The mystery of ministry is that the Lord is to be found where we minister.
–Henri Nouwen referring to Matt. 25:40 “Insofar as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”
I remember when I committed my life to Christ as a college student and immediately feared that God would call me to be a missionary to Africa–one of those skinny, haggard women in long skirts who always looked so sad, but earnest. Alas, God has instead blessed me with a wonderful husband who has felt called to use these retirement years to minister as an Anglican missionary, and for better or for worse, here I am, a missionary in Peru.
I love the Matthew 11:28 passage from The Message:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
To be honest, though, keeping myself in that state of balance requires a great deal of prayer—mine and other’s—along with frequent exercise and a few treats along the way: good coffee with friends, walks to the ocean with my husband, and humorous moments with our cat Cleo.
My day begins with my Kindle open to Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and a mug of tea in my hand. I read, listen, sip and read again. Sometimes I delve deeper into the scriptures to listen more. Praying for my family and those God has put on my heart, I write in my journal and include what I am learning or struggling with that day. My prayers end with dressing the family in the whole armor of God. (Eph. 6) I wonder if they ever hear the clink of armor as they walk through their days?
After breakfast with Ian, I set out for the day beginning at the local gym where I exercise and practice my Spanish with the people sweating around me. One of my big thank yous is for this daily opportunity to exercise in a bright, modern facility. I find it helps me mentally, spiritually and physically.
Whenever I leave the apartment, I pass by the guards who greet me with buenas dias, and I respond with a smile and my own buenas dias. Each store and business has its own guard to protect the property and help with parking. Our apartment building has its own “watchey men” to keep an eye on the comings and goings; yes, I feel safe. These men are friendly and helpful, especially when we travel and return with suitcases and packages to load onto the elevator.
As I walk the ¼ mile to the large, modern grocery store, I greet the smiling and paraplegic Lourdes and sometimes buy a piece of her candy. People are not allowed to beg here, but they can sell things for a donation. Ian and I love helping Lourdes because she exudes gratitude. She also seems to be a prayerful presence in the marketplace. Another big thank you is for the young men who bring the groceries back to the apartment in a grocery cart and chat with us along the way. As I pass over a small tip, I thank them for the Spanish practice. Many of them are working their way through tech school or university.
Making connections is important to me here in Peru. I am intentional in building relationships with other women involved with the Anglican diocese or the missionary community. We share over coffee or lunch and pray together. My favorite meetings are those impromptu ones that just “happen.” Today I met for coffee with a young English mum who will be helping me teach Godly Play classes on Sundays. She is a trained Godly Play teacher, and her two daughters attend our Sunday class. I have just found out that she has met another of my young friends, and they now connect as young mothers with much in common—kids, God and England!
Other days I have bi-lingual friends come for lunch at our apartment and perhaps a walk to the sea. I love to cook, and we enjoy working in my sunny old fashioned kitchen. We talk and chop the avocados, mangoes and other fresh produce from the countryside and enjoy soups and salads, a change from the usual menu of rice and potatoes. I do miss a dishwasher, but find the work goes quickly when one washes, one dries and both talk! Prayer seems natural with these women, so we close our times of sharing with prayer.
Several times a year the Anglican women of the diocese get together for an afternoon of teaching and worship. One recent Saturday I helped Judith, Bishop Godfrey’s wife, lead the women in a flower arranging workshop. Later in the year the women will create arrangements based on parables or the “I am” statements of Jesus. This is something they can use in any of the mission churches because flowers are readily available, and this project helps them bring beauty into their rather dusty lives. Scripture, nature and creativity make a great workshop!
I am thankful for Judith, too, because she is my prayer partner here in Lima—another gift from God. Having been in South America and a bishop’s wife for over 20 years, her wisdom and understanding help her to minister to many of the women, and I like to think that my enthusiasm and fresh perspective encourage her in her ministry and role as bishop’s wife. We meet once a week to have coffee, catch up and pray together.
In January, I will begin the next stage of Spanish classes. I long to be able to comprehend what the Peruvian women share with me and to respond with words which they can understand. I love to teach, and having interpreters has helped so far, but I would like to be more independent. As a communicator, my language handicap has been humbling.
Hurray for technology here on the mission field! Facebook has been a doorway to communication with the Peruvian women I have met through the diocese. Some have computers, or they use the internet cafes where they rent a computer for less than a dollar an hour. I post photos frequently on Facebook, and I find that the women use Instant Messaging more comfortably than I do. It is easier for me than speaking Spanish or texting over the phone.
I love Sundays at the Cathedral. The mornings are filled with adult forum, a worship service and Sunday school. My Godly Play class is filled with 10 bright and articulate boys and girls 6-11 years old. I enjoy watching them continue to build friendships as they play and talk together during coffee hour. This year God has brought in three new families who are working with some of the top private schools as primary or secondary teachers. The moms are enjoying teaching Godly Play with me, and I see training possibilities ahead. I am hoping to share Godly Play with the Spanish congregation, but I am struggling to find the willing person(s) to take on the teaching responsibility. Prayer needed here!
Evenings tend to be quiet for us. If we walk to the ocean to view the sunset, we try to return by 7 when it gets dark and cool. Dinner follows, sometimes with guests, and other evenings there might be a church meeting. Reading, TV, the internet and occasional movie dates fill the hours before we turn in. The dawn light and a purring cat wake us around 6, and our day begins again with a tray of tea and time with God.
Just this month I have begun reading Henri Nouwen’s book Gracias!, and I keep having “aha” moments as I read words such as these where he speaks of cultural adjustment:
One of the most rewarding aspects of living in a strange land is the experience of being loved not for what we can do, but for who we are. When we become aware that our stuttering, failing, vulnerable selves are loved even when we hardly progress, we can let go of our compulsion to prove ourselves and be free to live with others in a fellowship of the weak. This is true healing. (pg. 17)
And so I learn to wait, listen and give thanks as I grow in living freely–attempting to love God and my neighbor, thankful for grace.