Full Circle

When we moved to Arequipa in 2008, we found an apartment that was “almost ready.” “Almost ready” turned into six weeks. If you know Greg at all, it won’t surprise you at all that he had to have… a coffee maker. We lived in that room with our 17-month-old, nine suitcases, her pack-n-play, and a coffee pot for those six weeks.

I couldn’t resist taking a picture today after we cleared out the rest of the furniture. First of all, a pic of Manuela with JUST the furniture she is taking home with her. Her house will be transformed with a “McKinzie touch” I do believe. It makes us happy when the things that made our home here end up in homes of those we love so dearly. Here is Manuela and her new boatload of furniture…

2015-01-07 06.11.57Here is what we have left to sustain us through tomorrow (teammates feeding us tonight will obviously help in the eating category). Coffee, water, and internet: what more do we need? Aside from not having a 17-month-old with us, full circle! 😉

2015-01-07 08.10.53The other fun “full circle” story is our office for CUDA (the non-profit we started in the first year that we lived here). We lived one block from the Plaza in Yanahuara and our office was located in Alto Selva Alegre, one block from Holy Spirit Park. Now… we live in Alto Selva Alegre (about 3-4 blocks from Holy Spirit Park) and our office is in Yanahuara about 3 blocks from the Plaza. How crazy fun is that?!

Full circle, people. But we got crazy and flipped the office and house locations. Full Circle.



Full Circle

A new chapter… in 2015

Every tear I have cried in our final days represents a hundred smiles over the past six years.


And those are the memories I want to keep close to my heart in this final week that approaches. It is fitting that a new year has begun. It is natural to reflect on the past when a new year begins. The first phase of our transition has passed, moving the kids to the states. They have been happily playing with their cousins on the farm the past few days. My heart ached so much to see them say goodbye to our Peruvian family here. But my heart is comforted in knowing that they are with blood family that they love in the states right now.

Greg and I are finishing up the final details of moving out of our home. We have a few big pieces of furniture left to sell, a lot of people that need to come pay and pick up the furniture they reserved, and getting rid of all that little stuff that accumulates (food, pens, toys, etc). We are having our final garage sale on Monday. And one week from Monday, we will be reunited with our kids at the farm. I can’t wait. I miss them so much.

Our December Team Arequipa newsletter went out to subscribers a couple of days ago. I wrote my last team article. I wanted to share it here on the blog:

The time has come. This is my last Team Arequipa newsletter article. I was listening to “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” the other day while washing dishes. The weirdest feeling came over me. I remember bawling through that song our first Christmas here, because I missed my home and family so much. I know that many of my new teammates will be experiencing this same emotion this Christmas. But this seventh Christmas in Perú, the sentiment is different. Arequipa has become our home, and we are about to say goodbye to all things familiar to us here. The song causes me to bawl my eyes out but not in the same way.

We have scheduled final dinners and meetings with our loved ones. We have sold furniture and kitchen items that have been part of our hospitality ministry for so long. Our children have cried over seeing many of their toys and puzzles being sold one-by-one with the move approaching. We have made lists for eating our favorite foods and seeing our favorite places “one last time.” Greg is finishing up his theology classes with CUDA. I finished my final year in the library program. Ana will be an angel in her final school performance. We will attend Maggie’s Kindergarten graduation program. Cohen completed his first entire year of preschool all in Spanish. Lots of things are coming to an end.

Little things make me cry. I wrote out the final food menu for my kids’ time here (my parents will be flying them back to the states on December 28). Their favorite Peruvian dish is Ají de Gallina. I started bawling when I wrote those words for the last time on my kitchen menu board. Manuela has started bawling when we talk about the kids leaving. It is so hard to be so close to the move and see the effect it has on those around us.

The first two years we lived in Arequipa, I felt an incredible sense of loneliness. I struggled with the language. I missed friendships from home. I remember Greg telling me that he would pray for me to find a kindred spirit in a Peruvian. That seemed impossible at the time. Last week, I got back from a four day trip with one of my dearest Peruvian friends, Arelí. We traveled through parts of Perú that I had never seen. We laughed. We cried. We shared life. I can’t help but smile about that trip. God’s faithfulness is so evident to me. There are so many in the church here that have become the aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers to our children during our time here. That is God’s faithfulness to a girl that worried so much about raising her children on the foreign mission field.

My dad and I were walking from the city center back to our home, and he asked me, “Are you apprehensive about moving home?” I didn’t have to blink before I answered. Yes, I am apprehensive, because I don’t have a place at home. I don’t have a routine. I don’t have a job. My kids are unfamiliar with everything that is about to happen in their new schools. We have just sold everything that created what became our physical Peruvian home, and I am so sad. I feel like I am in a dream. Everything seems so surreal. But if God has taught anything to this Tennessee girl that struggled so much with learning a new language and doubted how in the world she could make a difference in another country, he taught me that he is faithful. Because even though I am not making it through many days without crying, every single teardrop is representative of hundreds of smiles that come from my memories here. This journey was so hard at times, but here at the end it has been so completely rewarding.

Greg and I see next year as the beginning of a new chapter. It can be scary to travel into the unknown. But we are confident that God is faithful. He is constantly preparing and molding us for things that he can do that are more than we ask or imagine. And he promised to bring to completion the good work he started in us. We have seen his faithfulness in Arequipa. We are so excited to continue to see the story of his faithfulness in Arequipa through our Peruvian brothers and sisters and in our new team members. Please pray for our family and the Smith family as we have some major transitions ahead. But take time to praise God for his faithfulness, and the incredible testimony of living for his name’s sake wherever we find ourselves in his story. Thank you all for encouraging us along the way. Thank you for your words, your gifts, and your generosity. Greg, the kids, and I are all very excited to see many of our stateside friends and family in less than a month. We look forward to seeing how God makes our new home among you.

A new chapter… in 2015

A house church morning

It looks different every week. We meet with the other groups in a bigger location once a month. I usually take pictures at that gathering, but this morning I thought I would capture some moments from a typical house church morning here in the casa. God has blessed us with a home in our years here to be able to host a larger group. We have started a rotation with other homes just recently, but Greg and I spent the majority of our house church mornings the last three years hosting the group in ASA.

We love these people. We eat breakfast together (each person brings something to contribute: bread, eggs, avocado, or juice). We sing and share communion. We share Bible stories with the kids and sing songs that they enjoy. The adults have a time of study and reflection while the kids are dismissed to another room (my girls’ bedroom). The kids continue to play while the adults talk (in our playroom or out on the patio). Like I said, I just wanted to capture a few of those moments this morning…

Sarah reading the Bible story to the kids while we are still with the adults.



listening intently

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Sandra’s little munchkin, Harold

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coloring in the girls’ room

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We keep them quiet and busy for as long as we can so the adults can have a time of quiet and study, but then they are released to the playroom… 🙂


or the front patio.


A house church morning

What God has taught me through Living Libraries

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!?

What God has taught me through Living Libraries

Whirlwind 2014

It’s that time of year again, when the whirlwind is about to arrive and tomorrow turns into 4 months later.

Greg’s travels

First of all, Greg has been gone all this week.

right before taking off to the airport
right before taking off to the airport

He went to the Pepperdine Bible Lectureship in Malibu, CA, and then he skipped over to Pasadena to Fuller Seminary for a campus tour and NT Wright conference on his new book Paul and the Faithfulness of God.  Greg is hoping to start his doctorate in the fall of 2015.  We hope to know toward the latter part of this year where he is accepted.  We sure have been missing him, but we have survived.  He is enjoying his visit and hanging out with Dad.  Two of my most favorite men in the world hanging out in CA together… presh.

Mother’s Day program

Greg will arrive late Sunday evening, and the kids will have one week of school before their fall break.  I am looking forward to their Mother’s Day performance.  All three of them are learning different dances, and I have already paid the money for the costumes.  That will be on Friday.  It cracks me up that I have paid money for a craft and a costume for all THREE kids.  They will only go to school for the time of their program (a short day).  What an honor!  Expensive and losing my time they are in school.  I know that sounds selfish, but it is kind of ironic considering who they are celebrating, right? 😉

Thompson fun and Mission Teams Retreat

We are looking forward to the Thompson family coming to visit from Lima the next week.  They are coming in a couple of days early before our annual Peru retreat with the Lima and Cusco teams.  We are hosting this year in AQP, and it is always so much fun to see everyone, catch-up, and share stories from the field.  Our retreat will be Wednesday through Saturday out at El Lago.  It is the first retreat where we will not have a child to lie down for a nap… yes!

Pat and Caleb–woohoo!

The following week it will be back to school, but we are looking forward to my older brother, Pat, and his son, Caleb, flying in to AQP to spend a week with us.  It is always so much fun to have family come to visit.  Also, David Fann, one of our CUDA board members, is flying in for a quick visit to check out the new medical program.


The day after Pat and Caleb depart, the real whirlwind arrives… interns.  Greg and I have chatted with each of the five girls coming in this summer.  I am very excited to meet them all in person.  It is looking like it will be a great summer internship with them.  It is sad that it will be our last internship to host in our time here.

Mid-year break

The internship will swallow 2 months, and then it will be the mid-year break to celebrate the Peru National Independence Day and Arequipa Day in August.

The whole “moving back to the USA thing” gets real

Then we will find ourselves in September with only four months left in this chapter of our AQP life.  Crazy.  The whirlwind is almost here.  I want to savor every single moment.

Whirlwind 2014

You may have lived in AQP for five years if…


September 1 is the 5-year anniversary for Team Arequipa. That is hard to believe. I KNOW that I could add more to this list, but here are the ones I thought up for now:

1. Brown eggs look way more normal than white eggs.

2. You use avocado, red onion, roma tomatoes, and lettuce on all sandwiches year-round.

3. You can recognize the difference in tune from the trash truck and the recycling truck.

4. The trash truck music no longer makes you think of an ice cream truck immediately.

5. Seeing a llama is like seeing a cow on the side of the road. (It is that normal.)

6. You find yourself saying “it’s cold (when compared to the U.S., it really isn’t)” all the time.

7. You order your produce and baking ingredients from the market in the metric system with ease. You also know your own personal recipes in metric system measurements.

8. Your 3-year-old can use the word “sewage” in its appropriate context. (She also points out in passing any water out on the street, “Don’t step in it. It has poopoo and peepee in it.”)

9. Your one-year-old knows the correct way to hail a cab or get the combi to stop.

10. Your almost two-year-old demands to stand in the taxi holding on to the bar over the door. He does this because this is how people stand in the public buses.

11. You are finally comfortable showing up to a party one hour late.

12. When you plan a party, you are not surprised when people show up an hour late or later.

13. You have perfected stovetop popcorn and you comment or think frequently, “There is no going back to that gross microwave stuff.”

14. You have forgotten what good milk products taste like.

15. You use tons of high altitude recipes.

16. You have a homemade recipe for bisquick and stewed tomatoes.

17. Walking 2 miles to get somewhere is normal.

18. You can navigate the city in different combis in order to buy all the kids’ school supplies (without asking for help).

19. Your list of “Things I miss eating from the states” has dwindled from around 150 things to about 5–good Tex-Mex being right there at the top.

20. You have at least two children that have been born here and know that you can spore points immediately in a new relationship if you share that with Peruvians.

21. You can’t think of the English word for certain things, but the Spanish word comes automatically (it happens for me with spices and herbs).

22. You use “Si” and “entonces” accidentally when speaking in English.

23. You refer to evaporated milk as “Gloria.”

24. You are able to teach a visitor to make rocoto relleno and pastel de papas on Arequipa Day.

25. You know that there will be some type of drama every time you leave the country.

26. You no longer think it is surprising when the school asks you to rent a costume for your kids THE DAY BEFORE they are supposed to have it.

27. You don’t feel guilty about not completing homework assignments that ask ridiculous things because you know you have gained the reputation as “that parent” and they know you won’t do it.

28. Your kids beg to have Aji de Gallina every.single.week.

29. You have fallen in love with many people in the Peruvian culture, and it absolutely breaks your heart to think about leaving Peru.

30. You have lived through 5 summers of interns.

31. Peru will always be a part of you and known as “first home” to your three children.

Greg, Kyle, and Larissa, can you add anymore to the list???

You may have lived in AQP for five years if…