Celebrating Life

(I waited to post this until it was published in our team newsletter for January 2013.  You can read the whole newsletter HERE.)

This month, I turned 31 years old. It was my 5th birthday to celebrate in Arequipa. I decided this year that I wanted a “night out” with some girlfriends on my big day. I wanted to share a picture from that night, and tell you why each of these relationships are special to me during this time.

Nadia is my neighbor, and if you have kept up with our story here you know that Nadia was baptized last year. She is such a dear friend to me. We both share the same profession. She has volunteered with me in the library program at times, and I love having a Peruvian friend to talk to about cultural differences in the school system. Also, we started our friendship right at a time when I needed someone just like her. She came requesting English classes (I desperately needed those conversations in my native tongue). Our English class turned into a Bible study. Nadia was the first person with whom I shared the story of Jesus. I will never forget that. During furlough, I found a Willow Tree Angel holding a book. I bought it for Nadia and gave it to her for her birthday in November. I told her that she would always remember me when she saw that little figurine on her table. For my birthday, she gave me a little figurine that she bought in the market here. You can bet that wherever I am living in 50 years that little figurine will be in a place that I can see.

Sitting next to Nadia is Areli. What a beautiful personality that girl has! She is Etelvina's daughter. (Etelvina is a dear sister in the church who we absolutely love to pieces.) The thing I love about my relationship to Areli is that we are kindred spirits in laughter. If you know me, you know that I love to laugh. Sometimes, when crossing cultures, it is hard to feel like you understand jokes or are able to be funny around those from a culture different than yours. That is not the case with this amiga. I find such joy in hearing her laughter, and it is contagious. We don't need to sit together in a meeting where no noise is allowed. Ha! Areli and I have been studying the book of Mark together. She is such a good person, and she is earnestly seeking something deeper for her life. It is my prayer that she decides to follow Christ whole-heartedly in the near future. God has blessed me with a friend to laugh with, and I am so blessed by her friendship.

That gringa you might not recognize is named Katie Daggett. Katie and her husband, Jeremy, are part of the team moving to Arequipa in 2014. They decided to come to Arequipa and take 2 months of language classes to better prepare themselves for the field. What is really special about the two of them is that they are where Greg and I were 7 years ago. Jeremy is studying at Harding School of Theology in Memphis, and the two of them are about to work with the same Hispanic church where Greg and I worked during our time in Memphis. It has been such a blessing to get to know them better, to share dreams about the future work here in Arequipa, and to answer the many questions they have about moving here. For me, Katie symbolizes the things to come in Arequipa. I am excited that my family's remaining time will overlap some with her family, but I am even more excited to see what God will do through them and the rest of their team in the years to come. Pray for Team Arequipa 2.0. We are so excited about them joining the work here.

Next to Katie is Emilia. Oh how I love Emilia. She has been a Christian for many years, and she recently moved to Arequipa from Lima. Her joy and fervor for the Lord are contagious, and she has such a passion to work in children's ministry. Larissa and I know that Emilia was a God-send to our church in the realm of working with the children. It is wonderful to see a Peruvian that is mature in faith. She has blood family in the city, but she thrives on spending as much time with her brothers and sisters in Christ as she can. She knows a little bit of English, and we get such a kick out of her practicing and asking questions. She is so much fun to be around. My children love “Bible class with Emilia,” and I thank God for a Christian sister that is equipped to help teach them when the church is together.

You should recognize that other gringa. I told Larissa the other day that it will be so hard to know life without her family in our lives (as in the same city) when the day of our departure comes. We shared our time in Memphis with the Smiths to prepare for our mission work. We shared in the joy of having our first children in Memphis (there is only a 3 month difference between Ana and Shaye). We moved together to live for 6 months in Tyler and 6 months in Arequipa. We have not known this work without the Smiths. We love them dearly, and we have been through so much together in our time here. Larissa knows a part of me that no one else can understand. We have lived, grieved, rejoiced, waited, misunderstood, been confused, and celebrated as missionary wives in Arequipa, Peru. There just aren't too many people that I share that with. I love her dearly, and it will sadden me greatly when the day comes that we separate. But I am so grateful for her service to the kingdom in this city. I am grateful for how she strives to be a good wife and mother. And I am grateful for her friendship as a friend, but much more so as a sister in Christ.

It was a very special group of people that night. It is hard to imagine that I only have one more birthday left to celebrate in Arequipa. But God has certainly given me a reason to celebrate life here.

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Celebrating Life

Happy Birthday, Granny!

one of the most beautiful and funniest spirits I have ever known

Granny,

We celebrate 81 years of your life today!  It is a day like today that I wish I lived close to you.  I spent the first 18 years of my life a 10 minute car ride away, and that is the reason that I am so close to you.  I hope Granddad got you a box of Krispy Kreme Donuts today.  I know you would probably just as well see your birthday candles on some donuts.

You have been very sick this past year, and you bounced back.  I actually made an emergency trip home because they thought you weren't going to make it.  But you know what you told me?  You said, “Megan, I can't wait to see your family this fall when you come back.”  And you meant it.  The picture above with my girls is my proof.  And I love and cherish that my girls have memories of being silly with you.

You are currently recovering from 3 different hip replacement surgeries.  You are one of the bravest, strongest, most vibrant women I have ever known.  You are my hero, and I wish that you weren't spending this birthday in the bed unable to walk, unable to see clearly, and in constant pain from the arthritis that has slowly taken over your body.

Many have told me that I get my humor from you.  I wish that I could see your smile and hear you laugh.  You have brought me such joy throughout my entire life.  I am honored to share the same birth month with you.

So today, I will try and call Granddad's phone while he sits with you.  If you are having a good day, you will talk to me.  But many of your days are not good days, and you just don't feel up to talking.  That is okay, but I pray that your birthday is full of joy today.  You are loved by so many, and you have been a blessing to so many.

I love you, Lou Ellen.  I wish I could eat a Krispy Kreme with you today.

All my love,

Margaret Ellen (or as you would call me, “Meggy”)

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Happy Birthday, Granny!

31 Things that Living in Arequipa, Peru Has Taught Me

Yep.  I am 31 years old today.  “Happy getting older!” my husband encouraged me with this morning.  (He is five months younger, and he will hold it over my head the rest of my life.)  That is less than 10 years away from turning 40.  That is 10 years away from getting used to the idea that my oldest daughter is 16.

But… that is 8 years of marriage, almost 6 years of being a mom, and five times that I have celebrated my birthday in a foreign country.

I am a fan of lists.  I decided that this year, I would make a list of “31 things living in Arequipa has taught me.”  Some are more serious, some are trivial.  But I have to say, living in this beautiful city has taught me a lot.  It is hard to believe that 2 years from this birthday, our family will be making the next big transition in our lives.  I am going to savor these two years, and I am sure I will have many more points to add when all is said and done.  So, Year #33, don't come too quickly…

“As the mountains surround Jerusalem” is a very real song in Arequipa.

31 Things that Living in Arequipa, Peru Has Taught Me

  1. When you live so far away from family and friends, you are forced to make your family unit (spouse and children) the closest things to you.  It seems that my marriage to Greg has matured at a faster rate because of this factor.
  2. When you celebrate holidays far away from family, it is easier to create new family traditions for your own little family unit.
  3. I knew what having no electricity was like before moving here (ice storms, lightning storms), but I had never experienced my water being cut for long periods of time.  It is disgusting.  But you know what, you can survive without a shower for multiple days.  🙂
  4. In some places the “ice cream truck music” is only played by trash trucks. (I have heard nursery rhymes, “The Little Mermaid,” and the “Harry Potter” theme song played by the trash truck here!)
  5. When you buy the imported canned cherries to make a Valentine cherry pie, always make sure you check for the pits.  (We had a great-spittin' time that V-Day, didn't we Greg?  Ha!)
  6. The first Thanksgiving that you prepare sweet potato casserole, your brown sugar topping might be a little crunchy if you didn't realize that packaged pecans still contain the hulls.  (hehehe)
  7. So many U.S. recipes call for a can of stewed tomatoes.  It really isn't hard to make your own and freeze them in plastic bags, and it is much cheaper in the long run.
  8. Radiated milk is gross.  But you get used to it after awhile.  It helps that the Oreos taste good here also.
  9. The people smile really big at you if you tell them that your child is an Arequipeño(a).  Tourists can't say things like that.
  10. Sometimes it is important as a missionary to do things as the foreign culture suggests.  Sometimes it is okay to go against the culture.  (Birthday parties really shouldn't cost that much.)  Even though many cultural differences exist, there is a Christ culture that Christians share anywhere in the world.
  11. Sometimes a five-year-old daughter can speak Spanish better than her thirty-one-year-old mother.  But it is pretty neat to see your kids speak a second language fluently.
  12. It doesn't matter how many years you live here, if you have white skin and blue eyes, you will always be “the freak show” walking down the sidewalk.  Mini-gringos make it even worse.  And the people here are not afraid to touch your child's face or hair out of curiosity.
  13. Living in a high altitude makes baking interesting.
  14. Even though jalapeños are hard to come by (sometimes they are imported through Lima), you can still pull off a pretty good Tex-Mex meal using aji límo.  My husband has a pretty killer salso recipe using all fresh ingredients here.
  15. Salchicha francés and chorizo argentino are pretty good substitutes for recipes that call for Italian sausage.
  16. When you live in a place with petite people, it is hard to find larger shoe sizes and long pants.
  17. One of the greatest blessings for missionaries is seeing the generosity of God's church in action.
  18. Llamas is pronounced “yamas.”
  19. The guinea pig is seen as a delicacy on a restaurant menu and not as a pet.
  20. To compete with other stores that sell the same product, you must find a spot on the same street as them and offer lower prices.  When you ask, “Where can I buy a lamp?”  there will be an entire street with lamp stores.
  21. Crab empanadas are super delicious… as well as parmesan-crusted scallops.  Come to think of it, seafood is delicious when you live an hour and a half from the coast.  Greg makes some killer gumbo on Christmas Eve every year with fresh crab and shrimp.
  22. The open market of fresh fruits and vegetables is beautiful, delicious, and healthy.  Super markets just don't compare.
  23. “Tacos” here are not something you eat; they are high heels.  It sounds really weird to say that you have a craving for high heels.
  24. Skype is a wonderful blessing for relationships that reside countries apart.
  25. I have a deep sense of empathy for foreigners that cannot speak English well in the U.S.  I have an even greater sense of empathy for foreign parents with children in the U.S. public school system.  I have been in their shoes in this place, and it is not fun to feel like you are the “stupid” mom.
  26. Feta cheese is delicious, and nothing really serves as a substitute for it.  It is a shame that they can't import Feta, but I am thankful for the Bleu cheese we buy here.
  27. Real Tex-Mex tastes absolutely wonderful when you haven't eaten it in over a year's time.  (Praise for furlough!)
  28. There is such thing as perfect weather day after day after day.  It is called Arequipa.  But there is also such thing as perfect weather getting old. (I have missed seasonal changes.)
  29. It is very easy to get frustrated with people who are late or things not getting done quickly.  It is especially easy to grow impatient with people not showing up to meetings in the rainy season.  But anytime you feel like criticizing the people here, spend a day on their public transportation (the combis), and then do it again on a day in the rain.  Or see what happens to their homes when the rains come.  It is all about perspective.
  30. Flapping your hand violently in the air as if there is no bone in it is the proper act to call a taxi or communicate to the combi driver that you want to get on.
  31. It is possible to bawl your eyes out when moving to a foreign country because you know how much you will miss your family, friends, and home.  It is also possible to not want to think about the day you will move back because you know you will bawl your eyes out over missing your Peruvian family, friends, and home.  After five birthdays in Arequipa, it feels like home.
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31 Things that Living in Arequipa, Peru Has Taught Me

In Memoriam: Ken Neller

Ken Neller was the only teacher who ever told me to stop whining. He was the only teacher who ever had to—the one who pushed me out of the shallow end of biblical studies and waited for me to meet his expectation that I would swim. That is a debt I cannot repay and a memory that I cherish. I found myself as an academic while I struggled to write his term papers, and I discovered a love of biblical Greek under his strict tutelage. My memories of Dr. Neller have indelibly marked my image of what a teacher should be. He never lowered his standard of scholarship as a teacher of Bible and Ministry to students who were more eager to play than study, but he always went the extra mile to relate to his students. I remember sitting in a restaurant as a freshman discussing the Jesus Seminar, because he wanted to encourage my extra-curricular questions over a sandwich instead of in an office. I remember the cookouts at his house with the Bible majors and the many extra hours spent with the “Bible Majors’ Club.” I remember his guest presentations at the Society for Near Eastern Archaeology. I remember the end-of-semester invitation to do our final Greek reading in 1 Corinthians over coffee in the student center—his treat. And I remember his faithfulness to pray before each class; candid, earnest prayers that made me feel glad for the people he shepherded at Downtown.

You were steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, and your labor was not in vain. I look forward to seeing you again, Dr. Neller.

μαράνα θά.

In Memoriam: Ken Neller