I am going to take a moment to sit down and thank God for an opportunity here in Arequipa. I want to share that opportunity here on our blog, because it is a huge part of the way we have seen God at work here.
I have known since middle school that I wanted to be a teacher. I love to be creative. I used to say that I wanted to be a writer, poet, and illustrator. I would write children’s books and spend hours drawing and coloring the pictures or even creating pop-ups, or life-the-flaps. I remember writing a letter to Beverly Cleary and getting a response. I was elated. I was captivated by Roald Dahl, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Nancy Drew. I loved so many of my teachers (that influenced how I would teach), and I took mental notes in my head of how not to teach (from other various teachers).
When I started at Harding in 2000, I majored in education. There was a lot of talk of domestic missions, and I remember deciding that I wanted to be a missionary in the public school system. I wouldn’t pay attention to guest speakers from small private Christian schools. I wanted to teach in schools where poverty was evident, where kids needed to be loved. I had a wonderful childhood with brothers and a sister that I call friends to this day. I had a close relationship to my mom and dad. I was never in want, and they taught me such wonderful lessons to use in life (many of those are easy to pick up on when living on a farm).
I really enjoyed my education classes at Harding, and I decided to teach middle school. I loved that age.
My freshmen year at Harding, I was signed up to attend the HUF (Harding University in Florence, Italy) semester my junior year. But one day in chapel, a new program was announced. Harding wanted people interested to sign up for the very first HULA semester abroad (Harding University in Latin America). I have always been intrigued by the Latin culture. I LOVED my Spanish classes in high school. I had even planned to minor in Spanish at Harding, but a freshmen year soccer injury forced me to cut those hours out of my schedule. I had always thought it would be beneficial to be able to speak in Spanish in the classroom. Well, a picture of Machu Picchu flashed across the big screen during that presentation, and I was sold.
I am a planner. I like to know what is ahead. It was completely out of my comfort zone, but I remember calling my Dad coming out of chapel that day, and saying, “I think I want to change my semester abroad program from HUF to Chile.” I was on the HULA list within the week.
My HULA semester and how I met Greg is a whole other blog post, but to make that story short… we met, we fell in love, we started dating our Spring semester of our junior year.
I knew exactly what Greg wanted to do with his life after graduating. It is one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with him. And he clearly explained to me that his devotion to God came before anything or anyone else. That was a little bit hard for me to swallow in thinking about an “ultimatum” for dating him. I mean, God had given me a purpose for how I could serve him after graduating too. If we were to get married, why did it have to be me that gave up my dream for what God seemed to be working up in my life?
Well, I just fell more and more in love with this man, and I decided that along with planning to teach, I also strongly desired to be a mother. And a mother is a teacher, right? So I could certainly fulfill that role in the mission field with Greg… Peru more specifically. We knew at that point that Arequipa, Peru was the place we would land after preparing for several more years.
After graduation, we moved to Memphis for Greg to complete his MDiv in a 3-year whirlwind. I taught 7th grade science, and I was also able to complete my masters in curriculum and instruction. I worked as a grad assist for a very wise woman who also lived in the mission field (her name is Ileene Huffard). She strongly encouraged me to get my masters, because a masters in developing countries are seen as doctoral degrees. I thought, “Why not?” I finished my masters, and we moved on from Memphis to spend 6 months with each of our supporting churches.
One year later, we arrived in the beautiful Arequipa, Peru. I was a momma to a beautiful 17-month old girl, and I was ready to dive into culture and language learning. I had no clue what difficulties were ahead.
I stunk at learning Spanish. My teammates all exceeded with ease (or so it seemed to me). I was lonely. I was an extrovert that sounded like a 2-year-old. And I was pregnant with our second daughter. I will never forget the kindness shown to me by one of our supporting churches. I love hot tea. One day, in the mail, I received a large envelope. In the envelope was a Ziplock bag with all kinds of different teas. Each tea bag had an encouraging scripture attached to it by paperclip. On the other side of the card, a different person had handwritten a note to cheer me on in my Spanish learning. The tears flowed that day from experiencing such a love from friends and family back home. But at the same time, I doubted God. Why had he brought me so far into this missionary life just for me to fail at not communicating well. It is kind of hard to live in a place where you can’t talk well. I was the dumb parent at school. I never understood the conversations we had in our church meetings or when inviting Peruvians over. I felt like such a burden to Greg, because I would have to ask him to translate most everything for me. I really didn’t get this whole Peru plan that I thought I would be prepared for.
I could also write an entire other blog post on our relationship to Alfredo Oporto. But to make that long story short, we decided to start a community library program for one of our first projects in the NGO we began here called CUDA (Christian Urban Development Association). Alfredo led us to this idea, and he helped us jump through so many hoops in a short amount of time that would have taken ignorant foreigners years to figure out.
With my limited Spanish, I began to plan fun activities for library kids ranging from 4 years old to sixth grade. I loved using my skill set to figure these activities out for the lessons, but it was so frustrating to still not speak really well, and to be dealing with kids from so many different learning levels. Also, one week we would have 12 kids, another week we would have 2. We couldn’t plan a curriculum, because attendance was so spotty.
Fast forward about 2.5 years later… after wrestling with how our library project could be sustainable, I knew that the community libraries could not work in this way. The people of the community had good intentions to help when we originally set up the libraries, but it wasn’t realistic for them to run the libraries without help. They didn’t have the time or the resources.
It dawned on me one day. Who has the time and the resources to teach children reading here? The teachers already being paid by the government, of course. We closed down our community libraries (actually we were kicked out of our last space, which in my opinion was like God closing the door), and we signed an agreement to work with three third grade classes in an all-girls school and an all-boys school. I knew that the schools needed a library space, and I wanted my goal to be to train teachers in the reading comprehension strategies that I had learned in my education at Harding.
So in 2012, I had a group of 3 teachers in the national schools, the two principals, and two workers in a community library that another NGO was running. I would meet with them once a month to discuss a reading strategy, and then I would visit their classrooms once a week to model lessons using those strategies in a 45 minute lesson. My Spanish had improved, but I still had to work so hard to practice reading stories I would use ahead of time, or to translate how to ask the questions I needed to have prepared. With a huge school strike that year, I only got through 3 of the strategies, but I built good relationships with the teachers involved, and my Spanish had improved tremendously.
Our NGO was growing. There were other successful projects, and our team had found its groove in this city with new relationships and connections to Peruvians in charge of things that could help us. In 2013, we installed our very first Living Library. The school had to provide a space, and we would be serving the entire school. All of the teachers would attend a once-a-month staff development to learn the strategies. In the Living Library curriculum, I planned two lessons for modeling every strategy, one library day to enjoy reading and invite volunteers to come in and read with the kids, and one library day at the end of the month for the teachers to show a lesson using the strategy (where we observed and gave constructive-criticism). One of the biggest blessings to me in 2013, was the addition of a Peruvian director for our Living Libraries program. Lucia was hired to help me. Throughout that year, she observed my lessons, and by the final months, she was teaching and doing an excellent job. It was so helpful to have a Peruvian on the team that understood the politics of the Peruvian education system.
Lucia and I dream big of what can be. We discussed the possibility of an international education campaign offered to education professionals throughout Arequipa. We also dreamed of expanding our team in order to equip another Peruvian teacher, and to be able to serve more schools.
Now, in 2014, we are in our second school (which is big enough to count as two). CUDA hired an additional Peruvian teacher, Nancy, who is doing an exceptional job. We have two full-time volunteers, Bethany and Briana, that are here to live and do mission work in Arequipa. And next week, we will host our very first education campaign in one of the major universities in Arequipa. We will have speakers from Lima, Arequipa, and the United States… including me. 🙂
About 8 years ago, I supposedly “gave up” my dream to be a missionary in the public school system in order to follow God’s call to Peru with my husband and family. I struggled so much with why he had brought me here, and how in the world I would ever do anything without speaking the language.
Well, I sit here on my couch this morning, and I am overwhelmed by his faithfulness. You see, he was preparing me to be a missionary in the public school system. I just didn’t specify the country in my prayers apparently. 😉 Not only am I working with schools, teaching children from poverty, and designing lessons for an entire reading curriculum. Next week, I will participate in one of the biggest education campaigns that Arequipa has ever hosted. I will speak IN SPANISH to those that come for the seminar. And I will sit and visit with the other speakers, who are some of the biggest names in education in Peru. One of the speakers is the man that caused Peruvian education law to change and include a plan for reading in the past several years!
Sometimes we find ourselves in a valley, and we cry out “WHY?” or “HOW?” I know many of those moments in my journey here in Arequipa.
But what a blessing when we find ourselves looking back over many years. And we see how God’s story is so intricately designed. We find ourselves in his story, fulfilling his mission. And it is so obvious that God prepared us all along the way to do something more than we could ask or imagine.
As Chrysanthemum’s teacher says in one of our library books, “Wow. That is all I can say. Wow.”
CUDA’s Living Library project can be found HERE.
I hope to write a blog post on how our campaign goes next week. Ileene Huffard, my graduate professor that encouraged me to get my master before coming here, arrives tomorrow with one of my other reading professors from Harding, Clara Carroll. I cannot wait to show them what is going on here in Arequipa first-hand. God is at work. Isn’t he amazing!?