The Diocese of Peru has been blessed this year with five teens from England spending their Gap Year with the Anglican church in Peru. Four women and one man, all around 18 years of age and heading to university in the fall of 2012 or 2013, they are an impressive group. Ian and I have enjoyed spending time with them over lunches, simple suppers and out in the field at the various locations where they are volunteering–schools, Compassion International sites, and mobile medical clinics.
They live with Peruvian families so they can learn the language and local culture during their 6-9 month stay here in Lima. They came with a background of Spanish, and were soon off and running in conversation with the youth of the diocese. During their stay, they have taken a few days off to travel and explore, but generally they are working 6-7 days a week within the churches and projects of the Anglican Diocese. Their smiles and laughter are contagious!
Whenever we sit down together over a cup of tea, I hear of another Gap Kid adventure.
The other night I heard of a painful visit to a local hospital. The reality of hospital beds lining the corridors and relatives propped in doorways to keep vigil hit one young woman hard. Witnessing the lack of comfort and the hardship of having to buy your own medicines and surgical supplies was shocking. Despite the heart-wrenching glimpse of a Peruvian’s reality, my young friend knew her visit and prayer with the suffering woman was the right choice for that afternoon. She could have gone off to a music concert with friends, but instead she chose to heed the voice of God and do the hard thing. As she tearfully shared her experience, those of us listening were blessed by her description of the patient’s grateful response to her presence and prayers. Presence and prayers are a huge part of missionary life.
Another young woman shared about recent conversations with a member of her host family which have gone from criticism of her simple Christian lifestyle (are you an alien?) to discussions of values and vocation. After one honest discussion, the young man admitted that he didn’t really enjoy all those discos and drinks. A university student currently studying economics, he will need peers and mentors to reinforce what has begun, and that is where fellowship and the Christian community comes in; dare I call it Church? We often talk about the challenges of working in a culture where the public education system is not teaching its young people to question and problem solve. It is teaching them to learn by rote and regurgitate for the exams. So we ask, what should be done? Who is going to present the challenges and encourage the questioning? Meanwhile, these Gap Kids are headed to the top universities in England and they are wondering too, what would God have me do with my life?
What has been the most difficult for the Gap Kids? As the surrogate auntie, I am always checking up on them to be sure they are resting, drinking plenty of water and eating enough fruits and vegetables. Despite the abundance of local produce here in Peru, the Peruvian diet is generally heavy on the starch: bread, rice and white potatoes, often served together with little green veg or fresh fruits. Fruit drinks are common, but contain loads of sugar. So when the Gap Kids come to my house for a meal, we whip together salads, steam some fresh vegies, cut up the tropical fruits and grill a healthy portion of chicken or beef. My traditional oatmeal-raisin cookies are a big hit for dessert. Being English, they always enjoy a good cuppa tea! With our own kids back in the U.S., Ian and I have enjoyed spending time with our surrogate offspring.
Another area of struggle here has been the climate. The heat here in Lima is intense and augmented with high humidity. For some, this has been a problem. Drinking plenty of water is important and the wearing of sun screen, sun glasses and hats is imperative.
This Sunday night the group is coming over for supper–probably meat on the grill and a big salad. I am considering brownies and ice cream for dessert. I want to quiz them about what has been their most rewarding event or experience here in Lima. Let’s see what they say! Why would they leave their friends and family, defer their studies for a year, struggle to raise the funds necessary to travel, and then work seven days a week in dusty, poor locations? Has God called them? Are they fascinated with the Latino culture? What brings them here to Peru? These are questions I have been dying to ask.
After the brownies and ice cream, I asked, “So why Peru? Why a Gap Year?” The lively discussion began and wandered down several interesting paths. Several of the kids had contacts in Peru through friends or relatives, and they had always wanted to follow up on those interests. Others had heard about the projects here with the Anglican church that needed help–medical missions, schools, Compassion International, Shalom–a center for physically challenged children. One young woman wanted to immerse herself in a new culture to challenge herself. She even left her laptop with all the Facebook and Skype connections behind! Her Spanish is strong, so she was equipped for the test and she is passing with flying colors. Others echoed the desire for independence, striking out on their own. All had raised their own support and discovered that God does provide.
The result has been more far-reaching than I would have thought possible in six months. One young woman stated, “Peru made me doubt everything about myself!” Having planned out an education path and career goals, she has now found them shaken. Ministry and youth work is drawing her attention, and with her people skills and creativity, I can see her doing well wherever she is involved with people. In this setting of Peruvian culture where every day is different and plans run awry, this group is finding each day requires fresh attention. Rarely does a day go as planned. They have found themselves dependent on God and on the people around them. The local Peruvians at their sites help them each day to know what to do, sometimes clearly and sometimes murkily; either way, the Gap Kids are learning to communicate, ask questions and relate to those around them. Fortunately, the church community is helpful and supportive. It has provided a home, part of the Kingdom of God. Though not always comfortable, it is safe and sufficient, and at times magnificent!