Tuesday, June 19, 2012



When asked about my first impressions in Peru, the first word to hit me was precarious.  It was difficult to describe the deeper meaning behind this word as a first impression.  Life in itself is, of course, precarious. Yet the visual images of homes perched on slippery hillsides, the challenging climbs up to and down from these homes, and the surprise of feeling an earth tremor have helped that word to stick as a first impression.

Construction in the city of Lima:  precarious.  Buildings of brick, never really finished.  Rebar sprouts from every rooftop, inviting another layer of family or another possibility to earn rent.  I am not an engineer, but these buildings do not seem stable.  The facades are deceptive, stuccoed over and painted green or purple or blue, but a peek behind shows the brick, wood, cardboard, plastic, and metal collage of apartments. When we were in the catacombs of the Franciscan monastery, the guide described the centuries-old mortar which included crushed bird egg shells and earthly elements which made it very strong (centuries strong!)  Maybe there is something going on with the new mortar that makes it strong, but to me, much of the building in Lima looks precarious.

Construction on the hills outside of Lima:  precarious.  Actually, more like dangerous.  I am not a mountain goat, and climbing up to the houses at the top edges of the community seemed like an invitation to break a bone.  Unbelievably, no none fell.  Part of our group spent 3 days up there building 2 houses on platforms which were made by stacking rocks one upon another.  There was some rock-structure within the hill, but the dirt on top slid easily.  We asked what would happen if an earthquake struck.  One of the men said, "Well, the people down at the bottom will have their houses fall down, but they will mostly be OK.  The people on the hill will all be dead."

We visited a young mother who had been hit by a car as she tried to cross the highway.  The highway cuts through the two communities which are served by the Lutheran Church.  Everyone makes the precarious walk across the highway to catch a bus to work or school. Activists from the church are petitioning the government to install multiple safe footbridges across the highway to facilitate safe crossing on a daily basis and in the case of a tsunami evacuation.  The mother rested in bed, tearful, unable to move due to severe leg injuries.  She hopes a surgery, scheduled about 2 months after her accident, will lead to physical therapy and eventually enable her to walk.

One of the families which received a new house spent a precarious night outside with all of their belongings.  The only food they had was a small bag of rancid chicken bones and a few sprouted potatoes.  The women's mom brought some rice.

I understand that life is precarious, that in a moment there could be a bad diagnosis or a crazy accident or a freak storm.  These kinds of things happen to everyone.  But the kind of life that is precarious a result of poverty or abuse of the land or injustice is different.  This is the kind of precarious which exists widely in places like El Salvador, or Peru.

When we travel from the US and experience the precarious life of children, women and men in   places around the world, how do we respond?  Jesus says that offering the glass of water, sharing a bit of food, and spending time together are good responses.  Supporting our sister churches who do amazing work in precarious communities is important.  But sometimes, it is pretty overwhelming.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Greasy and Grubby Go to Peru

I have often written about the adventures of Greasy and Grubby in El Salvador.  There are still adventures from the past to transcribe and to share, but since Greasy moved away, the number of Salvadoran adventures has lessened.  Last week, Greasy and Grubby were together again in Lima, Peru, where Greasy's church has a sister church relationship with Luz Divina, a Lutheran congregation just north of the city.  Greasy's daughter gave me the idea to write a bit about this Peruvian experience with the occasional question:  "First impressions?"

So, here are a few first impressions...

Warmth - not the climate, but the people.  Greetings in Peru are filled with "encantada" (which is like saying, "enchanted to meet you") and a big kiss on the cheek.  Good-byes at the end of the day or at the close of an event take a very long time, as everyone gives everyone a hug and a kiss.

Hospitality - the sister churches had worked together to plan the week.  We divided into two teams, headed up by lay-leaders from Luz Divina and Luz de Paraiso (the nearby mission site where most of the visits and work took place).  One team did house visits and one team worked to rebuild two roofs and two complete homes for families who were in extreme need.  Greasy and I were on the visiting team.  As we were welcomed into homes, as we were offered places to sit, as we observed a child being sent to the store to buy some Inca Kola, as we listened to stories, as we laughed together, as we cried a little, and as we prayed together, the visits acquired a familiar rhythm.  Some of the women apologized for not having time to prepare something.  Others served their specialty desserts.  One young mom, after telling us a few tales about raising her four kids which include a set of identical twin boys who started the house on fire last New Year's Eve, pulled out a pot, added some water, sent one of her boys to the store to buy some cloves, and quickly whipped up a quinoa and milk dish which could be served as dessert in any fine restaurant.  In home after home we were welcomed and trusted and loved:  Thank you for visiting us.  We have waited and hoped for a visit like this to happen.  Our home is humble but the doors and our arms are always open to you.  When will you come back again?

The Gray - Greasy told me once that her first impression of Lima was that it is just so gray.  She wondered if I would also have that feeling of the lack of color.  It's not just that gray clouds blanket the sky every day, that the gray mist rolls in off of the Pacific in the evenings and lingers until well after sunrise, though certainly this contributes to the sensation that Lima is gray.  The Gray also lies in the not black, not white sand on the beach, the loose sandy dirt and rock that slips down the hills and bluffs that form the eastern boundary of the city.  The Gray is the film of dust that forms over every surface.  For those who can afford paint, they tint their homes with bright lime green, pink, royal blue, and purple, and beautiful bright sweaters abound.  Much attention is given to the cultivating of small flower gardens along the beach, in the medians along the highway, wherever plants can take root on the hillsides, even in the dusty pathways of El Paraiso.  Color is very precious when there is so much gray.

The Singing - we sang everywhere.  Maybe this is a little bit of a Lutheran thing, but we sure did have a lot of fun finding songs in common and teaching each other all kinds of camp songs, kids' songs and hymns.  It's amazing what kind of accompaniment a kid can create with a coin on a seashell.  There was also a fair bit of dancing, and I have to admire the Texas spirit in my friends who brought music to teach the Cotton-Eye-Joe.  During the farewell fiesta in El Paraiso, the Sunday School girls, decked out in sparkly dresses and battery-operated blinking tiaras, did a song and dance routine expressing God's love for them and how in God's eyes they are princesses.  Near the end of the song the girls broke out into an air-guitar routine that was just precious.  Seriously, when was the last time you saw Sunday School kids doing an air-guitar routine in church.

I am sure that when I look back into my journals, I will find all kinds of other first impressions and reflections.  God certainly has something in mind with the life labyrinth in which Greasy and Grubby walk.  Only God knows what mysteries lie ahead as I carry the voices, the faces and the kisses of my new Peruvian friends with me during a journey to El Salvador in two weeks.

(And to all who know us personally, you will laugh when you learn that even in Peru, it only took 24 hours for people to be confusing Greasy with Grubby and using our real names together in a sentence as if  they are one name.  Greasy - when you read this, I know you will chuckle. We are the Laverne and Shirley of ministry!)