In order for the reader to understand how I, who often suffer from faith hyperopia (a.k.a. faith farsightedness, a horrible condition in which I fail to see God working right in front of my nose) came home from our trip to Arequipa with no doubt that God had been holding our collective hand and leading us right to answered prayers, it will be necessary to share some of our petitions prior to departure.
Our team of wonderful people has been planning mission work in Arequipa for years now. Yet, the team has morphed through the years so that my beautiful bride and I were the only two (of six) who had been in the city. Even Megans visit, for that matter, had been far from in-depth. Our vision casting has been second hand in the main, based on my impressions and those of former team members. The team has nurtured love for a people whose faces it has not seen. It has tried to imagine Gods faithfulness in the unknown. At the final meeting before the trip, we had finally come to the strategy portion of our team formation. The questions that loomed before us were exciting. Where would we live in the city? How would we live? What exactly would we do, how would we do it, and with whom? At last we had come to these questions, and at last it was necessary to stand in the city. We needed to walk the streets, look povertyboth spiritual and physicalin the face, and make up our hearts, if not our minds.
My prayer, then, was for a clearer vision. We have our vision statement, and that will serve us well. For the present, though, we needed a vision of the city as it is, with which to compare the future we imagine. We needed a focus for our conviction and passion. We needed real lives for whom to feel compassion. Specifically, we prayed for an idea of where to live, a neighborhood in which to live out the lessons we have learned from God incarnate. We prayed for the courage to imagine ourselves dwelling among those to whom Jesus ministeredthe poor and marginalized. We prayed for a place where our families could live without fear of constant danger. All of this would require some way by which we could, in a week, survey a city of a million and gain a reasonably accurate idea of its geographical socioeconomic breakdown. We had no clue what that way would be.
In addition to this, the other item on the agenda was to check out language schools. Appointments were made via email with four schools prior to arriving in the city, and a fifth was going to receive a surprise visit from five <i>gringos</i>, because it had not responded to email. So our prayers included requests for productive visits and a good prospective language-learning experience. These goals really only amounted to two taskssurvey neighborhoods and visits language schoolsbut it seemed a full weeks work to accomplish them. In the course of the week, though, God worked many things together to result in more than we had imagined.
We arrived Monday morning, and our first language school appointment was that afternoon. The schools director, Maria, proved to be a good candidate for our language school needsobjective metbut also included in her program free opportunities to work in community development. Her list of opportunities includes working with orphanages, which is a special interest of the team. Also, homestay with a Peruvian family is an optional part of her school packageanother opportunity we had hoped to encounter. Maria generously offered to connect us with community development projects even if we did not choose her school. We counted her an unexpected contact and asset and were grateful for the early productivity.
Tuesday was chalked full of appointments with Spanish schools, the first of which was directed by Saskia, a Dutch immigrant married to a Peruvian. We met in the caf where classes are held. Her school also includes opportunities to serve in the community and homestay. When she learned about our interest in the city she told us about her husband, who is a local tour guide. He has developed a Reality Tour in which he guides clients through the parts of the city that tourists dont usually want to see. Most of the tour proceeds go to help these places. This piqued our interest, and we scheduled the tour for Thursday morning. It would turn out to be one of the highlights of our week; a totally unexpected blessing.
The next appointment on Tuesday was a no-show on the teachers part, but we were able to go immediately to the next school. After some time with confused taxi drivers we arrived at the Juanjo Spanish school, and Juanjo proved to be a well prepared teacher. All the same opportunities were available in his program, and his curriculum was the best we had seen so far.
Wednesday morning involved a trip to the open-air market just for the experience. Then we crashed the fifth language school. Of the five, my expectations were lowest for this one, since it seemed to be a hotel first and a language school second. We found the address and walked into a small courtyard with offices on two sides. A middle-aged Peruvian man greeted us immediately, speaking very good English. Having explained that we were interested in the Spanish school, he promptly took us on a tour of the grounds. As it turned out, the Spanish school is the main facet of the enterprise, which is called Casa de Avila. A short passageway opened into a larger grassed courtyard surrounded by two-story buildings, and we realized that this was a rather large, impressive compound. He explained in professional terms (unexpected after our last three, more informal experiences) the schools method of teaching and credentials. The method, unlike those of other programs, is not grammar focused and is tailored to the specific goals of the learner. He pointed out one student who spoke Spanish well but had enrolled to master medical vernacular. The program has a history of working with organizations. At the time of our visit, a group with Global Vision International, a developmental organization, was in residence for Spanish training. Our guide, Seor Espino, is the proprietor of Casa de Avila. He gave us the full tour and then sat us down for questions and answers. We inquired about community development opportunities while enrolled. He asked about our specific interests, and having mentioned orphanages, he explained that he is a retired family lawyer and proceeded to offer his insights and advice about Perus system of dealing with abandoned children. He proved to be a wealth of information, legal and otherwise, and assured us that the school would provide connections with organizations appropriate to our purposes. What a find! Seor Espino ended up escorting us to an orphanage on Friday afternoon, which was another unexpected bonus.
After this we tried the previous days absentee teacher again and caught her. If Rocios program was less glamorous for Casa de Avila lingering in our minds, she did offer Quechua classes, which are virtually non-existent in Arequipa. Our discussion with Rocio ended with an invitation to teach English at her school. At this point we were feeling like every direction was an open door.
Wednesday afternoon was planned to be the beginning of neighborhood surveys, so we were faced with the task of figuring out how to do this. I had already explained to our friendly hotel staff head, Alfredo, what our intentions were and had asked his advise. We were thinking of hiring a taxi, but this meant splitting up the group, because the taxis are too small for five passengers. We thought about renting a vehicle, but that was a fairly expensive venture, and none of us was keen on driving in the crazy Peruvian traffic. Alfredo then called his uncle (tio) Juan, who offered to escort us around the city for a comparatively good price and without the risk of driving ourselves. He arrived, and we began our tour of the part of the city called el Cono Norte (the North Cone). The majority of this three-hour ride was through poverty stricken areas that really opened our eyes to the needs of the people.
Thursday morning was the Reality Tour with Miguel. At first we feared it might be more of what we had seen in Cono Norte. In fact, we saw and heard totally new things. Our picture of the city was beginning to fill out nicely. Thursday afternoon was another run with Tio Juan, but this time we asked for a tour of the middle-class neighborhoods closest to the poor but relatively safe. We somehow managed to cover the majority of the city in that afternoon, marking a map of the city as we went to help us remember what we saw. Tio Juan was himself a fount of information and a true Godsend.
Friday morning after coffee we debriefed and made notes of what we had learned. Friday afternoon was the trip to the government-run orphanage with Seor Espino, which was informative. We finished up with the ever necessary shopping for tourist junk.
Every evening was rounded off with a devotional, and Saturday morning before our departure we had a prayer walk. Throughout the week the devos focused on Gods presence with Israel as he worked to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant through his chosen people. We built up to the story of the 12 spies reporting on the Promised Land. Numbers 14:24 reads, But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. As I reflected on our participation in the fulfillment of the blessing of all nations, my prayer was that while spying out Arequipa we too would have a different spirit and follow God wholeheartedly. For it was he who went before us, he who went with us, he who never leaves us or forsakes us. I think God was gracious in making the effects of his nearness so obvious that even this farsighted servant could see them. By grace, then, we give this report. We should surely go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it (Num 13:30). May God give us the courage to trust in his faithfulness and follow him where he leads, our cloud by day and our fire by night.