25 April 2012

Happy Anniversary to Us!

That's right. Today it has been officially ONE YEAR since we left the U.S., said goodbye to family and friends, and embarked upon a new adventure in Latin America.
One year ago today: airport send-off with daddy. 
I'm impressed that it's already April again, but to say that this year went by quickly wouldn't really be true. No, when I start thinking about the myriad of changes and challenges and new experiences that have been crammed into the last year it seems like a very long time. And when I think about how long it has been since I last saw my friends or hugged my parents...yes, then it seems very long indeed. It hasn't been an easy year, but it has been a blessed year.

In the last year I was on 19 flights, moved twice, added 7 more countries to my previous 20 visited, learned Spanish (ok, so not ALL of Spanish- lol), met a ton of new friends near and far, started a new job, ate a bunch of strange foods, took north of 10,000 photographs (the Mac "finder" window doesn't count higher than that), and, somewhere in all of that, I learned to love Latin America.

As I've said before, Peru or any Spanish-speaking country was never on my list of places I really wanted to go. But after a year of learning the language, living in the culture and being fortunate enough to travel quite a bit within the region, it has really grown on me. Every trip I learn just how much I didn't know about Latin America. I assumed that countries that shared a language would be quite similar, but I have been excited to see just how different and unique they are. I have also learned that they don't share as much of a language as it would appear on paper. Oy vey! One day I had to translate in Spanish (don't laugh!) between a Dominican and Peruvian because their vocabulary was too different on some words and they weren't understanding each other. That day I threw my hands up and asked how I was expected to learn this language when they couldn't even come to a consensus among the native-speakers! But regardless of which Spanish they speak, wherever we have gone we've met wonderful people and experienced beautiful cultures. I've been fascinated with the crazy animals (although Lima needs more llamas and I am still on a quest to see a sloth in the wild), the awesome handicrafts and goods, the delicious and new foods, the incredible variety of climates and scenery even just within Peru, and I've had the honor to worship alongside brothers and sisters in Christ all over the continent.

Lest I begin to sound like a tourism ad, we've seen the less fun side of Latin America too. Despite the continued development, poverty is still rampant in many areas and people around the region live in deplorable, dangerous conditions.

Violent crime and drugs threaten individuals and governments alike. (Random fact: Peru is the #1 exporter of cocaine globally, and recent estimates suggest the cocaine industry equals 17% of Peru's GDP.)  Millions and millions of people live in depressing and hopeless situations, but what is even more tragic is that they live trapped in spiritual darkness as well. Although Latin America has been highly evangelized, there are still places and subcultures that have yet to even be touched by the Gospel.

The exciting thing, however, is that the face of missions in Latin America is slowly beginning to change. National believers are beginning to catch a vision for the Great Commission. They are hearing the call to take the Good News to all peoples and nations and they are seeking out ways to be faithful servants. While many North American workers are still involved in "traditional" work with church planting in different people groups, the majority are transitioning to mobilizing rolls. They are now in the position of helping Latin believers understand how they fit into the Great Commission, then training them and facilitating them as they begin to go themselves to their neighbors and to the ends of the earth. The challenges facing Latins seeking to go to the mission field are great. Finances are usually one of the biggest road blocks, as well as difficulty obtaining visas in some places, and the need for training. However, there are so many places that Latin believers can serve more effectively than Anglos and these exciting opportunities to advance the Gospel are worth whatever difficulties may come with them. It does my heart good when I've been privileged to meet with those in Peru currently studying missions in hopes of going to their countrymen and across the globe. Most have already sacrificed a great deal for the work to which they are called and they are passionate about telling others about Christ. I can't wait to see what God will do with these lives that have been so willingly offered up to Him!

Although it's been a year I still try not to think back to the day we left the U.S. because the goodbyes are still too painful, even just as a memory. Yet it is encouraging and sobering to think that I am now closer to saying "hello" to them than I am to those goodbyes. We have only 9 months remaining of our time in Peru and with the busy summer we have planned I can only imagine that they will go even faster than the previous time. Of course, the converse of getting to go back to the people and places I left behind means that I will have to say another set of goodbyes, this time to Peru and a whole different group of cherished family. But for now I won't focus on the sad times past and future, now is the time to refocus on what I want the legacy of my time in Peru to be. It's time to finish well!

Please pray for Brittany and myself as we head into the last 9 months of our time of service, and for the rest of our team as this summer will involve a lot of travel and transition for every unit. Thank you for your faithful prayers!

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