Up and Down the Amazon

This post continues a six part series about my time in Peru with the Grace youth group. If you want to find out how in the world I got there or read about my experience moving so rapidly between cultures, those posts will give a bit more background on our trip!

For our ministry, our large group of 94 split into 6 groups, each with about 14 students and 2 leaders. It made our enormous group a bit more manageable and a bit less overwhelming, allowing us to spread out to different ministry locations throughout Iquitos and along the Amazon River.

This really isn’t the goal of this piece, but I’d like to stop for a moment to say that our group was absolutely fantastic. I had not known many of the kids before the trip, but they did a wonderful job loving people, investing in their work, and dealing with changes in plans. Our partner there, Michelle, was great and really built into our team. My partner from Grace, B.B., was a great example of taking things as they came and investing in what was really important. I was so blessed by being a part of that team!

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Most of our team’s ministry mornings were filled by boating down the Amazon to villages along the banks. Our third day we were able to return to the first village we had worked in, which was especially fun!

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second village

village 2 houses

The Peruvian children with whom we were working were wonderful. The first morning, they were waiting along the banks to greet out boat, then walked us to a church that was full and overflowing with people that wanted to attend our VBS program.

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I was so impressed by the way that our students really went with the flow, setting aside their own comfort and plans for the needs of the children with whom we were working. Despite their lack of Spanish, they got down on the kids’ level and interacted with them more than I had ever hoped.

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hannah

kids 2

village 1 church

village 1 kids 3

To me, this time was one of the most beautiful glimpses of Heaven while we are here on Earth. To see children from two different cultures, speaking in two different languages, loving on each other and connected by their belief in the Lord is so powerful!

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village 1 kids 1

What really stood out during our time working along the Amazon, though, was the impact that serving has on those who are doing it. I saw so many students forget their own troubles, unaware of their discomfort, because they were instead focused on the people around them and on the work that God had for them. The freedom that He gave from the usual pressures and burdens of life during that time was truly incredible. There is a lot to learn in that small example!

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village 2 kids 1

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Reverse Reverse Culture Shock

Our trip to Peru allowed for a very twisted but interesting cultural experience. People talk about “reverse culture shock” – the idea that re-entry, into that which was once normal for you, can be a surprising and overwhelming experience. While most people go home and are reminded of things that they had forgotten about while abroad, though, I headed to another third world country, which was very similar to Indonesia, and watched other people go through the things that had been normalized in my mind over the last two years.

river

I watched 93 others process the things that I stopped balking at long ago – bucket showers, no toilet seats, hot and humid weather, not understanding the language, a lack of efficiency, and big bugs.*

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transport

The biggest change that I recognized in myself, though, was my reaction to things not going as planned. One of my biggest shortcomings is my love for control. I’ve habitually stuffed my life so full that things not going as planned throws a major wrench into my mental projection of how things should go.

Those of you who know anything about Indonesian culture can probably imagine, with some amusement, the way that it lined up with my personality and priorities. Needless to say, I had many opportunities to practice dealing with things that did not go as planned. To name a few: nothing ever being done on time, rain storms and flash floods, bankrupt airlines and disappearing drivers.

When we got to Peru, there were lots of things that weren’t quite what we expected. I didn’t get my luggage for two days. “We provide bedding” turned out to mean that there was a sheet on the mattress, but nothing else. We had no enclosed showers, and the public spigots sat between the boys’ and girls’ cabins.

What struck me, though, was that none of this really bothered me. Two years ago, I would’ve been up in arms, but my time in Indonesia taught me that, if you really think about it, those things don’t determine your effectiveness or joy or anything of much importance.

I learned that complaining and worrying and anxiety don’t solve anything, and that one’s response to a situation is 95% of the outcome. This sounds so simple, but it had to be beaten into me time and again before I really internalized it! I can’t say it was a fun lesson to learn along the way, but I am grateful for it.

So for that, Indonesia, thank you for rarely getting things right the first time.

*A quick return to the big bugs and getting over things that don’t go as planned. There were tarantulas around our camp, which had the students (literally) running in terror. A few days in, I decided to teach an object lesson in taking control of one’s surrounding and overcoming fear. One of the translators picked up the spider, and I passed it around to many of the students, who quickly learned that they were, in fact, bigger than the spiders at hand. I was pretty impressed by how many fears were tackled!

anna

spider

Stereotypical Summertime

This summer has, thus far, been very stereotypical of my recent life.

I flew back to the states on a Wednesday, looking forward to a relatively empty month and a half before starting at my new job in Florida. It’s incredible, though, how quickly things fill up!

After arriving Wednesday at midnight (thank you, 11 hours gained due to time zones!), I headed back to the airport 8 hours later to spend a long weekend in Vermont for my cousin’s wedding. It was a beautiful day, and a well-timed opportunity to catch up with family that I hadn’t seen in a few years.

vermont

family

daniel and debs

We got back to Ohio on that Saturday, and within 6 hours of arriving I had somehow agreed to act as an advisor on a missions trip to Peru… on Monday. I spent a hectic couple of days unpacking, packing, and spending time with my family before leaving for South America.

andrew

anna

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mom and andrew

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at church

While I can’t say that I was particularly happy to see another airplane, I am so thankful for the way that the Lord worked things out for me to go. His hand was so clearly in every step of the process, from the big things to the small details.

We took a group of 81 students and 13 adults to Iquitos, Peru, which is the largest city in the world that has no road leading to it. Chronicles of the trip and pictures will follow, but even the fact that I got there was really a blessing.

The group traveled in two masses, with groups of forty-something taking charter buses to JFK and flying out from there. My group was the second, driving through the night and arriving around 7 am in the morning for our 9:30 flight. I was the first to check in, just in case the airline ticket – which had been switched to my name from that of a lady who couldn’t go last minute – didn’t go through. It indeed did not, though the travel agency had already made the switch.

I waited two hours while all of the students checked in, then went up to try again. Still nothing. The lady helping me seemed very eager to help, but her supervisor did not. They repeatedly switched into Spanish to discuss, not realizing that I could still understand their conversation.

The next hour was full of false excitement. They informed us that they could not help us, and the travel agent had to be the one to make the changes. The issue was that he had done so, but did not have confirmation from the airline and could not get an answer from them. We tried to buy a new ticket, but the flight was oversold.

Finally, our agent came through with my ticket. We sighed and relaxed, just to find out that the ticket hadn’t been appropriately linked. At one point, we were told that I had four minutes left to get checked in, or I wouldn’t make the flight. With about two minutes remaining, the ticket finally came through. Once again we rejoiced, only to find out that there were no seats left.

My friend went ahead through security or he wouldn’t make the flight, and I remained, nervously glancing at my watch. The line was getting long. The supervising worker, who originally had seemed so disinterested in our problem, looked at me and said, “Don’t you worry, I’m not leaving you.” From that point on, she really fought to get me on the plane.

Because there were no seats left, they gave me the final seat in business class! With that ticket, I was able to skip the security line and get to the gate just as they finished boarding.

What was really incredible to me is the peace that the Lord gave throughout the entire process. Though I was tired and pretty done with traveling and the issues that it entails, I knew that it would work out and that He would continue to provide – after all, He had gotten us that far!

God is good!

Investments

Tomorrow marks 3 weeks left in Indonesia.  While I am unbelievably excited to get home and see the people I miss, breathe clean air, climb a tree, and eat Chipotle, it will also be hard to leave.  There is so much that needs done before I leave – the school year must be wrapped up (teachers – and English teachers especially – I know you feel me on this one!), my house needs packed and cleaned, you’re-leaving-the-country paperwork needs to be taken care of.  We have our last homeroom get-together to be had, our last student council event to be planned, our last coaches meeting to be attended.  On the other side of things, a place of dwelling in America needs to be found, paperwork needs to be done for the new job, summer plans need to be made.

And on top of all of this, I am leaving a lot of people that I have grown to love.  And moving to the opposite side of the world.

Now more than ever, the question arises:

What is important?  Where do I invest?  

A few weeks ago, my mom shared with me a story about my younger brother that answers this question beautifully.

As you prepare to be challenged by a 12-year-old, let me give you a quick background on my family:

We love to win.

It’s just something in the Schaeffer blood.  Ice cream and winning, not necessarily in that order, are among the most important things in life.  My father has instilled in us a deep love for both.

And this love for winning can bring lots of good!  In addition to the highly entertaining rivalries and memories that have resulted from this, it often points to achievement.  We don’t want to give up!  My siblings have accomplished all sorts of neat things due to the drive to do well.  Where I see it tripping me up, though, is when it becomes the main goal.  When it becomes more important than people.

A co-worker put it well recently while we were casually sharing important life lessons with our students.  “Just because you prove you’re right doesn’t mean you win.”  Sometimes focusing on achievement means neglecting or stepping on the people around us.

Back to my brother.  Although he appropriately loves ice cream, Andrew’s real passion in life is baseball.  Since he was three, that is the activity in which he has invested the majority of his time and energy.  And he’s good!  He plays on a travel baseball team and does a pretty darn good job of it.

Recently, they were playing in a tournament and Andrew was up to bat. The catcher let a pitch pass him, and the opposing coach began yelling across the field, berating him. Andrew, as the batter, was at the place as all of this took place.  Before taking the next pitch, he turned and told the catcher that it was ok, that those things happen to everyone, that he just needed to keep his chin up and keep on playing.

Andrew wanted to win that game.  He wanted to do his best, and he worked toward that.

But he didn’t let that stop him from loving people.

It’s not an either/or questions.  It’s not accomplishments or love.  It’s not working hard or having friends. It’s not winning or being soft.  Both can absolutely co-exist.  We just can’t let a to-do list or a desire to win stop us from seeing people.  Stop us from loving people.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

It is good to strive for excellence.  It is good to want to do well.  It is good to work hard toward things. But we must be careful not to focus on these things alone, blocking out the people in our peripheral vision.

As I finish here at SPH, I want to finish strong.  I want to invest in people.  And sometimes, as a teacher, that means taking the extra hours to give good feedback on students’ assignments.  It means staying after school to focus on that new unit I decided it would be a great idea to do at the end of the year.  It means organizing everything for the people that come after me.  That is one way to invest in these kids.

But it also means putting my pile of papers away during lunch and laughing with the students in my classroom.  It means taking the time to sit and talk with a student that is struggling, whether that be academically or otherwise.  It means patiently working through the silly requests that may presently seem like they don’t matter.

Because really, those are the reasons that I love teaching.  Those are the things that I look back on and remember.  Those are investments in people.

And that is worth it.

KDM visit

This past Thursday we had another random day off of school – I’m honestly not sure why – so my student council kids and I went on a trip to an organization in downtown Jakarta that rescues, rehabilitates, and educates children that have been living on the streets.  The organization has been working in the city for 30+ years, and is really doing incredible things!

On my first teacher’s desk I had a post it that asked: “Am I surviving or thriving?”

The thing that was most incredible about this organization is that they were really encouraging kids to thrive.  It wasn’t just survival, just eating and sleeping and getting through the day.  It was kids living as a family, receiving an education at their level, experimenting with art, going on exploratory trips around the country, going to a soccer tournament in Brazil, designing and building their dorm with a volunteer architect.

It was a huge inspiration to me that, even when life is hard or I feel like I’m behind the eight ball, I need to be exploring my passions and practicing my talents and giggling and loving people and seeking out those little corners in which I can thrive.

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A Warm Welcome: Photos

Yesterday, our 7th graders took a few hours off from their regular schedule to host children from a nearby village. In the past year, half of this kampung burned down, the families had to evacuate because of a flood, and now the government is trying to relocate them.  It’s a very poor area, with most of the housing built on stilts above sewage.

The elementary schoolers that our kids invited in do not have the opportunity to use the beautiful campus that we take for granted every day, and it brought so much joy to see them enjoying the pool, playground, soccer fields, basketball courts, and library, amongst other activities.

Per request of the liaison from the neighborhood we were hosting, our kids also taught their visitors about nutrition and hygiene.  My group planned a lesson on washing hands for kindergarten – 3rd graders, and others prepared stations about brushing your teeth, what germs are, and healthy eating.

I missed out on a good bit of the event while I taught my 8th grade classes, but here are a few sweet pictures from my time with these little ones!

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Junior Unity Cup 2014

Every year, my student council puts on a soccer tournament for the underprivileged schools in the area.  This is a special time, because 1) soccer is a huge deal here and 2) we have a really nice field.  So nice, in fact, that the Indonesia national team elected to practice at our school instead of their usual training grounds as they prepare to go play in Pakistan next week.  It was a really neat opportunity this year for the kids to play their tournament alongside the practice of their soccer (football) heroes!

After the national team was done, they agreed to come over to say hi and take a picture with our tournament attendees, which was super special.  Despite a few rough patches (a broken arm and the teacher asking us to pay for a witchdoctor’s treatment being chief among them), the day went really smoothly and fun was had by all.  I was especially impressed by my ninth grade volunteers who, after an entire week away on a missions trip, showed up bright and early and were so intentionally involved with the kids!

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