…

If these dilemmas only existed at the level of dogs and cats, life could be relatively simple! May God grant us all the wisdom we need to faithfully administer His grace and compassion.

Love Laura xkitties

Cave Dweller Waits for Internet

As I’m currently waiting for a webpage to load it seems like a good moment to write a blog – it could take some time and/or multiple tries, disconnecting and reconnecting the USB dongle that gives us internet access (it is still not possible to get a landline connection in this part of Nauta), as long as it’s not raining. I hear that weather-related internet connectivity is not a challenge restricted to the jungle towns of Perú: parts of Scotland, Wales and the West Country apparently also enjoy a less than speedy or reliable connection to this thing which, according to the propaganda, connects us all to a better quality of life. Being something of a troglodyte, I’m not totally convinced and yet, I am writing this blog…

Far more interesting is the fact that today is a Thursday, in the middle of the 3rd Training Week of the year and the Training Centre is absolutely packed. It is not feasible to try to operate a system of prior registration for the course due to the difficulties with communication and a local culture which doesn’t esteem forward planning, however we know how many pastors we are inviting and so we generally expect around that number. This week, our expectations have been significantly exceeded and counting men, women, children and speakers, we’re just over 50 people crammed into facilities that normally accommodate comfortably, 30 adults. Thankfully, our brothers and sisters are accustomed to pretty rustic sleeping conditions and think nothing of putting some foam mattresses down on the floor in whatever space they can find. It’s fantastic to see the place full, especially the classroom during lesson time, regardless of the additional stresses it puts on the logistics. At the moment they’re learning about ethics in church leadership and I can hear the speaker, Pastor Justo Rubiños, barking at them every now and again (he does this to make sure they’re awake). Please uphold the Training Centre and all who are participating this week in your prayers.DSCF2862

Finally, I confess I am little sad because my parents left a couple of days ago having spent four weeks here, two of those gallivanting with me around the country. They certainly made themselves useful when we finally arrived in Nauta, which just goes to show that there really is no upper age limit for overseas service.

Lots of love, Laura

Good Time for Sport

It’s raining heavily right now so there’s nothing else to do but write a blog. Of course, this is an entirely subjective approach to the situation as for the half a dozen or so kids who have been kicking a football around the Training Centre’s “recreational area” for the last hour, heavy rain is a most refreshing time for some informal sporting activities. I’m glad that I’m not the one who’ll have to hand wash their dirty clothes at the end of the day. The most sensible lad was the littlest one who’d come out in just his already grey Y-fronts and was utilising a water-filled furrow in the grass as a water slide.

So it’s been a good few weeks, not entirely devoid of drama. For a start, I had been upriver, here…

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…when this happened…

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That’ll be the new platform for the Community Water Project tanks having collapsed on one side. Tempted as I was to get all down-hearted, I asked the Lord for a solution (i.e. an actual qualified engineer to design a new platform and some building contractors actually qualified and trustworthy enough to do the work and at a price that we can afford) and I believe He gave me one. Having been bothering the Local Authority for technical and financial assistance with the Community Water Project for several weeks already, they finally got tired of sending me away and they sent Roy, CAD technician, topographer and apprentice civil engineer, to help me instead. This was the week after the platform went south. Roy takes one look at it and tells me he can get some proper engineering drawings done, have it signed off and guaranteed by the fully qualified civil engineer in the LA office and he can recommend the building contractors to do the job, which he will oversee. All this for a price which we can actually cover.

So currently, it looks like this…DSCF2727

Unfortunately, this does put the project back another six weeks, but everyone remains understanding since the reason for the delay is blindingly obvious.

Well it’s stopped raining now so I best get on with something…

Blessings,

Love Laura x