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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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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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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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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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.

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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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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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 Trip to the Market

Here in Indonesia, I live in a bit of a bubble.  Less than a kilometer away are the huts and swamps and broken down walls and children playing shoeless in the street, but I live on the 50th floor a building across from a mega-mall and within walking distance of a golf course.

Generally, I like my bubble.  It’s comfortable.  Other times, I have an overwhelming urge to break out of my bubble.  I venture out to the warungs, or street food stands, to buy roasted corn.  I take my motorbike on drives through the dirt streets and over the speed bumps of the villages.  I shop for my green beans at a traditional market.

This is a part of life that has gone majorly undocumented thus far, because I’ve always been nervous of being an intruder.  As my time in Indonesia starts to wind down, though, I’ve realized how little of “real Indonesia” I have pictures of!  I wanted to share normal life, too – not just the trips we took for holidays or the fancy nights out.

My friend and I recently took a few hours on a random holiday to drive into the surrounding kampungs, or neighborhoods, and visit a market.  We were scared at first of intruding, of looking like eager tourists with a camera obsession. On the contrary, when I asked a lady for permission to take her picture, the floodgates opened!  Everyone in the area called to us, asking us to come over and photograph them and their goods. We had a great time, and I think they did too!

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Kalimantan: Dayak Village

When I was younger, I read and heard stories of the Dayak people, an Indonesian people group living in the jungle of Kalimantan.  One unexpected, but exciting, visit during our time in Kalimantan was to a Dayak village.  Because the village was nearer the town and tourists than most, it was definitely more Western than the more traditional dwellings.  That said, though, having the opportunity to spend time among the Dayak people was really fun.  Reading about things or people and then seeing them is my favorite!

Our guide was half Dayak, and had a really fascinating story.  His father lived in a jungle that was 6 hours by speed boat into the jungle and worked as a hunter.  When he ventured into the village to sell meet one day, he met his wife-to-be, a Malaysian economist studying the Dayak people.  They fell in love, and he whisked her away to the jungle. She fell in love with the jungle and the village life, but he decided that their children needed an education, and the family moved into town when our guide was 5 years old.  He went on for a university degree, and speaks 7 languages!

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“A hut for children to gather and play”

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Kalimantan: Orangutans & Monkeys

The biggest draw of the Kalimantan area is the orangutans living in the area.  The word orangutan actually comes from Indonesian (I bet you didn’t know you had an Indonesian word in your vocabulary! :)), meaning man (orang) of the jungle (utan).  Borneo (the island split between Malaysia and Indonesia) and Sumatra, another island here, are the only place in the world that they can be found living in the wild.

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Orangutans are hilarious creatures to watch.  They are big and heavy, but travel through the tree tops, bending trees with their weight to carry them from place to place.  Their arms are just about as long as they are tall, and their feet function as another set of hands.  We definitely enjoyed our time watching them!

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All of the orangutan that we saw were wild (some second or third generation reintroduced), but at certain times each day sugar cane and other fruits were left at feeding platforms to draw the orangutan nearby and allow visitors to see them.

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Our guide grew up in the Kalimantan jungle, and knew each orangutan by name and place in the family.  He had a few that were his “friends” and they came over to say hi when he beckoned them!

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 In addition to the orangutans, there are monkeys inhabiting the trees all along the river. The most common species was the proboscis monkey, which sport funny long noses.

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We also enjoyed this funny long-armed fellow until he got scared away by the bigger orangutans!

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