December 2011

TA Newsletter Article December 2011:

A Christmas Story

You know how almost every home in the states has a Christmas tree this month? Well, here in Peru, almost every home has a nativity scene displayed. It is hard not to think about the story of Jesus’s birth when I see the nativity scene everywhere that I go. Peruvians can relate to the story of Baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary. I would like to share a personal story with you relating to the Christmas Story.

As you know, my Spanish is mediocre. I can extrovert with the best of them, but when it comes to explaining myself or my faith in vocabulary words of a mature adult, “lacking” would be the word I would use to describe my Spanish. God has a way of humoring us, doesn’t he. Two months ago, a friend that I have made in my new neighborhood came and knocked on my door. She was wanting to know if I could work with her on conversational English. She has a really good English foundation, but still lacks in conversation and common vocabulary we would use in conversing. I agreed, and she has been coming to my home for one hour, twice a week.

In our first meeting, she asked me a lot of specific questions about our work here. I wasn’t shy to explain why we are in Arequipa. I explained why we moved here, about the church, and talked about the developmental projects with CUDA. She went on to explain about her family and the faith that she has grown up with. She is Catholic, but both her mother and her sister have converted to evangelical Christian groups. There are a few things she is still uncertain about, but she told me that she was interested in “experimenting” in Christianity. Talk about an open door. I asked her if she would be interested in reading the Book of Mark with me in English. She could practice reading, recalling what she read in English, and listen to me read aloud in English. I gave her NT Wright’s little commentary, Mark for Everyone, to read as her homework. God sent me a friend here in Peru to lead through a study of Mark in English! Isn’t he funny.

I have loved our time together. She has become a sweet friend. We converse a lot (which is what she wanted), and we have made it through the first part of chapter 7. We have discussed “Who Is Jesus.” But the first part of chapter 7 describes a scene where Jesus returns to Nazareth, his home, and is teaching in the synagogue. The people realize that he is teaching with authority, but it doesn’t take long for the gossip of the townspeople to spread and decide, “Who is this guy kidding? This is Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s boy. He grew up here.” (my version, obviously) My friend and I had a conversation about knowing Jesus. Here we have read six chapters of a gospel account of Jesus’ time on earth, and Mark has made evident that Jesus is Lord over demons, sickness, nature, and life itself. But now Jesus enters his own hometown and he is merely seen as Joseph and Mary’s boy. Mark says that Jesus was baffled at their unbelief. Yet, these people had known Jesus his entire life… but had they?

So many Peruvians, and people throughout the world have “known” Jesus their entire lives. They can tell you the Christmas story. They can even recall the gospel account and the crucifixion story. But my friend and I conversed about something today that I hope resonates in her heart tonight. I shared with her, “I can’t help but read this and think, do I really know Jesus? Do I know him not as Baby Jesus or as the main character in all of these Bible stories I have grown up hearing, but do I know him as Lord over everything? When someone knows Jesus as Lord over everything, their life can’t help but change.”

I am reading through a book right now called The King Jesus Gospel. It is reshaping my view of how I share the message of Christ with others. Jesus is King. Jesus coming as a baby is part of that story, but the beginning happened long before that with the people of Israel. This Christmas I have been able to share my faith with a friend. I don’t know where she is on her journey with God, but I am confident that God is using me to help guide her in that process of seeking him.

So this Christmas, when you see the nativity scene, don’t automatically think in terms of, “Oh, I see this every year.” Think about the fact that the glory of God took on flesh and became a baby born in the most humble conditions. He dwelt among us in order to fulfill the prophesies of the Old Testament and to teach us that he is the King of Kings. That is an incredible Christmas story.

December 2011

November 2011

TA Newsletter article November 2011:

A Beautiful Sunday

This past Sunday, November 21, was one of the best Sundays I have experienced in our time here in Arequipa. I have witnessed lots of beautiful Sundays here, but I think the timing of this past Sunday is the reason that it felt like such a blessing. Two things…

We got up Sunday morning to be out at Naranjal by 9 am. Sunday was the inauguration ceremony of a new library, and it has been my favorite by far. I have taken part in four library inaugurations up to this point, but the reason this one stood out is because it was Naranjal. If you keep up with our work, you realize the significance of this event. We have established “amistad” (or in English “friendship”) with this community. We have had a presence among the people in Naranjal for close to three years. This is the first library where this is the case. The words spoken by the community leader were words of thankfulness for all that has been done. The people are excited about the library. Alfredo, our Christian brother, spoke on behalf of the Arequipa Rotary Club and CUDA. He explained that a library is a place to discover new things and read about other worlds. Our dream is that this library will encourage the children and older generations to dream big about the future. It is an exciting time. Because I am mostly involved with the library work, I feel like I can have more of a personal impact on that community with the library ministry. I wish that all of you could have been there to see the children and parents looking through the books that so many of you back home helped to contribute. After the inauguration, we shared in a time of communion, singing, and teaching with the community. God be praised for what he has done, is doing, and will do in this beautiful place!

I am thankful for my mother-in-law’s visit to see us. We were worn out from being at Naranjal all morning. Our house church meets at 2 pm in the Porvenir library location. On a Sunday where I would normally dread going to the meeting (because my kids would be grumpy and I would spend the whole time keeping them quiet through the meeting instead of participating), my mother-in-law offered to keep them at home–all you moms out there be ever so grateful for nurseries and free child care that the churches offer. Greg and I went to the meeting, and instead of carrying a huge diaper bag I carried just my Bible. All but two of our members came to the meeting. It was absolutely the most encouraging meeting I have been a part of. We shared in a time of singing, and after many songs we began to share about our week. Our group has used this month to fast and pray about various aspects of the church life here. One of those things is personal opportunities for evangelism. I sat there and listened to five of my Peruvian brothers and sisters share about the opportunities that have presented themselves to them in just this month. I cannot tell you how exciting it is to listen to their testimonies and pray with them about God furthering his Kingdom through them at this time. I couldn’t help but think that this is what the church is for. Edification happened that Sunday. Prayers were offered and prayers were spoken in praise because of God answering our petitions this month. We sat around a table and broke bread in remembrance of the one that this life is all about. We ended our meeting by trying to memorize Galatians 2:20 for the coming week, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

I write these things to encourage you all at home. I wish that you all could sit at the table and share with the family here. I am indebted to you for allowing me to be one that experiences these things. Thank you so much for the blessing of these three years of ministry in Arequipa. God is amazing, and I can do nothing else but sit back in awe.

November 2011

October 2011

TA Newsletter October 2011:

Some trust in chariots

In the three years I have lived here I feel that I have seen a lot. Poverty has a way with staring one right in the face. Two of my best friends traveled to Arequipa to help me with the kids while Greg is gone to the states. I was explaining to them that I have grown here in a way that I might not have grown in the states in the area of complaining. Whenever I complain or sense the urge to complain, all I have to do is think of someone worse off than me and it immediately puts me back in my place. It isn’t too hard to see “that person” that is worse off than me in this city of a million where many are without work, public education is one of the worst in the world, and justice does not play out in many situations. Over the past month I can recall three ways that I was touched by circumstances I hadn’t personally encountered before. I knew these situations existed, but they became more real to me through people that I interact with in Arequipa.

While Greg has been gone I take Ana to school with the three kids in a taxi every morning. You can imagine the English conversation that goes on in the second seat. It makes many taxi drivers curious, and many times, they ask where we are from or why we are here. One particular morning last week, the taxi driver tried to speak a little English with me. I applauded him for his language skills and began to ask him where he learned English. He had taken English classes while studying to become a high school teacher in history. He said that he needed to continue his classes but he didn’t have the money. I asked him where he taught. He explained that it was very hard to find a job in his profession and the jobs available paid very little money. He had to resort to driving a taxi because it paid more money than teaching and he has a family to support. His passion is to teach history to high school kids, but he has become very pessimistic in thinking that his dream would ever become a reality.

One of the few news stations we get here is CNN International. They have had a series of documentaries on the problem of sex slavery in the world. I realize that it is a huge problem, but I had not been “touched” by it until this month. One of our church member’s sister went missing the end of last month after his brother testified against a gang member. The brother was threatened to watch his back along with his family. Our brother in Christ greatly worried about his sister, because it was evident the gang members had taken her, not even 15 years old, and would sell her into sex trafficking if the police didn’t find her first. Praise be to God, the police did find her, and she has returned to her family. Unfortunately, she has physical and emotional scars to live with the rest of her life, and the gang members got away. The family continues to live out their lives in fear of something else happening to them.

One more story a sister in Christ has been sharing with me that she has an illness that does not have a cure. She has searched the internet for a possible solution, but all she can find is remedies involving plants from other countries. One day she explained to me that she would tell me about her illness some day. That day came, and aside from the details of how she contracted the disease, she shared that she is HIV positive.

I don’t mean to write a depressing article this month. I guess what God is teaching me is that in this life, so many hardships exist. It is hard to explain why it is so hard for some people. We live in a broken world, and I don’t have all the answers for why things happen the way that they do. My sister that is sick has accepted Christ, and she has truly experienced what it means to have a new life. Although she lives with very tangible evidence of her past life, the old has gone and she has been renewed. This is an incredible testimony to me. Our Christian brother that has been threatened by the gang has a choice to live in fear or live for the one that says, “Do not fear for I am with you.” He came to the church asking for prayers and I believe that he knows that we serve a God that does away with fear. In my conversation with the taxi driver, he shared with me that he is a Christian and meets with a body of believers that is like family to him. When his life seems dreary and unfulfilling, he can call on his Christian family in times of need.

So what is the point of all of this? Life is hard, but God is there. What will I do, or how will I handle myself when hard circumstances are staring me in the face? I have accepted to follow Christ. What does that mean, and how does that translate when things don’t go as planned? My article doesn’t hold a lot of answers. I just wanted to share three stories of people that have been dealt a pretty ugly hand in this life. But they have hung on, and they continue to walk with the Spirit. Personally, I don’t have much to complain about. But when I do, I will remember the Peruvians that have taught me a little glimpse of what it means to persevere and trust in the name of the Lord our God.

October 2011

September 2011

TA Newsletter article September 2011:

Can I get a witness?

I don’t know if it has occurred to any of you back home, but this month marks three years that we have been in Arequipa. Feliz Aniversario! That is unbelievable to me. When I use the word “unbelievable” it’s not so much that I can’t believe we have been living in Peru for that period of time but what God has been able to do in that period. I step back from all of it, and I really am overwhelmed with thankfulness for you all back home. You are our supporters, and four years ago when we made the move to start our six months in Tyler, TX, we emphasized the fact that the field workers don’t make up this team, ALL of us make up this team. And for this month, I want to share with you that I am deeply humbled to be a witness first-hand to what the Lord has been accomplishing here in Arequipa.

House churches

When raising support, many mission committees we met with were very pessimistic about the model we chose. As a team, we had no idea how it would go. If failure happened, we would go with something else, but in our hearts we wanted something simple and easy to reproduce among the poor here in Arequipa, and our two supporting churches had faith in us and supported us in this decision for the work. In three years, we have gone from sitting at the table as two gringo families to four house churches! Three meet in homes, one meets in the library, and one of the home meetings is in our targeted area of Naranjal where many of our developmental projects have happened. God be praised for the growth we have seen in the Peruvians. Once a month, all of the small groups gather for what we call our celebration meeting.

Leadership

Something we have always said is that the work here isn’t complete until Peruvian leadership is in place. That time is still not here, but for the past 6 months there has been a weekly “Leaders Meeting.” Leaders from the four house churches meet together to pray and discuss the direction of the churches. Our Peruvians are gifted in so many areas and it is neat to see the Spirit use those individuals to use their gifts for the kingdom. We strongly believe that discipleship is crucial to the church continuing when we leave. That has been a top priority among our core group of Christians.

We meet in small groups of 3-4 people (all women or all men). One of our newest Christians attended my group this past week. I love her observations because everything is brand new to her. After the meeting she asked why we only meet as women. I explained the reasoning behind the groups and commented that I really like it. She replied, “It is really different to study without the men around. I really like it too.” She was able to be very open in the meeting and seek out counsel from two of our most mature Peruvian Christians. That is how it’s supposed to work folks.

Developmental work

This is an area that I am just in awe. God HAD to be at work in this facet of the ministry for any success to come about, and he has! None of us had training in starting an NGO when we came here. Most of you are aware of the water and latrine projects out at Naranjal. Our relationship continues to grow with that community. We are about to inaugurate a library there. Kyle has done an outstanding job with the loan program. So many of you have given toward those loans, and it is growing in leaps and bounds. One very neat thing about those loans is that one of our house churches sprang from a group that was connected to two of our borrowers. They were a group of Christians with no leadership, and they came to Kyle to ask to be led. We couldn’t ask for more in creating a holistic relationship with those people.

I have been most involved in the library work. Our Porvenir location has thrived, but mainly because that is where we have placed all of our man-power. We have opened and closed several libraries from lack of community involvement. But in the three years we have been here, I have concluded (through several of these failures) that opening the libraries in schools is the best option. Not only has my passion for reaching out to children grown more and more, but I have a renewed passion to help educators here with no resources. As a teacher, I can empathize with the educators here that have limited resources to pull from. Through his awesome power, God has connected us to another NGO in the city that is looking for guidance in helping a particular school in an impoverished area. We are collaborating with them and partnering to make literacy a higher priority in those children’s lives. So by the end of October, there will be four working libraries in existence.

I could continue, but this is supposed to be an article and not a book. Ha! I want to mention some things in the works: three of our Peruvian Christians taking over and steer-heading the developmental projects, launching a university-aged ministry with a student center, and the evangelism going on among the Peruvians to their friends and family. As a witness to the past three years I am beyond excited to see what God can do in the next three.

God be praised for all that has gone on here in this city. We are excited to welcome our medical campaign group in October (made up of Shiloh and Cedar Lane members). You all back home are such an encouragement to us here in the field. We are honored to work with you as Team Arequipa, and we cannot wait to see what else God has in store for the coming years.

September 2011

August 2011

TA Newsletter August 2011:

Audience of One

If you read our family site or read my articles, you may be sick of hearing this from me. I feel like I am still in a continuous transition in life. It is exciting, though, because I know God is shaping me and molding me. He continues to make me into what he wants me to be. I want to confess to you that I am a people-pleaser. I don’t think that being a people-pleaser is an overall bad thing, but Satan has a way with taking my selfish thoughts and using them for his glory.

The hardest part of this transition process that I am going through is letting go of things that I deem important, but that I just don’t have the time or energy to do. It is hard for me to let go of these things because they are the things I can write to you about and receive praise: Things that I am helping with here. Ways that I am trying to grow the kingdom. Opportunities that I am investing myself in to do my part of the work. I, me, myself, my–are you seeing the theme here? I have this burning desire within me to have you guys at home pat me on the back. I know this feeling and motivation is not from the Lord.

I have gone through some funks during the last few months with adjusting to a new baby, a new home, and family really being my most time-consuming priority. I have typed and said aloud that this is a good priority, and I am happy with fulfilling this role. In one of my cry sessions to Greg (bless him) not too long ago, I expressed my frustration in not being as involved in the “work” here. I want to do my part. I want to be more active with the kids at the library. I want to invest more time in evangelistic relationships, etc. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “Megan, you say you are okay with keeping family and our home your top priority and that your happy with it.” I shook my head yes. He continued, “You say it, but I don’t think you believe it.” Isn’t it nice to have someone know you so well? He hit it dead on, and I have done some serious praying, contemplating, and reflecting. Along with that comes dreaming of the future, thinking more about what my role for the Kingdom looks like now, and really and truly finding contentment in where I find myself.

Children of God have a way of finding him when they seek him. I think there is a verse or two on this idea so why does it surprise me when it happens? This August God has blessed me multiple times in ways to affirm me (and I should live as if he is my audience of one). Greg has been doing an evangelistic study with two young mothers and Etelvina, one of our Christian sisters here. They would meet every Thursday evening in Etelvina’s home. For all of this month, they have had to meet in our home because Etelvina’s house was having some work done, and her son was sick. The first night they came I was delighted to meet two moms that seem to be in the same life situation as me–caring for little ones. One mom brings her 7 year and 13 month old. The other mom brings an 11 year, 8 year, and 6 month old. The older girls play with my two oldest while I babysit the two little ones (I have been blessed that Cohen sleeps through the study). I am not “evangelizing” these women or participating in the study, but I know what it feels like to not totally pay attention because of children. So my ministry is taking those babies and caring for them so that those two young mothers can delve into the word and be less distracted. After the first night was over I looked at Greg and said, “We are a team!” It wasn’t as though we haven’t been a team, but God hit me in the head with an opportunity to take part in the work and feel like I am being used. If there is any part of this ministry that I am excelling at right now it is in the childcare category.

Another blessing came through a conversation I had with a dear friend here. This friend actually moved to another country to pursue her masters degree. I have been a little bummed about her leaving because I wanted to have a deeper conversation about faith before her departure, but it never worked out. I have had this relationship for close to the three years I have lived here. My friend asked me to look out for her mother and check on her. The other day we Skyped, and she thanked me for being a support to her. She said I am the only person that she has shared her family’s struggles with, and she has full trust in my word to her. She said she could not understand why I would invest my time in her and believe in her the way that I have but she was so grateful. She is having a hard time in her new location–feeling homesick for Arequipa and constantly worrying about her mother. Even though I am not sitting down in a Bible study with this friend (I hope a day will come when we can), she made it evident in her words that we are on a deeper level of friendship and that she trusts me and admires the way I am trying to live my life here. My heart was smiling so big after that conversation. On a side note, this Peruvian friend speaks English fluently. We started our relationship on the basis that she could keep up her English by speaking to me. For those of you that know my struggle with the Spanish language, do you see why this is an even bigger blessing?

I could tell you more stories, but let’s just say that I am feeling much better about my purpose in the kingdom. Slowly but surely I am finding full contentment in my ministry as a wife and mother, but God has shown me ways that he can still use me for his glory outside of this role. Do you ever see a situation in your walk of faith and question if it is one of those works that God prepared you for in advance (Ephesians 2:10)? I love it when the Spirit seems to push me because I was prepared to do something. I leave you with this verse from Colossians 3:15-17:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

August 2011

July 2011

TA Article July 2011:

A couple of reflections over this last month:

I have really enjoyed the interns this summer. It has been fun to have four extra “girlfriends” to giggle with. I have also really enjoyed having their help in the library work. Each of the girls was responsible for preparing a reading and activity for a library day. When I travel to our Cristo library (which is located way up from our neighborhood), I take one of the small public buses. One Saturday, Stephanie (an intern), traveled with me in the small bus up to Cristo for the library event. We were as crammed as could be in that little bus. I jokingly told her that I felt like I could really be in shape if I rode in the position I did for 10 minutes every day. I was literally aching when I got out of the bus from being so uncomfortable. I saw our situation as a “teachable moment” (that is for all the education majors out there). I told Stephanie that she had the opportunity to learn a lot of things this summer, but one thing I hope all of our visitors carry home with them is a new perspective on the world. There was a little old man (probably in his 80’s) that kept getting so cranky with me because my feet kept getting in his leg room–mind you, he was sitting and I was crouched and standing the entire time. I got so tickled at him because it seemed so ridiculous for him to get to be the grumpy one out of the two of us. But I shared with Stephanie that I would probably be grumpy too if I had to use that public bus system for 80 years. I have the money to take a taxi if I am running late. I have the convenience and money to take a taxi if I have my children with me and don’t want to cram myself and them onto the bus. Who am I to complain about such things? These people have it so much harder than I can ever imagine. The majority of the people cannot ever afford to take a taxi. I could give you countless other examples from our lives here like this, but that is one that I shared with Stephanie this past month.

We attended the wake for Abraham’s father. This funeral caused me to experience so many different emotions. For those of you that don’t know, Greg extensively studied the history of missions in Peru before we ever arrived here. He knew names, dates, locations, etc. When we met Abraham, and Abraham introduced Greg to his parents for the first time it was such a neat meeting. Abraham’s father is one of the founding fathers of the church here in Peru. Greg connected names to places and realized all of this in that first encounter with him. We have always had such admiration and respect for this man. Abraham asked Greg to share his reflection of his first meeting with his father at the wake. As I sat there listening to Greg speak, I was flooded with gratefulness for this man and his legacy. He lived a long and fruitful life, serving God for the greater good of the Kingdom. He raised five children with his sweet wife, and they are all faithful to a calling to live for God. Being the middle of five children, I got a little weepy at the thought of children becoming a living testimony to how a parent lives out their life. This made me think of my own parents and siblings, but it also made me think of myself and the children that Greg and I are raising in the Lord. What am I doing with my life, and what will people share at my wake one day? What ripple affect will me being here in Peru have for the Kingdom or in this world? The other big thing that made me weepy was looking over at Senora Olivera, Abraham’s mother. What a sad day to see your partner in ministry go before you. But on the other hand, what a joy to have lived a full life with a ministry partner at your side, knowing that he is in a better place and you will be joining him soon. Obviously, this made me think of my ministry partner, and I was overwhelmed with thankfulness.

July 2011

June 2011

TA Newsletter article June 2011:

Our winter (your summer) is flying by! There is so much going on around Arequipa these days. Let’s catch up

All four of our interns made it safely to the city. They have been here for close to 3 weeks now. Their names are Hope, April, Stephanie, and Manet. Three are studying education and Spanish at Harding. With the library work we have going, I think our internship is an excellent opportunity for them. Manet comes to us from ACU, and is studying family and marriage therapy. She is fluent in Spanish and has already struck up evangelistic conversations in regard to her major. I have thoroughly enjoyed having these girls around. Our family and the Smiths host one intern, and Rachel houses the other two.

Greg and Kyle are working hard on some presentation material for the Global Missions Conference in the states for October. It will be an excellent opportunity to network with other churches and Christians and to share about our loan program and the work going on here. They will also be making some quick trips over to Harding University and Abilene Christian to spread the word and talk with any interested in possibly joining the work here. We need your help! We do not have the funds budgeted for this trip. Also, Alfredo, one of our Chrstian brothers, is going to make the trip with them. You can help us by going to our icdu.org website and donating or giving a donation to one of our support team members. We would love to purchase their plane tickets as soon as possible. Please be praying for this opportunity.

We had a celebration service this past Sunday. It is always neat to meet as a large group and share in the Lord. There are new faces every time we meet which is exciting. Personally, I have a lot of work to do in growing relationships with many of these people. The other Sundays we continue to meet in two different groups. Those seem to be going well.

The team is still hard at work. There will be a third group of believers to begin meeting tomorrow out at Naranjal (Manuela’s community). Greg and Kyle will be traveling to that meeting together. Rachel will be teaching the kids’ class out there as well. There are several Bible studies going on. Larissa just completed one that we are all praying about. It was with one of our church member’s wives. We pray to see her accept Christ in the future. Please pray for all of the studies going on. Speaking of Larissa, if you haven’t heard the news, she is pregnant! We are excited for the Smith family. Larissa is due at the end of December.

My family has reached what seems to be our new normal. Cohen is growing like a weed, and I am slowly but surely adjusting to this new 3-kid scene. Thanks to all of you for your well wishes, prayers, and encouragement. The interns will be here another month, and then we will be more than half-way through the year. I can’t believe how fast it is going.

June 2011