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!

team

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!

boat

port

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.

church crowd

waiting

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.

guitars

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!

kids 1

kids 3

kids 4

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!

village 1 kids 4

village 2 kids 1

village 2 kids 2

village 2 kids 3

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.*

buses

indo shoes

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

joy

mom and andrew

girls

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!

Lessons Learned

I seek to travel in a culture, as opposed to above a culture.  I believe that many people go to another country, and never really see it.  Sure, they see the famous palace, eat in the expensive restaurant, and go to the American bar.  If they’re really adventurous, they ride in a taxi or take a walking tour.  

I believe that the essence of a country is not in its famous sights, but in its culture, its people.  It irks me that many Americans think that we do everything the “best” way.  Unfortunately, I too often fall into this trap of judging another place on American standards.  To judge any country on another country’s standards is unfair; as they fall short when measured by our priorities, America falls short measured on their priorities.  

To be intentional about seeking out the wonderful things in other cultures, I have made it a goal to learn a lesson from every people group I enter, to incorporate a beautiful part of their culture into who I am as a person.  I hope to develop into a person that is a patchwork of the rich, unique materials that many countries have to offer.  I want to share with you just a few of the lessons that I have learned from the people I have come into contact with.

Love Well.  I know this sounds painfully obvious, but my eyes were opened in a totally new way on my first trip, and therefore first multicultural lesson.  I went to the people of Burkina Faso, a small country in French-West Africa that ranks one of the poorest countries in the world today.  I visited for a month when I was just 11 and again at 16, and hope that the experience I had continues to shape my perspective.  Growing up, I was very (and if we’re being honest, still am) very time-oriented.  I hated being late, I hated other people being late, and I had an unhealthy regard for timelines. In Burkina Faso, they are people oriented.  People come first, people are most important.  When someone asks you how you are, they actually want to know.  People and relationships are valued above all else.

Be generous.  One of the most humbling insights I’ve gained was from children in Matamoros, Mexico. These children, without shoes, toys, proper medical or school supplies, were so generous with me.  I have so much compared to these children, yet they sent me home with gifts coming from the few possessions that they had.  It was so meaningful to me to see them giving despite their poverty; I will never again have a valid excuse to not share all I have with those around me. 

Live Joyously.  On a 2008 trip to Trujillo, Peru, I had the gift of interacting with families that lived in a garbage dump.  They would wait for trucks coming in, trying to scavenge the garbage for recyclables that they could sell back.  The place smelled awful, the children were dirty, the families were poor and many did not have homes.  And, despite all of this, they had some of the most incredible joy that I have ever experienced.  We laughed, played games, ran around in the trash as if it was a park.  I never once heard them complain.  They found joy in their situation.

Pura Vida.  If any of you have been to Costa Rica, I’m sure seeing “pura vida” brought a smile to your face.  I lived in this beautiful country for a summer after my freshman year of college.  The country ranks as one of the most friendly in the world, largely due to their disposition.  Pura vida translates to “pure life” and is often the used as an answer to “how are you doing,” a hello on the street, or a difficult situation.  They don’t get caught up on the little things or focus on menacing difficulties, but instead just enjoy life.

Don’t have problems.  This may sound like an amusing catchphrase initially, but hang in there with me.  I came back from a trip to the island of Jamaica with a life lesson that I treasure to this day: “there are no problems, there are only situations.”  As a simple sentence, this may not do much for you.  But if it becomes an attitude, a perspective, it is life-changing.  To view difficult things in life as “situations” to be worked through instead of “problems” to be discouraged by is to change the way that you view, approach, and solve, said “situations.”

These are just a few of the catch phrases that I have tried to bring back with me, and, as I wrote, one thing kept coming to mind again and again: despite the situation.  Despite the situation, I should love well, be generous, live joyously, enjoy pura vida, and believe that there are no problems, only situations.

As I go to SouthEast Asia for the first time, it is again my goal to seek out life lessons in the culture, to come back a better, more complete person because of the time that I spent there.

Have you learned any lessons from other cultures?