The World Is Not As It Should Be

The world is not as it should be. That’s the phrase that keeps running through my mind as I consider the awful things that are going on in the world today, near and far. When I see pictures of churches burned in Niger and think of my friends serving there and the Christians living there… the world is not as it should be. When I consider the 32-year old man from my church here in Lima who was apparently murdered by one of his close friends… the world is not as it should be. A young mother of 3 littles, wife of a teacher at the International Christian School of Lima, taken by cancer in a matter of days… the world is not as it should be. The Craigslist murders of the couple in Georgia, the captivity and beheading of people, the terrible things done to innocent people through sex trafficking, and the list could go on… The world is not as it should be, and I long for Heaven, for Jesus to return and set it right again.

It further saddens me that the response of many to the evil and hate is more evil and hate. Even well known, public Christian figures have released statements encouraging fear and hate of the perpetrators of the crimes. Fear should not be our response when evil arises. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18, NIV). And furthermore, as we hear the Word of the Lord earlier in the chapter,

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does no love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. [1 John 4:7-17, NIV]

We rely on the love God has for us. Our hope is in the Lord. If we know God’s love, then we testify to that which He did for us by sending his Son into the world that we might live through Him. We testify that Christ is an atoning sacrifice. We place our hope in the Savior of the world and continue to love in a world that does not know God.

My prayer for Lima recently, and for all of us, really, is that we may learn to love those around us. If we really understand the immensity of the love that God has for us, we will love those around us because there will be no room for anything else in our hearts! I am not perfect in this area, but I pray that God grows me in my ability to show love too.

If you are reading this, then I pray for you as Paul prayed for the Ephesians,

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. [Ephesians 3:14-21, NIV]

Five Years Ago Today

Five years ago today, January 12, 2010, probably began like any other day for me. It was a workday and I was still working for an insurance company in Corporate America. I’d been with the company for about 6 years and was making plans to study to become an insurance underwriter. I’d been working in that department and really enjoyed the work and the people I worked with even more. It was a great company, a great work environment, and it was a very comfortable lifestyle for me. I don’t believe I was looking for any grand change in that area of my life, other than the plans for continuing education that I had been making.

A few days prior to that special day I’d been wrestling with the idea of a new year’s resolution or a goal for the new year.  I generally don’t make resolutions, because I break them, but I thought I especially needed a new focus in my spiritual life. I remember exactly where I was driving while having this internal conversation (ok, it might have been out loud). I thought, “I should make myself more of a priority this year.” But that just didn’t sit right with me – it didn’t click internally. Then I thought, “No, I need to be about that which He [God] has for me this year.” That felt right – I felt a peace about making God’s path for me a priority, though I didn’t really see yet that it might affect everything about my life. I just thought I might have to volunteer at church or something!

When I reached that moment when God redirected me to Peru, I had little idea of what that would really mean for my future. You can’t really know that until you walk through it. I suspect redirection doesn’t happen in an instant like that for most people, but maybe it’s because I’m so stubborn that I needed a Gibbs slap to get my attention. [According to NCIS character, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, a slap to the back of the head is a wake-up call.] Certainly the Lord was working for a long time to get me to the place where I could be open to such redirection, but the clarity of His path for my future hit me in a single moment that’s etched into my brain. It’s been amazing to walk this path with the Lord. It’s had hills and valleys, but I wouldn’t trade it or the over-arching peace that comes with this journey into that which He has for me.

Where will the path lead? Or perhaps the more common question that I get from taxi drivers on a regular basis: How long will I live in Peru? I am here until the Lord directs me otherwise. This is where He’s placed me right now, so I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. The same goes for my future – I want to always be pursuing that which He has for me.

Continued Firsts

I am just over a week from boarding my first international flight in 2.5 years. I arrived in Peru on October 11, 2011, and I haven’t left here yet! Just after arriving I wrote a blog about Celebrating the Small Things. In that blog I talked about the “firsts” I was experiencing: my first solo bus ride, my first solo grocery trip, etc. I’ve come a long way from those firsts, but as I prepare for home assignment (furlough), I’ve noted that I’m still experiencing firsts! Just a couple of weeks ago the movie “Rio 2” opened here in Lima. Because it’s an animated flick, it doesn’t come to Peru in English – only dubbed into Spanish. I had not yet tried to see a dubbed movie in the theater because I didn’t want to miss any of the dialogue, but I wanted to see Rio. So, I gave it a try and I’m happy to report that I understood it all! Also, just this weekend, I had what I would describe as my first vulnerable conversation in Spanish. I’ve had lots of personal conversations, sure, but Peruvians (for many cultural reasons that I can cover in another blog someday) aren’t super inclined to really be vulnerable. As my sister pointed out to me, if someone is speaking your language as a foreign language, you’re only inclined to share deeply when you are sure that the person can understand the depth and meaning of what you’re sharing. So, when this friend began to open up about some things that I am certain aren’t broadcast for all to know, I was humbled and thankful… and I was praying for clear understanding and communication on my part too!

These “firsts” are significantly different than what I experienced in October 2011. They remind me both of how far I’ve come, and of the fact that I am a life-long learner as I continue to live in a culture that is not my passport culture. What a journey this has been, and I trust it will continue to be, as I seek that which He has for me!

Grief Revisited: Torn Between Two Homes

When I preparing to move to Peru, I wrote a blog on grief. As I now prepare to leave Peru for 6 months this year, I am revisiting my understanding of the grieving process.

When I moved to Peru, I made a conscious decision not to leave for at least 2 years, and preferably a little more, so that I could acclimate here. I knew that I needed to leave behind my life in the US for a long period of time to really adjust to the idea of being a long-term missionary. It was the right decision for me. I really struggled around the 7-month mark and I wanted to leave Peru, but I knew if I left that I would never come back. So, I stayed. My second full year here was rough for a variety of reasons and I didn’t love life here. Through all of this, the only thing that kept me here was that I knew that I knew that God had directed me to this time and place! So I stayed.

It’s only been in the last few months that I have turned a corner where I can say that I feel at home in Peru. That’s not to say that I don’t have my moments of culture-frustration still, but there are things about the US that bug me too! It would happen wherever I live. As I contemplated going to the US for 6 months for home assignment (furlough), I also started to contemplate all the things I was going to miss here. And I don’t just mean physical things; I mean all the moments, conversations, church meetings, and sunsets that I will miss too.

Living and ministering overseas means constantly feeling pulled between two cultures and yet, after a while, not really fitting into either culture. I’m not Peruvian and I will never be Peruvian, but I have changed. When I go back to the US, I won’t be able to fit back in the way I did before. Some of you are going to wonder what they did to me here! And I probably won’t be able to explain it to you very well. It’s just what happens. So, I’m also grieving the loss of the familiarity of life in the US and fitting in back there. Please be patient with me when I don’t know what to do in some really common situation.

I still get to tell the story often of how God used my friend Cindy’s status on Facebook to call me to Peru. I have never doubted the call – it was a terrifying clarity that I don’t get very often! I’m thankful that the call was clear and that it was confirmed by many people and circumstances in my life, because that assurance has helped me walk through many tough days in the last few years. And that assurance will help me through the grief that I feel now too.

As I look forward to my time in the US, my home, I am ecstatic about seeing everyone! I will be thrilled to be able to eat Cheez-its and drink Diet Dr. Pepper. I’ll probably have to limit my trips to Chick-Fil-A and Cracker Barrel so that I don’t over-do it! It will be a lovely time there, and I will thoroughly enjoy it, but I am going to really miss my life, my friends, my church, and my home in Peru.

Certainty

There’s a particular feeling of certainty that I can only claim to have felt twice in my life now. It’s a terrifying feeling on some levels, but the fear doesn’t really factor in because the certainty is so strong.

I believe I wrote about the first time I felt that certainty. It was when God called me to Peru as a missionary. I wasn’t exactly looking for a role as a missionary in that moment. In fact, I was preparing to study to be an insurance underwriter in the job I held at the time. The whole thing really snuck up on me. It was purely out of curiosity that I clicked on my friend’s Facebook status about mission work in Sudan. In college I’d read my first article about Sudan and it had been on my radar even since, so I wondered what opportunities there were to serve there. There were some interesting opportunities that I read about, but the thing that caught my eye was that one of the roles was in the “Business Ministries/Administration/Leadership” category. There was a link to other roles in that category, and my curiosity made me follow it.

I was pleasantly surprised how many opportunities were in the “Business Ministries/Administration/Leadership” category. Somehow in my head missionaries were evangelists, children’s home workers, or MK teachers, because that’s what the missionaries I met in my life did. My fascination kept me skimming the long list. Suddenly I saw one that said “Guesthouse Manager (Peru).” My first thought was “What’s a guesthouse?” Granted, the word is pretty self-explanatory, but the real issue was that I didn’t know that many missions have guesthouses in the countries where they work. Again, curiosity was what made me click on the link. As I read the description of the role, several things went through my head in fairly rapid succession:

  • I didn’t know missions had guesthouses.
  • That would be a fun role to have as a missionary.
  • I’d be a pretty good guesthouse manager.
  • Oh my gosh, I think I have to apply for this.

Now, given that you can’t see my face or hear my tone while reading this, you should know that the first 3 points were said very light-heartedly as if I were chatting happily over a cup of coffee while relaying some interesting information from a newspaper article. The fourth statement followed very closely in time, but it was a wide-eyed, color-draining-from-the-face statement with a tone of disbelief. In a matter of seconds the certainly of my future sank in and there was no doubt in my mind whatsoever.

As a slight aside, I would encourage my readers to not consider my experience as a road map for how one is called into mission. This is how it happened to me, but other seek it out and do some investigating and praying through the process to see what God may have in store. I actually think that it happened this way for me because there wasn’t much other way God could get my attention given that I’d said I wouldn’t do full time mission as a single. You can read about that in a previous blog post.

Anyway, in the moment of certainty, there were plenty of doubts. I didn’t know what the application process was, how to get started, what would be required, when I could go, what I’d do with my cat, how I’d sell my house and car, or any other details about the path that was ahead of me. All I knew for sure in that moment was that I was moving to Peru to manage a guesthouse.

The rest of my journey to Peru is also noteworthy, but I share the moment of God’s direction to this role because I had never experienced such sudden clarity and certainty. I was terrified, but absolutely positive that I had to move forward, whatever the road might be. It was a rare feeling.

I had that feeling again in August for only the second time in my life. It was also quite unexpected because I wasn’t particularly seeking God for clarity about my future at the time. Just like being called to Peru in 2010, I was making plans for the future, but I was unaware that God was plotting my redirection.

I began taking sign language classes at a deaf school, Señales, in April of this year. My last post (yes, I know that it’s awful that I haven’t posted since April) describes how I ended up in the sign language classes. It was a little bit of curiosity again, honestly! I’m a cat, what can I say? In August I was nearing the end of the second of four levels of sign language classes in this school. The classes had been super hard, and sometimes frustrating, for this Spanish-as-a-second-language gal. I had to get over my desire to have a perfect score in the class! My friend in the class was planning to stop after the second level and I was contemplating stopping as well. I wasn’t particularly seeing how it could be of use for me in my role in Peru.

Meanwhile, I was planning to host a team of volunteers from my home church in Matthews, NC. They were coming to do work on the guesthouse, but there was a sign language teacher, Audrey, on the team who knows fluent ASL. Peruvian sign language has it’s roots in ASL, so she was planning to do some activities at the school to work with the students and teach the teachers some ways to encourage reading skills among the deaf students. I learned an amazing amount from Audrey about the struggles of deaf students to learn to read. Observing her teach the students at the school and listening to what she was seeing among the students taught me a great deal about their struggles in the educational system and in life in general. It was very interesting to me, but I wasn’t planning on becoming a teacher, so I still wasn’t convinced there was a place for me in this sign language world.

The day I took this church team to the airport, I had sign language class in the afternoon. I was exhausted from the week with the team, but I wanted to finish my commitment to the class. Since my team had completed their volunteer work with the school, I was pretty certain I would stop the classes at the end of the second level. At that time there was also an H1N1 flu scare here in Peru. Everyone was scrambling for vaccines and there were long lines at the hospitals. After class that night we ended up in a (verbal) conversation about those vaccines because one of the gals works in a hospital where they were supposed to be getting more vaccines that week. She was telling us that we could call her and she would let us know if the vaccines came in. While we were talking, my teacher, J, came up to the group. Since he is deaf, I was trying to catch him up on the conversation in sign language. Then he asked me something that scared the pants off me. He asked me if I would go with him to get the vaccine. No, I’m not scared of shots and I had no intention of getting the vaccine anyway. The request scared me because of the challenge of it. Here’s what went through my head in the 3 seconds between J’s question and my response:

  • I don’t know where that hospital is.
  • I’ve never been to a hospital in Peru.
  • I don’t know how to go about getting a vaccine in Peru.
  • I don’t know all the signs I need to translate in that setting.
  • This would be super scary and hard.
  • If this is hard for me, what would it be like to try and do it as a deaf person?

I said yes. There wasn’t any way around it really. Why would I possibly tell this sweet, 20-year old guy that I couldn’t help him get this vaccine? He was teaching my class. I could help him out. We agreed on a meeting points and agreed that he would text me on Monday night to let me know if he was well enough to go get the vaccine. In the end, we didn’t go because he was feeling sick, but ultimately that’s irrelevant to the point of this story.

My classmates and I soon wandered out to the bus stop to go our separate ways. I found the bus I needed that would take me toward my district of Lima and got a window seat. As I stared out the window, I started processing J’s request. I was terrified about the responsibility, so I was talking myself through the steps I could take to prepare. I could Google the hospital, use Google maps to memorize the location, research the bus routes between our meeting point and the hospital, ask my Peruvian family about the process of getting a shot at the hospital, etc., etc. I had a plan. Then other thoughts started invading my head. I started to grasp the reality that J lived with every day. He might be able to find the address of the hospital and maybe someone could explain to him how to get there. But what happens if he gets lost? He can’t ask for directions. Even if he showed someone a paper with the address, he can’t hear the response. Most deaf Peruvians do not read lips nor speak. Even if he got to the hospital, he can’t ask which line to get into, he can’t hear the doctor’s questions or instructions… he needed someone to go with him. End of story.

That was the moment when the certainty hit me again for the second time in my life. It was slightly less sudden this time, but the feeling was unmistakable for me. The certainty was that I could be of use in the deaf community and that I would keep studying sign language. How would I use sign? What would my role be? Why was God directing me this way? It wasn’t clear in that moment. It still isn’t particularly clear, though I have some ideas. All I knew with certainty was that my path was being redirected toward yet another new language and culture. The journey is never dull, that’s for sure! I’m interested to see what He has for me along this road.

Signs

No, I’m not writing about folks receiving signs and signals from God, but rather sign language! I learned the alphabet of American Sign Language as a kid and have never forgotten it. I actually started an elective course in ASL in college too, but dropped it due to my intense schedule that semester. Once again I find myself learning sign language, only this time there is an added challenge. My sign language class is in Spanish! Sign language here in Peru is related to ASL, but there are certain differences too. It’s not actually an official language of Peru, though hopefully that will change sometime in the future!

I’ve been to 2 classes now. We meet on Saturday afternoons for 3 hours. Whew! While we’re learning some signs, much of our time so far has been focused on learning to be expressive with our face and body – the whole first level is about gestures. This is a stretch for me in more ways than one. Firstly, this introvert is not really into getting in front of a classroom and playing charades, which is what this amounts to most of the time. Secondly, the activities are obviously language based and sometimes even related to Peruvian culture. In the first class we were supposed to act out circumstances and emotions and our classmates wrote the word on their small marker board. I know a lot of basic words for emotions, but there are some limits to my vocabulary still. Sometimes I understood exactly what was happening, I just lacked the word I needed to describe it and write it on my marker board! This week we did something similar, but we were supposed to demonstrate a dance and our classmates would spell the dance with sign language letters. I know my alphabet, but I didn’t know the names of the dances that my teammates were doing since many are specific to Peru! The other funny phenomenon this week was trying to spell in Spanish. While we were acting out different animals, I tried to spell elephant and used ph instead of f (because in Spanish it’s elefante)!

I suppose the class is good for both learning sign language and for practicing Spanish, though we’re not allowed to speak during class. My teachers are actually both deaf, so having students speaking would be disrespectful to them. The problem with not speaking is that my brain is operating with this really strange mixture of languages. When one speaks a second (or third…) language decently fluently, they no longer translate and there is a firm association in the brain between the word being used and it’s meaning. That’s not true in the beginning, though. When I first started speaking Spanish, I would think in English, translate to Spanish, and then speak. Now when I speak Spanish, my brain is operating in Spanish. The problem in my sign language class is that it’s easier to learn a new language while processing what’s happening in my head with my native language. However, since the class is in Spanish when directions are written on the board or responses are given, well… that means there’s three languages going on in my head at the same time. Between that and being forced to be more extroverted than normal, I am EXHAUSTED after a 3 hour class! While chatting with classmates on the way to the bus stop after class, I don’t know what language wants to come out of my mouth!

You might be wondering what I’m doing in this sign language class. That remains to be seen, honestly. A friend introduced me to the deaf school, Señales, where I’m taking the classes. It’s a school that is operated by an Evangelical Christian group here in Peru. The day I visited I played Jenga with the students, which thankfully is possible without conversation. I enjoyed the visit, but lamented the fact that I couldn’t communicate. I went to great lengths to learn Spanish to communicate with the folks here and suddenly I was faced with another group of people with whom I was still not able to communicate! I learned a bit about the attitude in Peru toward people who are deaf that day, and it wasn’t really a pretty picture. I wondered if there was some way I might help with this ministry. The first step to being really effective, though, would be learning the language. From there, well, we’ll see.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to communicate effectively in sign language (especially since that sometimes includes spelling Spanish words in signs!), but it may prove easier as time moves along. For now it’s another stretching adventure for me as I pursue that which He has for me!

Seasons in Peru

Most of you probably know that seasons are flipped in the Southern Hemisphere and that Peru is in the Southern Hemisphere. So, while folks back in the US are celebrating the arrival of spring, fall is technically beginning here in Peru.

Seasons are not perfectly straightforward in Peru. It’s not as simple as being the opposite of the Northern Hemisphere. In many places, there are just two seasons of note: rainy and dry. My coworkers in the mountainous region of Cotahuasi tell me that there is more snow on the mountaintops in the rainy season than in dry season even though the rainy season is technically summer. People in many places in Peru mess with the names of the seasons, calling the rainy season winter even though it falls in the summer of the Southern Hemisphere. That muddles the whole issue in my head! It’s not uncommon for someone to say, “It’s summer in Lima, but it’s winter in Cusco.” Visitors are often surprised to leave the heat of Lima in January and find themselves freezing in Cusco! In other words, knowing the name of the seasons here doesn’t always tell you what the weather will be!

So what do the seasons look like in Lima, a desert city with no rain whose temperatures stay between 50 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit year-round? The two noticeable seasons in Lima are summer and winter:

  • Summer: December to April when the lows are 64-72 degrees F (18-22 degrees C) and the highs are 75-84 degrees F (24-29 degrees C). The sun is out every day with very little cloud coverage. The humidity is high, so it feels more oppressive than the numbers reflect. Most homes are not air conditioned, so that makes hiding from the heat difficult as well. This is personally my least favorite season because the moment I leave my home, I am sweating profusely!
  • Winter: June to October when the lows are 54-61 degrees F (12-16 degrees C) and the highs are 61-66 degrees F (16-19 degrees C). The skies are completely gray nearly every day and there is a thick fog that hovers over the parts of the city along the coast. It’s even more humid in the winter, so these temperatures also feel worse than the numbers reflect. Many people are quite depressed in this time of year, but I’m personally thankful for the cooler temperatures. I love to be able to put on a sweater and be comfortable. I do not own a winter jacket, though many Limeños use heavy jackets in these months.

You may have noted that there are some missing months in those date ranges. Most folks do not label spring and fall in Peru because the weather is just not distinctive enough to call it a different season. Last year I remember thinking summer was never going to end and being miserable until July! While it’s true that the daytime is still quite hot right now (highs in the upper 70s), I sense that there is a fall this year. As I write this, I am wearing a hoodie since the breeze passing through my apartment has a chill in it. It makes me so happy since fall is my favorite season in North Carolina. The leaves won’t change color here, sadly, but the cool nights and mornings are really refreshing. I even cooked chili and cornbread for some friends on Friday night – good fall food, but it’s strange to do it in April!

I miss fall and I hope to be able to take my first home assignment during the fall of 2014. In the meantime, I’m learning to appreciate the glimmer of fall that I get to experience here in Lima. I hope those of you in the Northern Hemisphere are enjoying Spring!

Despedida de El Sol/A Goodbye Party from El Sol

SPANISH

Tuve que hablar un poquito en la despidida de la escuela de español el viernes anterior. He escrito lo que iba a decir porque cuando estoy nerviosa, no puedo hablar muy bien! Entonces, aqui es mi discurso, mas o menos:

Si me equivoco hoy, no es porque ustedes me hayan enseñado mal, sino porque estoy nerviosa. Hablar en frente de gente no es lo mío. Lo mío son los números, entonces he preparado una lista de números importantes de mis experiencias con ustedes.

  • 24: Veinticuatro, es el numero de semanas de clases que he tenido en El Sol desde Diciembre.
  • 247: Doscientos cuarenta y siete, es el numero de mis galletas que Martin he comido.
  • 9: Nueve, es el numero de profesores que me han enseñado oficialmente, pero el numero de ustedes que me ha enseñado es mucho mayor.
  • 122: Ciento veintidós, es el numero de días que he entrado por la puerta de El Sol y es igual al numero de días en los que he aprendido cosas útiles para mi vida acá en Perú.
  • 487: Cuatrocientos ochenta y siete, es el numero de horas que me he sentado en las salas de El Sol por clase, más una hora extra en la banca afuera para despertarme cuando estaba durmiendo en la clase de Renzo.
  • 108: Ciento y ocho, es el numero de Coca Colas Zeros que he comprado para evitar dormirme en las clases.
  • 300: Tres cientos, es el numero de horas que he estado en el bus para ir y regresar a casa durante esta aventura, mas o menos.
  • 1,000,000: Un millón, es el numero de errores que he cometido hablando español y voy a cometer un millón más, pero gracias a todos porque he aprendido un montón en mi tiempo aquí en la escuela.

Les agradezco mucho a todos ustedes por su tiempo, por su cariño, por apoyarme, y por soportarme en los día más difíciles cuando el español no salía de mi boca. Por ocho meses he vivido con cambios constante y difíciles: cambio de país, de casa, de amigos, de todo, pero esta escuela – ustedes – ha sido una cosa constante en mi vida diaria. Aunque he estado en el bus tres cientos horas durante 24 semanas de clases, me he despertado cada mañana con anticipación de venir a mi segunda casa y tener conversaciones divertidas con gente muy amable. Espero regresar con frecuencia para visitarlos porque voy a extrañarlos mucho.

Los profesores que me enseñaban el curso superior. / The professors that taught my superior course.

Los profesores, Renzo y Martín, que me enseñaban el curso superior. / The professors, Renzo and Martin, that taught my superior course.

ENGLISH

I had to speak a little in the goodbye party of my Spanish school last Friday. I had written what I wanted to say because when I am nervous, I cannot talk very well! So, here is my mini-speech, more or less:

If I make a mistake today, it’s not because you all have taught me badly, but rather because I am nervous! To speak in front of people isn’t my thing. My thing is numbers, so I have prepared a list of important numbers of my experiences with you all:

  • 24: Twenty-four is the number of weeks of classes that I have had in El Sol since December.
  • 247: Two-hundred and forty-seven is the number of my cookies that Martin has eaten.
  • 9: Nine is the number of professors that have officially taught me, but then number of you all that have taught me is much higher.
  • 122: One hundred and twenty-two is the number of days that I have entered the doors of El Sol and it is equal to the number of days in which I have learned udeful things for my life here in Peru.
  • 487: Four hundred and eighty-seven is the number of hours that I have seated myself in the classrooms of El Sol, plus one hour more in the bench outside to wake myself up when I was sleeping in Renzo’s class.
  • 108: One hundred and eight is the number of Coca Cola Zero that I have bought to avoid sleeping in class.
  • 300: Three hundred is the number of hours that I have been in the bus to go and return home during this adventure, more or less.
  • 1,000,000: A million is the number of errors that I have commited speaking Spanish and I am going to commit a million more, but thanks to all of you because I have learned loads in my time here in the school.

I would like to thank all of you for your time, for your care, for supporting me, and for putting up with me [play on words in Spanish with support/put up with] on the difficult days when the Spanish didn’t leave my mouth. For eight months I have lived with constant and difficult changes: change of country, of house, of friends, of everything, but this school – you all – has been one thing constant in my daily life. Even though I have been in the bus 300 hours during 24 weeks of classes, I have woken up each morning with anticipation of coming to my second home and having fun conversations with friendly people. I hope to return frequently to visit because I will miss you all a lot.

Relationship Explosion

Why the long silence? The most concrete thing that I can say is that I am still working to perfect the balancing act required for all the relationships in my life. I think I knew, in theory, that this would happen to me in my missionary life, but it’s been one of the hardest adjustments I’ve had to make (and that I’m still making)!

It started way back in January of 2010. It was January 12, in fact, the same day of the major earthquake in Haiti. As news was pouring out about the earthquake, I was receiving information that would change my life in a totally different way. I had discovered a missionary role as a guesthouse manager in Lima, Peru. Through a long-time friend at SIM, I was told to contact someone in the Selection and Training Department at SIM to follow up on this interest I had. This contact was just the beginning.

Since that day, I have come to know and love dozens of folks that work in the SIM-USA office in Charlotte, NC. Some I worked closely with in the office during June – September of 2011. Some became my friends as we talked about baking cakes and cooking. Some used to serve as overseas missionaries and have poured support and advice into my life. And above all, all of them were and are praying for me and have provided tremendous encouragement along the way. I miss the folks in that office! How I’d enjoy a few hours of roaming those halls a little more. I could never get anywhere quickly because someone always stopped me to see how things were going and to tell me they were praying. I still get emails telling me of their faithful prayers.

That wasn’t the only new group of folks that I encountered on this journey. My training through SIM also took me to SIM-Start and SIMCO where I met other SIM missionary applicants. Those friends are now spread all over the world, with a large concentration in Africa, of course. Some have already completed their missionary service and some are preparing to leave for the field within the next month. It’s a joy to see how God is working in all of their stories! I see their updates on Facebook, I get their newsletters in my inbox, and on some special occasions I even get to Skype with some of them. I’d love to catch up with each one individually.

My SIMCO group

These were my SIMCO friends . Sadly I don't have a SIMStart group photo.

My trainings also took me to Mission Training International, a school in Colorado that serves folks from all different mission organizations who are preparing for cross-cultural service. My network of missionary friends nearly doubled in these 5 weeks as we laughed and cried our way through some serious topics and climbed many mountains together. These folks are scattered far and wide too, and just like my SIM folks, their updates are really exciting! God is moving in major ways in so many places!

Group photo from PILAT training at MTI

These folks attended PILAT training with me at MTI for 2 weeks... there was another, larger group for the next 3 weeks!

Because I work for a faith-based mission, throughout this entire time, I was also building relationships with many folks who would become an integral part of my support team. It’s only by the gifts and prayers of many folks at home that I am able to serve God here in Peru. I am so thankful for everyone who is a part of my team! Some of these folks are people who have known me nearly my entire life. Some are friends from high school and college. Others are folks with whom I have barely crossed paths, but whom God is using to do His work around the world. I have renewed friendships with people that I hadn’t seen on 10 years and added many new friends as well. I have 2 churches that support me, almost 50 families that send support each month, many more folks who give one-time gifts as they are able, and many faithful, fabulous people that support me in prayer. I’d like to write thank you cards to each of them monthly!

Bearing in mind that I had a life teaming with friends and family before January 12, 2010, you can see how my network of relationships exploded during 2010 and 2011. But, it didn’t stop there. When I arrived in Peru on October 11, 2011, I was greeted at the airport by my new supervisor and her family, who I now call my friends. The Lima team has about 25 folks and there are about 50 folks in Peru in total, not counting our kids. I have had well over 10 different classmates in my time in language school and at least 10 different teachers (not to mention the other teachers at the school that I’ve gotten to know through sharing my baking skills). Through school activities, cooking classes, and dance classes, I’ve met even more of the students at school from around the world. Outside of school, I’ve met friends of friends, Peruvians who attend our SIM English ministries, strangers in the bus, baristas in Starbucks, family of my host family, members of my new church, and many more folks here in Peru. These folks are a part of my day-to-day life in Lima and I am blessed to know each of them. They will never replace existing relationships, they just get added to the big mix in my head and heart.

SIM-Peru folks - January 2012

Here's a large portion of the SIM-Peru team, though a few are missing from this shot.

I’d love to talk to my best friends back home as much as I used to. I wish I could Skype my sister and see my gorgeous nieces every day. I’d like to hang out at my friend Stacey’s house here in Lima more often because her family is cool. I’d like to write my prayer team or send a newsletter to everyone more than every-other-month. In fact, I think I could easily spend 18 hours a day just maintaining all of the relationships I have and still not do them all justice! Oh yea, and I’d like to sleep sometime.

So, how do I balance all those relationships? That’s an excellent question. When I figure it out someday, perhaps I’ll let you know. In the meantime, perhaps that will help explain why I haven’t blogged in a while.

The Moon Is Sideways! Or Is It?

A few nights before I left Charlotte I was sitting in my room discussing the moon with my sister. I was telling her that someone had mentioned to me that the moon would be upside down in Peru. I hadn’t stopped at that time to process the comment, but only a few nights before my departure, the moon quandary was more appealing than packing. I didn’t really have a problem understanding that my line of sight to the moon would be different here in Peru, but I had just never thought about it deeply and wasn’t sure what it would mean when I looked up at the moon.

Backing up a few years, I remember doing a lab in college that was designed for middle schoolers. It was done in a science teaching methods course, so it was intended to show me, as a education major, how I could teach science in a way that would engage my students at a deeper level. The initial assignment seemed easy enough: Go outside, find the moon, and use a protractor with a string tied to it to measure the angle of my line of sight to the moon. I was supposed to remember the spot and the time at which I made the measurement and do it again every night for a week. Easy enough, right?

That night I wandered outside to start the lab and the sky was clear, but I couldn’t find the moon. I thought it was strange, but I reminded myself that the moon wasn’t always out at all hours of the night. I will try earlier tomorrow, I told myself. When I couldn’t find it the second night at a different time, I resorted to looking up the rising and setting times on the Farmer’s Almanac. I probably should have deduced the answer sooner, but I was so certain I should be taking these measurements at night (since I was measuring the moon, after all). It seemed, however, that my professors had chosen to start this lab at a time when the moon was rising and setting during the daylight hours. What a rotten (and brilliant) trick! Finally I was able to measure the location of the moon and went on to understand the rising and setting times at a much deeper level. This middle school science lab, with its surprising twist, apparently made an impact on college Robbye.

Another portion of the same unit was on the phases of the moon, (which are different and unrelated to the rising and setting times, BTW). There is a common misconception that the phases of the moon are caused by the shadow of the earth. I think I knew that it wasn’t the shadow of the Earth (that’s an eclipse), but as a senior in college I still couldn’t explain the phases of the moon. I don’t like being in the dark (pun intended), so I loved what they showed me next. Here’s how you can learn a bit about the phases of the moon and prove to yourself that the phases are not related to the shadow of the earth on the moon:

  1. Put a Styrofoam ball on a popsicle stick.
  2. Go into a dark room with only one lamp as a light source.
  3. Stand facing the light source and hold the Styrofoam ball in front of you, but above your head.
  4. If your head is Earth and the Styrofoam ball is the moon, note that there is no light shining on the side of the moon that you can see from Earth. Thus, you are seeing a New Moon (or not seeing a New Moon, as it were, since the side you are seeing is not reflecting any light).
  5. Turn ever-so-slightly to your left (counter clockwise) keeping your arms up and out at the same angle they were. Note that light begins appearing on the right side of the moon (the right side of the part of the moon that you see from Earth) in the shape of a backward C.
  6. Continue turning until you are 90-degrees from your starting point. Note that you are seeing the moon slowly “fill-up” from the right side toward the left side. This is the waxing (filling up) phase of the moon.
  7. As you continue turning so that your back is toward the light source, you will see that the moon is now full. Are you still with me?
  8. Continue turning in the same direction and the moon begins to wane (or un-fill) from the right to the left. Is any of this looking familiar? And none of it had to do with your head (the Earth) making a shadow on the ball (moon), right?

This is roughly what the moon phases look like from North Carolina:

Nov 2011 Moon Calendar

Image taken from: http://stardate.org/nightsky/moon

I’d love to know if anyone tried this and, if so, if you learned anything new. I still remember this day quite distinctly because it was such an “ah-ha” moment for me both with the moon and with teaching styles. It has caused me to think about this lab and the phases of the moon every time I see the moon on a clear night! I can’t help but ask myself, “Is it waxing or waning?” and I imagine my Styrofoam ball on a stick. Isn’t it amazing how much we learn when our notion of the world is suddenly challenged? That’s why these labs were such good teaching methods for middle schoolers – they instantly challenged a wrong belief and then proceeded to guide the learner toward the correct understanding of the topic.

Now, back to my conversation with my sister about the upside-down moon. I knew about the orbit of the moon (the rising and setting), I knew about the phases, but I’d never considered that the moon might look different in the Southern Hemisphere. But how could it not be? The stars are different, right? It makes sense, but what would it look like?

A quick Google search brought me to a nice moon calendar that shows the user the phases of the moon by location on Earth: http://www.kwathabeng.co.za/travel/moon/moon-phase-calendar.html?country=Peru

This site is slightly incomplete, however. If you play with it a bit you will discover that it assumes that those in the Northern Hemisphere see the moon “fill-up” from right to left while those in the Southern Hemisphere see the moon “fill-up” from left to right. In reality, it’s a slow transition between the two. It’s true that if you live in the Northern Hemisphere about halfway between the Equator and the North Pole, then just after a New Moon you will see a crescent that looks like a backward C (see Nov 26-27 in the moon calendar image above). If you live in the Southern Hemisphere about halfway between the Equator and the South Pole, then just after a New Moon you will see a crescent that looks like a C that is not backward. [For the super nerds out there, I realize that this isn’t perfectly accurate since the earth is tilted slightly, but I’m going for generalizations here]. However, what if you’re decently close to the equator, like in Lima, Peru? The moon doesn’t suddenly flip over, but… but…

As I was walking home from the bus stop tonight, I was gazing at a moon that was filling from top to bottom. Yep, that’s right. It was a little over halfway full tonight, but the perfectly round side was on the top and the slightly bulging part was at the bottom. It looked something like this:

Moon with waxing side down

My view of the moon tonight

I’m not a scientist and I’m certainly not claiming to be terribly well versed in astronomy. Thus, my explanations of the phases of the moon are likely a bit lacking. What I do know, though, is that based on what I saw tonight, the moon is sideways in Peru. No, no… that’s not quite right, is it? That statement assumes that how I saw the moon in North Carolina is right and that everything else is relative to that. No, the moon looks different here. It waxes from top to bottom. It’s not right, it’s not sideways, it’s not wrong. It’s different, and I was a little surprised by this at first, but it’s pretty cool too.

Everything is different here in Peru. Even the things that are “the same” are different. Printer paper is A4 instead of 8.5×11, but I still have a printer/scanner sitting on my desk. The electricity is 220V/50Hz instead of 110V/60Hz, but I’m still typing on a computer and using a lamp as I write this. Even familiar things have an element of the unfamiliar. Each time my definition of the world is challenged, I have an incredible opportunity to learn, just like I did from the moon labs in college. Staring at the moon tonight I was reminded that it doesn’t surprise God that the moon is filling from top to bottom here, even if it is initially a surprise to me. The God who is teaching me what He has for my life is the same God who set the sun, moon, stars, and Earth into motion and nothing surprises Him. I know that I will continue to encounter new, surprising, frustrating, and fascinating things on this journey in Peru. I also know whom I can look to when I am feeling more overwhelmed than enthralled by these encounters, for none of this is a surprise to Him.