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!


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!



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


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.



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.


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.*


indo shoes


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!