For me, to live here with all the external filth and lack of aesthetic appeal, without clean, hot running water or a grocery store, would be hard—more than hard—a huge adjustment. But a chunk of my heart says it wishes I could do it, because I have seen more truly happy faces and felt more genuine warmth in their embraces than I have with the wealthiest 10% of the world. To all of us who have pitied those in countries like Peru and then said in a grateful sigh, “How rich we are!” someone needs to say, “Yes. But that’s all.”
We’ve visited a couple different churches at night here, but allow me to tell you about one church in Nacario—because that is where this desire to stay here sprouted. At 7 pm, after the sun went down and the stars came up, we hopped in a moto and trekked out to this thatched building where the church met, on a hill in the middle of nowhere. The bike rattled and shook on the bumpy road, the driver tried to avoid piles of debris. It struggled up the hill where a fluorescent light shone from a long thatch building. We got out. It was so quiet.
I laughed to Lupe, really, the light of the world! We were greeted with hugs and besitos from three children and a very old woman, Asuncion. Her sweater and large skirt and apron exaggerated her round figure and she enveloped me in a warm hug in the cool night. A man came out from around the corner and the children ran to hug him saying, “bendicciones Pastor!” I think his name is Manuel. Three long wooden benches faced the front with a desk and a Bible, and one sat along the side where the kids were busy making nametags out of poster paper and tape. They eagerly elected me to write the names, which was an awesome idea considering how normal Spanish names sound to me and how easy they are to spell… They had to dictate almost every letter of every name to me, so I’m not sure it was an efficient decision!
We began with singing, and they sang out about how only Jesus gives peace and love and joy, with conviction that made me believe them. Then they let us share with them and I stumbled through my testimony in Castellano. They smiled and watched attentively. When I said that Jesus is my mejor amigo and Padre, I saw understanding and faith in the squinting eyes of the the old women, like rocks weathered and eroded by avalanches crashing down on them. And the kids, when Robin taught the Bible study, where the ones shouting out the answers and eagerly racing through pages in their Bibles to find the right verses. To see their enthusiasm and joy and their comradeship with each other gave me such hope for their generation! Afterwards, we talked and played and they showed me their homes and asked us when we were coming back. These 3 girls, Luz, Carolina, and Leceita, were so sweet, so mature and kind to each other; they were the kind of kids that energize you—not wear you out. They have joy. They have not a care in the world and I almost envy them, because they don’t know about all the material things they could have. So they don’t focus on what they don’t have. They can smile on an empty stomach or laugh lacking jackets. No ads for iPods make them unhappy with their paper and pencil, or clothespins they use for toys. It’s not that way with all the ninos here—a lot of the kids in the schools worry about getting a turn to bat or kick and when one runs off to buy a popsicle, the others fight for a piece, and like most kids, they fight for your attention. But for real, these kids at the church are different. They are a light.
Wilber, a man who lives and works here at the mission house, asked me if I wanted to live here. I was tentative to answer. “I want to come back.” But unlike these kids, I know life with running water, cars, and airplanes and starbucks, houses with backyards and, well, the things that money can buy. If God tells me to come back, I wonder if I will be able to tear myself away from my material desires. Scary thoughts. But for now, I’m enjoying life here, and “soleando”—soaking up the sun.