Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fall 2012 Update

Visiting Great-Grandpa Gayheart in Tampa, Florida.
It is fall, and we are in California on our first stateside assignment. Michael has his corner of the front room here at the Immanuel Baptist mission house stacked with seminary papers and books. It feels a bit to me like old days in UCLA student housing—the watching him be a student again-- but now he has a laptop. And that monitor we bought in Peru. And both are slaves to his data-gathering and paper-writing while he works through necessary seminary units… and dabbles in mapping/programming/app-writing…for January.

Come January, we won’t live in a jungle community or an isolated town along a tributary of the Amazon or a hi-rise in Peru’s capital city. Instead, upon the arrival of 2013, we’ll be boarding a plane for Virginia to work at the IMB headquarters in Richmond. For a three-year term, we’re joining the Global Research team, where Michael will be doing some of what he did in Mexico earlier this year, only on a global scale. It will, Lord willing, look something like this: By problem-solving to implement Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software, he will be part of a team working to advance a database network of accurate, up-to-date information on people groups: their location, head-count, demographics, and whether or not they’ve had the chance to hear and respond to the Gospel. Implementing solutions for the gathering, categorical layering and presentation of this data, we will be armed with a real analysis of borders, head count and beliefs. Visually and spatially, these maps will serve our leadership in forming a strategy for the employment of limited resources and missionaries in strategic zones.

And so we have received the next something-to-do. Since each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful… (1 Cor 12:7, MSG). While Michael works on his something-to-do, I will have mine. And Julia and Abigail and Nathanael and Chloe will have theirs. It will look something very much like time spent in Yarina Isla or Atalaya in this way: we will spend time listening to people—to their stories. We will tell them ours and teach them from God’s history of the Universe, His Word. We’ll do this in the context of a local church, and in our neighborhood, while staying connected to, and sharing the stories of our Peruvian friends who, having heard pieces of God’s story, have yet to respond…

During December, Southern Baptists are meeting together to gather our offering-of-all-offerings, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Together—we who pray, we who give, and we who go—enable Southern Baptists to spread out upon the four corners of the earth with our appointed somethings-to-do. This makes the LMCO a great cause for celebration—thank you for giving with us this Christmas!!!!

Celebrating with you a great multitude…from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Revelation 7:9, MSG)! We join you in this great multitude—before the One whose blood has united even the fiercest enemies—thanking God for making us a team, each with our something-to-do.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Team Gayheart

Friday, February 24, 2012

Jungle meets City

We’re living in Lima right now. Michael is working on mapping and research. We just said goodbye to M and J—our landlords in A-town—and family with whom we shared many firsts. M lived here in capital city some time back… but J, an Ashaninka, had never known anything beyond Amazonia and anything she’s seen on TV, she’d assumed stayed inside that little black box.
Her first piece of pizza. Those Papa John’s garlic sauce containers were carefully cleaned then preserved for another something another time. Any and every container thereafter was painstakingly washed, then collected in her treasured stack. The ground beef came lumped onto clear plastic. She just loved that lovely mold, holding it up to the light: Oh, look at this mold! It’s formed so nicely to hold the meat!

The ocean—she even wanted to taste the salt—so different from the river whose current pulls one way, the ocean seemed to be pulling everything away from the shore.
The grocery store. She put her arm through mine and said she thought she would die, unable to bear all that her eyes were seeing. All the toothpastes neatly lined in colorful boxes. There are more than two types of toothpaste? And the shampoos and conditioners. Twenty different types of sausages: green sausage, black sausage, red sausage and pink sausage. Baskets and baskets of freshly baked bread and men in white with puffy hats and flour-dusted aprons working hurriedly as if there weren’t already baskets and baskets of bread in their varied shapes. Round buns, long buns, hard bread, soft bread. Bread with cinnamon. Bread with tomatoes. Bread with cheese and with sesame seeds and with olives. Bread that was sliced and bread that was not. She stared at the bread, unable to move. I told her we could look upstairs. Upstairs?
When it was time to take the escalator, she squeezed my hand, coolly looking toward the second floor, unable to believe the ground was moving beneath her. But her daughter D, 12, was still at the bottom of the escalator in utter terror. Julia and Abigail followed the dark staircase, an almost-hidden exit down to where D waited anxiously, and they held her hands, up, up, up the escalator. Meanwhile, J walked haltingly up and down each aisle in complete disbelief. This is all real! These table cloths and these cups and these dishes and they have such pretty flowers! Can I buy this? Can I get this? Can I? Can I? I didn’t know what to say. She kept asking.
The fruits and vegetables. Glowing berries. Purple and pink and red. Fat onions. White ones. Yellow, too. Giant, just ripening avocados. The fattest, cleanest mangoes she’d seen piled in neat rows and barely pink. Oh can we get them? Can we? Can we? The family will love them! She tugged at a plastic bag, and the girls showed her how to pull at it just a bit to yank it from the rest. She loaded the bag to the tippy-top and giggled.
When we at last sat in the taxi, I felt almost dizzy with her excitement, and half-dazed by her own delirium—like I was experiencing everything for the first time through her.
That night after shopping, it was my turn to cook. I told her to leave the kitchen and insisted that she sit down with her family while they watched Soul Surfer. She never sits to rest and is always working: folding, scrubbing, peeling, picking, sorting, scouring, stirring, tasting, washing, serving… It made me happy to see her head from behind, beside her husband’s, and their children beside them, and my children, too, nestled into the mix.
So I made dinner in dim light and thought about J. About all the things she was seeing and experiencing for the first time and how the washing machine was probably her very favorite thing of all. I’d taught her which buttons to turn and she was always finding something to wash and always delighting in every turn of the button. Her favorite part was lifting it out of the ringer, whereby she would exclaim over its nearly-dryness, then thrust it all into the dryer triumphantly and with great ease.
Ashaninka. 30 something. J is an unfailingly hard-worker, a hungry learner and a competent administrator. She could cook for kings. Anything she touches is transformed by her unusual ability to transform ordinary-ness into extra-ordinary-ness. She studied nursing and loves holistic health and knows how to cure migraines or kidney infections with leaves and water. What a girl.
Earlier this week, when we were hiking up a steep cliff, returning from the beach one afternoon, she struggled to breathe. Asthma. I thought about what she would do if I was having a hard time, and went to hold her arm, just like she always does mine. She smiled and breathed heavingly while I put my hand on her back and we rested. We sat in silence.
They’ve been gone for a few days now. I’m still thinking about her. She does not know Jesus, but is learning about Him, and wanting to learn more. After she saw Soul Surfer, J came into the kitchen and whispered to me, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. She was repeating Bethany Hamilton, Soul Surfer’s young and beautiful, beautifully formed girl whose triumph as a passionately skilled surfer (though a shark had ripped her arm from her body), was because of Jesus. She (Bethany) believed I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13). J was spellbound. Again.
And again, she repeated, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. We were quiet, thinking about what she’d just seen and heard—quiet as if we both, in that moment knew that it’s not the washing machines or the fat, pink mangoes or the salty ocean, or possessing the beautifully-formed body that makes a person triumph. It’s Jesus.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Let It Be

 Sunday. M and J were here for many hours tonight. They told us of things I’d wished I’d never heard. Blood-curdling tales from their adolescent years when Peru’s then-premiere terrorist group dominated and destroyed isolated native communities. In J’s village, bodies of live women and children were piled into covered holes in the dirt for hours-- babies and toddlers drugged with tree and leaf extracts to silence them— to save them. Quityoncari! Quityoncari! Red. Blood red. Ema first taught me this word in Yarina Isla, pointing to the blood of a dead animal. Now I think of the blood of slain Ashéninka and I shudder.

Wednesday. Nathanael, Michael and his Ashéninka language helper, whom I affectionately call the Professor, spent the hottest part of the afternoon with their machetes hacking away at waist-high weeds. Michael’s hands were bloody and blistered and he, Nathanael and the Professor were all dripping with watery mud when they came in for lunch. The girls and I had baked lemon-garlic chicken with plantain and poured it over white rice with a green herb sauce. The professor ate all of it with such enthusiasm and thorough attention to every bit of the chicken bone, Julia and Abigail and I were just delighted.

Friday. The neighborhood goat is now followed by her brown little ones just like her. They were feeding on the newly cleared land beside our front porch this morning while Profesora and I were studying some translated hymns.

Crystal and her language helper outside our house.
Crystal with her language helper outside our house.
We sat on the front porch, and rocked and sang in Ashéninka, and I learned more grammar patterns. Inintaperoeyacaeni. He loves us. Anintaperoeyerini. We love Him.

And commands.Pomampaacotyaari Pava. Sing to God!
And praises. Noquimoshirevenaquimi. You make me happy.

Somehow foreign words spill out more easily in song, so we did a lot of singing today while we watched the goats.

Saturday. The carpenter came by. Out of the blue, Michael had called him to build a workbench area in the shed, but he seemed hesitant over the phone. Upon seeing him, we knew why. H’s face was shadowy with eyes sunken back toward his forehead. Emaciated, he sat down to talk.
The woman he’s been living with sat in the moto-taxi for quite some time while the men talked on the porch. H fears for his life. He thinks he’s dying and is cursed for rejecting God. He’s afraid. And angry. He’d come to ask us to buy his land. Or did we know anybody who would buy his land so He could go to the capital city for medical help?

I went out to the moto-taxi and asked the woman to come and sit in the shade. She declined. So I brought her water then left her alone. I walked in the house and watched her from the window. Minutes later, she was handing me a plate of smoked meat and yucca through the window bars. I gave the food to the children and went to the moto-taxi and asked her to tell me a little bit about what was happening to H.

She cautiously began… and her story unfolded, which was his story, too. She said she once followed God but did not anymore. She was sad, but did not know how not to be. I asked her if I could pray for H with her. She agreed. Together, we asked God to reveal Himself to her as she accompanied H through a great valley.

When we finished, I saw H, his chin in his chest, praying with Michael.
…The Lord is the strength of my life… (Psalm 27:1).

Sunday. Instead of a church service, there was a funeral today. The casket was cut from smooth wood and painted nearly black. On top of it were three plastic soda bottles cut off at the middle to make flower vases stuffed with colorful wildflowers beside taper candles sitting in their wax melted on splintered planks. It was hot. Our bodies were all stuck together on uneven benches. We sang choruses and children played with a puppy and picked each other’s heads.

Someone passed out plastic cups filled with cold, red cola. We looked at the casket. Then they asked Michael to come up and say something. He stood beside the black box. His voice broke. In the casket was the body of a nine-year old girl, Abigail’s friend from Sunday school. She’d been tree-climbing. And fell.
He spoke few words from Psalm 84 through the tears caught in his throat.

My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…
Blessed is the man whose strength is in You…
As they pass through the valley of weeping, they make it a spring;
They go from strength to strength…
O Lord… blessed is the man who trusts in You!

A geniune Leo chocolate cake.
Jose's 5th birthday with a yummy Leo cake!
Saturday. While everyone was playing volleyball in the field beside the corner church, I hopped across the way to visit Leo. Michael suggested I order one of her chocolate cakes to surprise Jose for his birthday. She told me of her dream to own a cake-shop. For now, she bakes out of her house which is mainly brick and mortar without windows or doors on a muddy lot. Her baking tools are neatly covered in fabric, and shelves are stacked with pans and spoons and chocolate bars from Lima. She washes her dishes outside. It is thoroughly enchanting. She sent me with a chocolate baking bar and made me promise to return with whatever I made. I’m thinking about fudge for Thanksgiving.

Friday. It was after 4 when Nellie started singing, signaling the start of another study. While she sang, someone banged a rock on the gate. It was Anali with three other indigenous women beside her. I assumed they were all together, though I’d never seen the three before, so I invited them in.
I went to get some bananas for the crying toddlers and when I returned, the room was full but all the women were silent. That wasn’t normal. So I asked Anali, Do you not know each other?, referring to the three women with her. She nodded. No.

Apparently the women were just walking by, and they weren’t sure why they were now sitting in our front room. So I told them I would be telling a story if they’d like to stay for a bit. They agreed.

I told the woman-at-the-well story—how a rejected woman drawing water heard how she might never thirst again. We talked about our hungry hearts that seek satisfaction in a myriad of mildly-satisfying, short-lived pleasures. And of …Christ who is our life… (Colossians 3:4). I shared examples of things I’ve groped at, vainly hoping to feel fully happy only to find that Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:11), and He who is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), is also The fountain of living waters (Jeremiah 17:13). Our Maker, who finally and ultimately satisfies us completely, does so because we are His.

When a rejected woman at the well heard about living water: “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14), and that its source was found in the One who spoke I… am He (John 4:26), she believed. And was satisfied. And could not keep silent.

When our time finished, the story was more alive to me than before, and I wanted to tell it again and again because each time I do, I believe it more.

Sunday. M and J and his cousin decided it was time we visit the caves. Our families hiked in flip flops through layers of everything green and red and grey. Mainly mud and trees. Nathanael spotted an enormous carcass of some creature … Huge femur bones and a jagged skull, something akin to a creature we read about in Job: See now, his strength in his hips… he moves his tail like a cedar; The sinews of his thighs are tightly knit. His bones are like beams of bronze. Indeed the river may rage but he is not disturbed…(Job 40).

We sank to our calves into pottery-making red clay, then bare footed through fields of wildflowers and underbrush. For lunch, there were noodles with spinach and basil sauce in a lemon grove. And mosquitoes. In a cold, clear spring, the children painted their bodies with red mud.

Found the cave. Into the earth it wound. (I know only because I looked at pictures). Michael and M, his cousin and a boy from an indigenous community disappeared into the darkness armed with flashlights, pocket knives, and a green string by which to find their way back out.
Enjoying one of the open spaces with a pool.
In one of the spacious areas of the cave with a pool. Are there any creatures in the water?

The tighter spots included sliding through mud chutes.
Some areas included sliding down chutes of mud.

Cave Creature!
Too many for a spider, too few for a centipede
J and I talked while the children hung from vines in the trees and the dog chased insects and whatever else he was barking at. The men re-emerged after some time, covered in mud, elated. They saw animal tracks and a spider-look-alike with a dozen legs…on each side. The kids begged to be lowered into the entrance. We heard screams of gleeful terror. Bats. But night was falling, so we followed the carcass-laden trail to where the truck was parked beside a stream. Following the stream led to a river, and we jumped in, commencing headstand contests and mud-scrubbing from clothes and bodies.
Smiling, screaming, and laughing.
Smiles, screams, and laughter marked an underground adventure!
At home, I stood under the hot water apparatus until my skin burned. Through the window and barbed wire, the black sky and gauzily clouded moon yielded just enough light to see flat, waxy leaves reaching into the sky. Complete and total beauty. And my soul was lost in it entirely.

Lord, your constant love reaches to the heavens;
Your faithfulness extends to the skies.
Your righteousness is towering like the mountains;
Your justice is like the depths of the sea.
People and animals are under your care.
How precious, O God, is your constant love!
We find protection under the shadow of your wings.
We feast on the abundant food you provide;
You let us drink from the river of your goodness.
You are the source of all life, and because of your light we see the light
(Ps 36:5-9).

Tuesday. I’m going through a lot of pen and ink learning about the sovereignty of God. How one nation rises and another falls. How some people are rich and some are poor. How some know severe suffering and others do not seem to. How one thing is right for one person and certainly not for another. But so much of what I observe is only a seemingly sort of observation, a dimly-lit, sorely-lacking view of what is true.

This only seeing what seems-to-be has made me really uncomfortable. It’s much more fun to be confident and certain of most anything and being a know-it-all has always come quite effortlessly to me. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I am fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12). Yet this is what is real right now—dimness. Seeing dimly reminds me not to lean too heavily on my own understanding, but to work through these matters of following Jesus humbly: God resists the proud, but shows favor to the humble (1 Pet 5:5) and with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12b). What joyous liberty then is this matter of seeing dimly! I get to hurl myself humbly, headlong, and free into the One who loves me in a way I now only dimly see! O, but when I see Him face to face, I will know! I will know His love and I will know and understand the promise He made to the woman at the well.

O let it be!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Catching Up…


Mid-Late May. Grandma and Grandpa Gayheart visit. Few days with internet. June. M travels to first community along the river. Internet down. Still down. General meeting of missionary families in the desert. July. Dear friends follow us back to A-town. Ginger the monkey has disappeared into the jungle behind our house. Sorrowing. Sadness. August. M travels with our team leaders to Yarina Isla for a pastoral training event. We are separated for nearly three weeks. Highly unusual. Begin language study again. In a new dialect. Meet our fearless team leaders in Lima where we share dental work and goodbyes. At the airport we watch as they disappear into the crowd, anticipating their new life and work in Southeast Asia. We had one year together…

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Next day. We return to the airport for a direct flight from Lima to LAX. Vacation. Twenty day blur of sweetness and joy in California. Touring SoCal in a lovingly-lent 15 passenger van, we visit churches, eat Cinnabon and Chipotle, laugh hard and cry harder with our sorely-missed families and dear friends. Meet our two nephews and niece for the first time. End of September. Full, happy hearts. We return to Lima where M works a few days at office headquarters with a mega-city strategist from Argentina in managing research data with Geographical Information systems (GIS). New homeschooling year : Kindergarten, 2nd, 4th and 5th grade.

The following account details the trip back to our home in A-town.

Day One

The Andes. Mining towns. Ghost towns. Lakes and clear streams over jagged rocks and barren hills Tiny settlements of Quechua women distinctly layered in aprons and skirts with hats over two black braids along their backs. Unseen babies in brilliant, multi-colored fabric tied to those bent backs. Thick clusters that look like blossoming weeds tied in that same fabric to other backs in transit to the market. Densely-layered, red-cheeked grandmothers hang cold, wet laundry on the lines that hug the paved highway.

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Clouds darken. Gentle snow falls. Then hail. Sleet slices at the windshield. Angry rain beats the mountain. Someone is sick to their stomach. Then another. Our temples sear with sharp pain. The Altitude. It creeps into our heads and stomachs. 14,000 feet. The truck loses power. Insufficient oxygen to engine. We are without water. Pinned between two strong mountains jutting out of the highway, we are in drivers’ blind spots coming at us from both directions. We pray. The car starts. We crawl just far enough to pull over roadside. We wait. We pray. The car starts again. The rain stops. We stagger along like a wounded beast. Stop again. The pattern continues over and over until…

Dropping altitude breathes life into tidy square gardens lined with rows of rose buds and yellow daisies. There are gardens of indigo irises and chamomile and what looks like green onion. Homes of adobe painted every green and blue: turquoise and mint green and celadon and aqua,and every hue in between. Semi-deliberate built homes clustered in groups climbing the red and green mountains whose dilapidated tile roofs are strangely appealing. But even the beauty fails to hold our attention.

Too tired to continue. Too weak to drive. Time to stop. Sickness does not relent. We pull alongside a curb. Michael is desperately ill with brain-retching head pain. Abigail and I locate a trusty hotel: a safe place to park the truck, and a private bathroom where everyone can finish being sick. Nevermind that one of the walls is shared with the casino courtyard.

Everyone falls asleep while there is still light. It is cold and we are layered under blankets of llama and alpaca. Michael awakens. His condition worsens. I descend the narrow staircase to find a pharmacy. Abigail and I buy four pills that promise to help. Abigail becomes sick. She slumps under the alpaca and is instantly asleep. Nathanael awakens. He hasn’t eaten and moans with hunger. Chloe joins him. And Julia. I take those who moan down the narrow staircase. We cross the street to the sign that translates Good Flavored Chicken. The ceiling is very low. Pictures of war heroes hang crookedly on yellowing, paint-peeled walls. A tiny sturdy woman brings heaping plates of golden rotisserie chicken piled high on hot french-fries and a small salad plate. We eat in contented silence looking into the faces of war heroes. Return to room above casino and drift into a fitful night tossing and turning amidst the ringing of slot machines.

O, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever…          (1 Chronicles 16:34)

Day Two

Still reeling a bit from Day One. We do not move as fast as we planned. Each person takes their turn in a hot shower, but puts on clothes from the day before. We brush our teeth and wash our faces and debrief on the state of the family. The consensus is that we’re moving too slow to make it to A-town today. If we try, we’ll more than likely be stuck in raw jungle when the blackness of night falls.

For now, the truck effortlessly paces alongside strong rivers who feed emerald tree-studded mountains that seem to touch the sky. I will proclaim the name of the Lord. O, praise the greatness of our God. I am drowsy with sleep. My eyes want nothing more than to close. But to close them means to miss the mountains of majesty and their tunnels hewn through massive rock. He is the Rock, His works are perfect…And the sun is so bright and warm with the cold mountain behind us…and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He (Deuteronomy 32:3-4). When I wake, we are pulling along the curb of the industrial-looking building that will have internet and soft beds. There will be no thick, blanket layers. Only sheets. We are in the jungle. We are almost home.

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God, the Rock, my Savior! (2 Samuel 22:2-3)

Day Three

Wake early. Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face evermore! Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders…Children still sleeping deeply. Cold Shower. No hot water. None is necessary. Already the room is warm as the sun crawls up from the east. We are out of water bottles again and everyone will wake with thirst. Gather scattered belongings into bag. Load two bags at the bread shop: one with cold water bottles—the other with hot fried egg sandwiches.

Hillsides of coffee. Large, rectangular, black plastic tarps spread with coffee beans drying in the sunshine. Homes are prosperous in this part: cement and painted wood with two stories. Some even have glass in the windows. Roadside community store. Shelves stacked high with yellow sandwich-bag portions of laundry soap and washing bars and hammocks and machetes. Soda-- pink concoctions and red ones and Inca Kola and Coca Cola. Shrink wrapped in groups of six. Stacked high. Layer after layer. Row after row.

Forest. Trees are taller. There are more of them—tangled in bossy vines nearly swallowing them up with the will to dominate. Ferns clamor for their own attention groping the roadside in dense clusters. A waterfall spills over the top of commanding boulders and mossy peaks, sputtering over our truck and trickling as a clear stream into the river we are chasing. Stop. We splash sweet coldness into our faces.

Give to the Lord the glory due His name… O, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! (1 Chronicles 16:29)

Butterflies. Purple and lime and scarlet and poppy. Such colors! Everywhere. Feeding and fluttering where the waterfall yields to the stream. Chloe is spinning in dizzy delight. Rest.

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Wide river. Yellow tractors are still. Long trucks and watering tanks are parked midstream. Men at rest. Their mud-caked, bare feet hang out open windows. Time to cross. M evaluates deep waters. Assesses the rocks. Notes where the trucks feed, then forges the mental path we will follow. Man against river. He is confident this time, dominating and subduing rushing water and rock and earth beneath the vehicle with fierceness and ease. Save us, O God of our salvation… to give thanks to Your Holy name, to triumph in Your praise.” (1 Chronicles 16:35). Men whoop and holler from the windows cheering him on. They exchange knowing glances and hearty greetings.

Native communities. Women in violet tunics wearing their hand-woven baskets across their foreheads and down their backs, with magnificent loads of yucca root. The weight is nearly blinding, but the women are strong. Men and guns accompany them. Mostly naked children scamper about laughing and crying as their mothers yank them from the road we’re traveling.

Few hours remain before we are spit onto the backside of isolated A-town. A bed of a million crushed rocks are deposited, spread, then tractor-packed along the red mud. Slowly over the rock. Slowly. Road widens. Stop. Pull over. And behold the spectacular beauty before us. Let the heavens rejoice. Let the earth be glad; The first time we stopped here was to watch the sun rise on our first trip to capital city from A-town. Let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!” Even in late afternoon, the expansive, green sea of jungle makes us feel little. Even afraid. We hold our breath. Let the field be jubilant and everything in them! Then the trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the Lord for He comes to judge the earth. (1 Chronicles 16: 31-33)

Open fields of bony, white cattle hemmed in behind crude, ivory bark fencing. Round water tower. A woman wearing a teal, satin prom dress and tall heels walks clumsily along the pasture. A-town.

A chorus of praise and relief.

Pull alongside the curb in front of our house. House-sitting Peruvian family is accompanied by others on the front porch. Our landlord is carrying wood through the front door. His tools are spread about. It all seems a little peculiar.

Break in. Again. More wooden slats kicked through the hallway while the family was sleeping. Not a sound was heard. Landlord is reinforcing other walls with strong support. Nothing is taken. We left it bare.

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. (Psalm 34:1)

Next Day

Michael went to find the guy who could help us with internet. Nowhere to be found. Went to internet café. Painfully slow. Nearly imperceptible. Stop. No internet. The one man in town who works internet was sure he’d have some kinks worked out and the possibility of connecting to a world beyond A-town would be considerable upon our return from the States... but for today, we are at the mercy of a cantankerous satellite system operating out of Spain.

The rain beats upon the aluminum pieces forming the roof. So severe the beating, M and I are awakened to enjoy the lightning and thunder. He goes out to the front patio to rock on metal framed, plastic woven rockers. He reads a book in the darkness and downpour. I lay silently—my eyes still closed-- how quickly I have forgotten the sound of rain on aluminum! The sheer pounding and power of it is deafening. And calming.

Praise the Lord… praise Him in His mighty heavens. Praise Him for His acts of power; Praise Him for His surpassing greatness. (Psalm 150:1-2)

I have found one tool mighty in the slaughter of discouragement and homesickness.

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

It has proven to be particularly practical. Thank you,God that you are with us on this mountain where we are stalled. Thank you that all power is yours and this vehicle is in your hands.

It is praise. Thanking God. Enjoying God. Delighting in Him. Adoring Him. Celebrating who He is and what He does and how He does it and why. Praise extinguishes fear. It liberates me as I celebrate Him. Thank you, Creator, for the people you’ve created on this mountain. For their red cheeks and brightly bundled babies. They are beautiful and you are a good Creator. May all the peoples praise you! (Psalm 67:3)

Praise fills the dark, fearing corners of my weak, doubting heart with shouts of triumph. To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy… to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ, before all ages now and forevermore! (Jude 24-25)

While sitting at the computer to pull these last months together, I noticed what seemed to be another giant rat under the roof. It was dark. I could not see well. I stopped typing. That’s not a rat.There’s a monkey in our window.

There was a chorus of cries Ginger!

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Everyone raced outside screaming. Shouting. The neighbors came out. Abigail opened a can of peaches, and moments later she was in Michael’s hands with her peach half.

Three months ago, Julia cried Dear God, please bring Ginger back. I’ve already lost Osito. Please bring Ginger back if you think it is a good idea.

Ginger lived in the wild for three months. Last night she came home. Snuggled between Julia and Abigail contentedly, the three of them slept as if she never left.

O, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever…          (1 Chronicles 16:34)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

And we begin again…

April 29, 2011

It was dark when we stood on the edge of the river -- flip flops stuck in mud. We had visited the same port repeatedly, expecting the metal mass to have pulled from shore and into the black water. One night after another the pattern repeated itself. Waiting. Tonight while we waited, however; the boat was sunken under the weight of moto-taxis, an entire city’s monthly beer supply, bricks and upside-down aluminum boats stacked one on top of the other. People lined every inch of space that cargo didn’t fill. Our packed Land Cruiser sat on the left hand side of the boat, and the bookcase and mattresses and table to the right of it were smashed together between layers of towels and plastic shrink-wrap under the captain’s quarters.

All week we stuffed fat tarp bags full of shoes and plastic hangers and school books and some molasses to make gingersnaps when we reached home base. I was relieved to be standing in the mud, seeing it all float away. The possibility of that boat sinking seemed very real. My mind started rehearsing the possibilities of what we would do if it did sink. Julia has the notebook in her backpack. It has a list of each bag and what’s in it… And then the men pulled away the wooden slats connecting the muddy shore to the black river. There was yelling and people were waving, and it was gone.

Michael drove the truck along those rough- hewn, wooden slats onto that boat without being able to see what was beneath him—where the boat ended and the river began- and he’s right here beside me right now. I kept thinking how strangely fragile life is, and how if I would’ve been driving that truck onto the boat, we would not be sharing this enchanted last evening in Pucallpa together…

Julia and Abigail could not stop chattering about all the possibilities: Did Ginger have enough bananas and apples and lucuma to last her the 4-day river trip? Would she be afraid? Would she recognize us when she arrived in A-town? Did she feel abandoned? Ginger Valentine, sweet little monkey of mine, we sang hand in hand, walking away from the port into town.

Eight months ago our plane had landed in the low jungle airport to begin the first part of our training process. Tomorrow we would be taking a much smaller nine-person plane to the next stop in training. We would be moving to isolated A-town to live in Ashéninka territory and work along different rivers learning another dialect of the language we’d been studying.

April 30, 2011

I called my parents from the airport this morning, anticipating very little internet availability in the upcoming days. It was good to hear their voices until there was no change left in my pocket and no more voice on the other line.

Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, that Great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well-pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)

I am comforted.

May 2, 2011

We woke early. Our hotel beds were covered in math computation, American history, vocabulary studies and journal s and spelling and reading, and after many hours of hunkering down, we tore pieces from a fresh bread loaf and headed to the house to paint white over crude brickwork. It was oil based. That was a bit more work than we all expected.

Anticipating the possibility of the boat arriving tomorrow with hopes that little Ginger fared well.

Therefore, let us continually offer… our praise to God, that is…giving thanks to His name (Hebrews 13:15).

Thankful to be here.

May 5, 2011

There is one ATM in A-town. We do not have a local bank account. Today, when the ATM announced it would be out-of-service for the next 4 days, we were a bit nervous, with the equivalent of 30-something American dollars in pocket.

It was a first for M. He called his parents and asked them to wire an emergency survival stash—something we could live on until the ATM was no longer out-of-service. They smilingly agreed and the money was wired and we were jumping up and down and resolved to plan ahead for other such surprises.

May 8, 2011

Nathanael woke up at 3:45 to use the bathroom. He had his flashlight with him, and was calling to us from over the wall. Our rooms are divided by a thin, painted, wooden panel that stops short of the tongue and groove ceiling, allowing for 3 feet of blue screening—like something that would be in our windows back home. It encourages air flow and discourages privacy, making for a camp-style bungalow deal.

From the top bunk, Nathanael was pressing his head and flashlight against the screen, calling to us. My eyes were blurry and I think I was still mostly asleep, but I saw his face and told myself I would tell him to stop looking through the screen sometime when I was awake.

For whatever reason, he began to detail everything he was doing: I’m taking my flashlight and going to the bathroom. That music is still playing. It’s really loud. These people here sure like music. They like it really loud, right? Don’t they? Our fan was whirring. This is what I think he said, and then either I was asleep again, or he stopped talking.

Next thing I heard was something like I’m done. I’m getting into my bed again, and it’s really funny that the kitchen door was open. It was all open.

I was now awake. I heard his every word in its chipper triumph that he and his flashlight found the bathroom stall and had returned. (It’s a stall, just like in a public restroom, and the shower is a stall just the same—plastered in turquoise-painted cement -- and they are separated by a tiny white sink between the two of them. It’s perfectly odd and delightful.)

Are you talking about the kitchen door beside the washing machine or the kitchen door that leads outside? I asked, eyes wide open.

The kitchen is at the back of the house. We walk down a hallway which ends facing a row of modern conveniences: a toilet, a shower, a washing machine and a dryer, which leads to the kitchen. We walk through that door to enter the kitchen, and through another one, at the end of the galley-style passage, to go outside. Standing at the back kitchen door to the left is a tall wall of rock and dirt, an embankment that the kitchen nestles into, from which tall trees and a neighbor’s palm-thatched roof can be seen. To the right, is the parked truck beside a pile of rocks and dirt and unruly thatches of jute grass.

The kitchen door, He insisted, not answering my question, The kitchen door was open.

Which one?

I got out of bed. I think M was listening, but was not necessarily engaged in the transaction until I called his name. When I came to the end of the hallway facing the turquoise wall of modern conveniences, there was a draft. Cold air blew through both open doors.

For both of our doors being open, I can’t believe we haven’t been…Michael! Michael. Come here.

Just above our washer and dryer, I noticed three nearly 2 foot wooden slats had been pulled away from the house. I was looking onto the embankment the house is built against.

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Someone had been in the house. With ease, the culprit had gently kicked in the wall slats, crawled onto the washer and dryer ... M’s phone was gone. And milk and cereal and chocolate. But apparently, Nathanael and his flashlight had cut the venture short, and the gathered computers and an un-plugged microwave were left behind.

Thus began Mother’s Day.

May 9, 2011

There is a fat rat with a very long tail that lives in our kitchen. I wonder if his family joins him. Nano stepped on glass and failed to mention he has a grossly infected swollen toe. The roof is leaking and the kitchen floor has puddles from the storm. M backed into the fence that was just built, and there were a few other oddities that made me long for my own pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream today. But alas, our landlord is here adding another layer of wood to the back of the house, along with more barbed wire, and we have some bright purple violet extract that will heal Nano’s toe in no time and I am remembering the passage we were just reading this before the home invasion.

One… clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore.” (Revelation 1:13-18a).

When I felt that draft send a shiver down my spine, knowing someone had been in the house, I was strangely, almost instantly made bold by this staggeringly brilliant description of the One who reigns in glory and is above all created things. The One in whom there is no darkness. The One who says, Do not be afraid. I was not afraid. I am the first and the last. The beginning and the End. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore.

An event I had dreaded and anticipated had come to pass and I was standing in the light of He whose countenance is like the sun shining in its strength, and I was not afraid. Chilled. Shaken. But not afraid.

Do not let me be ashamed of my hope (Psalm 119:116).

May 12, 2011

Still no internet. They’ve been coming to the house and working on it.

Today we made gingersnaps and the girls and I grated fresh ginger into the buttery batter while the boys in our family moaned that the smell was awful. The boys don’t do gingersnaps.

The house is coming along in regards to security upgrades. Nano’s toe is healing. The backed-into fence has been repaired and the house has been full of visitors coming in from their native communities. Some are selling pots. Others, finely stitched cloth and purses and others are coming to ask who we are and why we are here and what are we doing.

Today I had only hard rolls to offer because I hadn’t walked to the market yet. They were eagerly accepted by an elderly couple from another indigenous community. We sat on the front porch and visited. They had spent time in Pucallpa, so there was much to talk about and my heart was happy.

The girls and I made chicken in a cilantro sauce drenching peas and carrots and garlic, and they peeled, boiled and mashed the potatoes. We agreed we would serve this when our next visitors came for dinner. The carrot-chip cake came out resembling carrot-chip cake, but sorely lacked the cream cheese frosting we would make in Costa Rica. There is no cream cheese or sour cream in A-town. I suppose that means we could learn to make it. But that will be sometime after we find a language tutor to begin studying the language again…

M is busy working through details with the closet-builder and the internet connection. He runs into one obstacle after another. Each yes seems to mean no and each today must really mean tomorrow. Meanwhile, our rooms have their piles and stacks and suitcases from which we’re trying to make order. Yet the sweetness of having a home here, close to the people to whom we want to tell Jesus’ story, makes the unwieldy transition purposeful. And so we begin again.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen (1 Tim 1:17).

Friday, March 25, 2011

Most of March

What normally takes nearly 8 hours by truck and boat, took 12 ½. It was a long travel day. We started out before morning light. Not long after hitting the dirt road we follow for 3 1/2 hours, a tall truck which had lost hundreds of papayas in the mud the night before, blocked motorcycles and trucks from both directions. Free papayas for the taking
Later there was the brook that flooded, nearly carrying away brave trucks that had forged on through. One truck got stuck and Michael used the winch to pull him out. We waited for the water level to lower in the sunshine before crossing. Water seeped in through the sides, but just enough to remind us of where we’d just been… and we were off again.Biggest fish I've ever caught!
I’ve dropped some melted wax from a burning candle to the top of a tuna can. The candle sits in that wax providing my only light, but even its soft glow cannot lure me to write. Another time.
This is one mean looking fish!Hermano Hyoni pulled a giant fish in from his net, and everyone was running in circles telling everyone else who already knew. He was this morning’s hero providing breakfast for many. For lunch, I let black beans simmer over the fire, bathed in cilantro and chopped carrots and we had garlic rice and aji (thin slivers of salted purple onion and diced hot peppers drenched in the juice of many lemons). We fried up some eggs and called it a feast.
Balsa logs roped and woven together with strips from the palms formed the raft Abigail, Julia and I sat on while washing clothes. Two other young girls sat along the river with us, so I told them part of Joseph’s story from Genesis until the clothes were washed and wrung-out. And then the four of them were off, jumping from the shallow cliff into the muddy river until their teeth were chattering and they could bear the cold, risen current no longer.
The sky is so black, and the stars so white, Julia was delighted to have stuffed her telescope into her tarp bag for such a night. I’m sneaking outside to watch her watch the sky.

Refuse to lean on my own understanding.
You are the one who will profit if you have wisdom, and if you reject it, you are the one who will suffer (Proverbs 9:12).
Today I am declaring dominion over my fluctuating feelings. They seek to drag me across the thorny valleys of unbelief, like a panicking stampede of furious cattle. I refuse to be controlled by ideas whose only power is the power I yield them. I will not therefore yield or linger on my own understanding, nor my own perspectives. Any who love knowledge want to be told when they are wrong. It is stupid to hate being corrected (Proverbs 12:1).
I will receive correction joyfully, even when I want to believe I’m the one who is right. Can I see the whole picture? Can I see all sides in any situation? I cannot.
People who are proud will soon be disgraced. It is wiser to be modest (Proverbs 11:2).

Ema and I went through story after story following the saga of Joseph’s life. I told them in Spanish. She repeated my sentences and paragraphs in Asheninka. I recorded her telling the stories in Asheninka, and as they unfolded, she lamented the fact that her Asheninka Bible stories in written form had been lent out and she was without them, so she stopped telling them.
Everything froze in my mind. She supposes that one cannot tell a story unless they have a paper to tell it from, and here I am confirming this very idea as I read more stories to her and she tells them back to me. She assumes that our story of Joseph is hinged on this piece of gold-leafed paper I’m reading from.
I stop.
Ema, I lamented, These stories are in your heart! You’re telling details that I’ve not even included. You know these stories better than I do, yet you’re not telling them because you don’t have them written down? My problem is that I depend on what is written. If my Bible falls in the river or gets burned in fire, woe is me! But you! You have them in your heart, and they can never be stolen nor destroyed nor burned…That I would be like you, Ema… And I will!
She smiles. Ema says she will be telling the stories again.
We heard conflicting reports as to whether it was poisonous.
Michael found a snake in the kids’ room this morning. After the excitement of its decapitation, it was time to begin breakfast.
Any time I make a meal, a small crowd gathers, eager to share in what will be served. This morning I was feeling mad about this. There I was-- being hauled off by those stampeding cattle of emotions. I wanted to make a meal for my family and no one else, and was thoroughly vexed. Then I decided I should probably feel really awful for being mad at the little brown eyes awaiting some rice. I should be mad at their parents for leaving their bellies to groan.
Stop. You have to whip a horse. You have to bridle a donkey, and you have to beat a fool (Proverbs 26:3). Dominate the stampede. Demand calm, resolute confidence in your Creator. Who gave me the rice I’m preparing? Who makes my hands to work? Who gives fire and sustains it? Do you realize the disaster that God or the king can cause (Proverbs 24:22)? Do I want to thrash about and grumble as own who leans on her own understanding? Am I willing to risk paying the cost of self-dependency? See what happens to those who trust in themselves, the fate of those who are satisfied with their wealth—they are doomed to die like sheep, and Death will be their shepherd (Psalm 48:13-14). Wouldn’t I rather triumph through trusting? The righteous will triumph over them as their bodies quickly decay… (Psalm 48:14b). And have I not already settled the matter of my righteousness? I have none of my own, but am declared righteous by faith. But those who depend on faith, not on deeds, and who believe in the God who declares the guilty to be innocent, it is this faith that God takes into account in order to put them right with Himself (Romans 4:5). Isn’t this therefore a settled matter? Being cheerful keeps you healthy. It is slow death to be gloomy all the time (Proverbs 17:22). The next little guest will be met with a steaming bowl of rice and a hearty smile.
We needed to prepare enough 1 ½ liter bottles of water to get us to Puerto Davis with enough time to allow for water filtering upon arrival. We drank from those and ate sweet papaya for breakfast on the boat. Our leaking boat hoisted upriver and the higher we got, the taller grew the trees, and the mountainous jungle crawled up on all sides around us. Squirrel monkeys flinging through the trees made us forget how long we’d been sitting on those wooden boards.Beautiful Puerto Davis
Ema’s daughter, Lourdes and I shared lunch together under her house in the shade. Lourdes has come alongside me in all things: teaching me, serving me, loving me, and she knows she does none of these things. She anticipates needs I don’t even know I have and rushes to meet them. Like laying hot coals in our cold logs. I go to make a morning fire and it’s effortless, because Lourdes has walked down the hillside to bring fire. Or Lourdes has walked down the hillside to carry fresh water she’s gathered from the heavy rains. Or she’s peeled papayas to share, or guarded her finest meat for us. Lourdes is a true servant
It’s been a year since her husband left her and three unusually peaceful children.
I wake up at night thinking about her.
The storm. I didn’t mention it yet. Ferocious rain was beating so hard, I thought no hut would be left standing. In the middle of the night, the wind tore our mosquito nets apart. Water poured in through the openings in the wood, soaking our light blankets. Thunder shook even the ground. We rushed to find an area where the roof wasn’t leaking, and shared the one blanket that wasn’t soaked. Huddled in a circle, we sang all the songs that reminded us of God’s greatness. I was downright terrified.
We lay on the wooden slats. Everyone slept. I could not. I was cold, and could not stop listening to the girls scratching their lice-riddled heads. Nothing would stop the lice. Nothing would stop the storm.
You give perfect peace to those who… put their trust in you (Isaiah 26:3).
Nightly, we’ve gathered by the light of hanging bulbs, powered by the church’s new generator. We told stories, re-enacted those stories (complete with Lazarus rolled up in toilet paper), and sang heartily in their heart language with hand motions and human-trains formed by the children. Crystal was in her element leading kids in singing.Michael and Alejo ventured upriver to gather other families who came to share in the songs and stories. We told stories of adoring Jesus (Mary anointing Jesus feet with costly perfume), and how adoration is compelled by love—not ours-- but God’s pursuit of us: We love God because He first loved us (Jn 4:19). And about Cain and Abel: If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling; but because you have done evil, sin is crouching at your door. It wants to rule you, but you must overcome it (Gen 3:7). From this story, listeners were made participants and we generated a list of verses and passages based on the belief that prizing God’s promises is our protection and our purity. How rich are the wonderful blessings He promises His people, and how very great is His power at work in us who believe! This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength He used when He raised Christ from death… (Eph 1:18b-20a)
Michael was up at 3:30 this morning: loading the boat, hauling water… He’s 31 today. And we’re leaving Yarina Isla. We’re moving to another part of the Amazon’s Basin.
The first thing I thought when I woke up to the candle sitting on the tuna can was this: Michael’s life has given me a new life. He is so focused. So compelled and driven by a big picture view of life and people and the world. He solves problems. He refuses to let those raging cattle of whirling emotion stampede and dominate his mind. He teaches me how to do the same.
I suppose I will spend the day thinking about him. We’re heading home, and we’ll be together, and there will be much to talk about.
The shorter lady has her hand right on my backside!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pictures of our “March Madness”


We just got back yesterday from our “March Madness” trip to the jungle. Here are a few of the pictures, but make sure to check out all of the photos here.

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