So I guess people weren’t sure how I was doing…so here’s a quick little update to let the universe know that Levi is fine:
This past week Peru was suffering from the effects of El Niño, which is a weather phenomenon that every now and again brings heavy rain falls to Peru. In this case, the vast majority of the rain fell not in Lima but in other parts of Peru. However, people in Lima are specifically suffering since our main sources of water are the rivers that come from the highlands, which is where the heavy rains have been falling. Long-story-short, there’s a whole bunch of factors that go into it (and I don’t want to bore you ’cause who wants to be bored?), but basically that has resulted in the river flooding in parts around LIma, and has also resulted in a lot of water being contaminated, which means that a lot of places this weekend throughout Lima were without water, including my house. Actually my house (which is also the guest house for the mission here/the mission office/one of our church buildings) has been without water since Wednesday evening.
THANKFULLY, as you can see from the picture above (of the bottled water) I have more than enough drinking water to get by in terms of not suffering from thirst.
I’m also ridiculously blessed not only in that 1) I still have a house (lots of people who lived near the rivers can’t say the same thing), 2) I have drinking water right at my fingertips (also not something that everyone has), 3) I live in the mission office, which has plenty of dehumidifiers…which (if you know anything about dehumidifiers) pull in water from the air and place it all in an easily-removable plastic tray…which means that I have a virtually free (minus the electricity needed to power these things) infinite source of non-drinking water that I can use for cleaning/cooking/etc (and no, I’m not so smart as to think of using dehumidifiers–that was the idea of one of my fellow missionaries). So I’m ridiculously blessed…and I’m doing fine…but please do keep the people of Peru in your prayers, because a lot of people don’t have water right now.
One of the most encouraging things that I’ve ever experienced in mission work is when I can see people actually getting it, when I can see people actually catching onto what God has been using me to teach them. For the past couple of months, God has been using me to walk through the Gospel of Mark with the youth group that meets at our church plant in La Victoria, a district of Lima, Peru where we have one of our Castillo Fuerte (Mighty Fortress) Mercy Houses. As we’ve been walking through it, I keep asking them the same question: What does God want? What does God desire? What is God’s will?
At first they would get stumped and I would have to keep reminding them of the answer: God wants us to have a relationship with him. God wants us to have faith in him. God wants “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4 NASB) God wants us to be in his presence for forever. And for that reason he sent Jesus Christ—to save us from our sins and bring us salvation by grace through faith in him so that we could have all of that.
Now, however, they’re getting a lot better at thinking through it and seeing that Gospel in thestories that we are reading through. Just a couple of weeks ago I was even hearing one or two of the youth that normally zone out during Bible study finally thinking through it out loud.
In addition to simply reading through the Gospel of Mark with these youth, Deaconess Caitlin Worden (my fellow missionary who started up the youth group with me) and I have also been a lot more intentional about working to build community among these youth. With the Peruvian school year starting up this month, the youth group has changed radically with the addition of a bunch of new youth (most of whom had been regularly coming to the children’s programming at Castillo Fuerte last year).
Thus, we have been working to get them more comfortable with each other as well as more united as a group. A lot of my previous experience working as a camp counselor (working at different Lutheran camps during my summer breaks when I was in college) is really starting to pay off, as I use different tricks and activities that I learned from my camp experience. Some of these activities will hopefully soon involve things like trust falls and other more advanced activities that (when done properly) can help youth (and people of all ages) think through better how they can do life together.
Another big part of our work with this youth group in our church plant in La Victoria has been helping them see how all of the stuff that we have been teaching them applies to their daily lives. Part of this includes showing them what an active prayer life can look like. Just a few weeks ago, at the start of our Bible study, Caitlin and I asked one of the youth to pray for our whole group, but they all told us that they were too scared because they “didn’t want to say the wrong thing.” Thus, we have been showing them how they do not have to be scared of prayer, but rather should be glad to have this amazing gift—communication with our God and Savior.
Besides all of my time spent with these youth (which I really enjoy, if you couldn’t tell), I’ve also continued working to bring together more people at our church plant in San Borja for a weekly Bible study. The numbers are constantly fluctuating, and there is still plenty of work to be done with all of that, but thanks be to God every Friday night there is finally at least a small group coming to learn more about God’s Word.
Our Castillo Fuerte Mercy House in La Victoria took a couple of weeks of vacation since my last newsletter, giving the teachers a chance to take a break from our summer programming and then get things ready for our programming during the school year. Our normal school year programming has now started up again, and it’s great to be able to be interacting with the kids multiple days a week, teaching them more about God in our daily Bible classes as well as building my relationships with them more and more.
The Castillo Fuerte (Mighty Fortress) Mercy House + Church in La Victoria this past weekend had more than its fair share of events, just as the summer is starting to come to close here in Peru. On Friday, Castillo Fuerte celebrated its “Clausura” (“Closing”) of the summer programming:
Castillo Fuerte will be starting back up again in just a couple of weeks (since the school year here starts around March 13).
We also celebrated an adult confirmation at the church in La Victoria this past Saturday:
AND FINALLY, this past Sunday, one of my fellow missionaries, Deaconess Caitlin Worden, hosted another women’s retreat. With the help of some visiting deaconess students and professors from the LCMS seminary in St. Louis, Caitlin united women who are connected to our four different congregations (in Los Olivos, San Juan de Lurigancho, San Borja, and La Victoria) to hear God’s Word…and do womensy retreaty stuff. Beyond studying God’s Word, I’m not exactly sure what they did, since (not being a woman, so I couldn’t actually be a part of the retreat) I got put in charge of taking care of the kids of any of the mothers who were at the retreat:
After all of that…I was just a bit tired on Monday.
There’s a lot of stories that I don’t end up putting in my newsletters simply because the vast majority of my work is with people, and people deserve their privacy. And with that, a lot of the people that I am getting to know here in Peru also can read what I’m writing and posting on my blog (the biggest fans of my video blog probably are the kids in La Victoria, who discovered my channel on YouTube a few months ago, if that gives you any idea of how public what I publish is). So whenever I’m putting in vaguer stories in my newsletter, you can be assured that there’s a lot of other details that also need prayers for…and thankfully God knows the needs, even when I can’t tell you everything via my newsletter or even show you photos of some things.
One of those needs is the increasing outreach work that God is doing through me—outreach work based in our oldest church plant in Lima, in the neighborhood of San Borja. A part of this outreach work has been picking up some work that other missionaries left behind when they left this mission field in Peru for different mission fields. Using the metaphor of the Apostle Paul (from 1 Corinthians 3:5-9), other missionaries planted seeds, while I am now watering those seeds, connecting with different people that those other missionaries had built relationships with. Of course, as Paul himself pointed, God is ultimately the one who is making those seeds grow.
So, God has been using me at our church in San Borja to start spending more relational time with different people, seeking to start up more studies of God’s Word. Right now, as I try to deal with multiple people’s schedules, it’s all about being flexible. Sure, it would be fantastic if I could say “We’re going to meet on Monday night every week” and expect that to always work for people, but that’s simply not how the culture here works. While following the clock and sticking to a plan on one’s calendar is a way of life for many in the United States, people here in Peru simply aren’t as focused on their watch or their day-planner, and are a lot more focused on what is right in front of them. So I can already tell you lots of stories of how I’ve had to remind myself that being flexible is a big key when it comes to doing mission work. After all, this work is all about people coming to know and grow in Jesus, rather than simply about offering programs and classes, and we have to be flexible if we want to connect with people.
Of course, my work (or, I should say, God’s work through me) continues at our Castillo Fuerte (Mighty Fortress) Mercy House in La Victoria (and the church plant that is alongside of it). Since late December to early March is the summer break from school, we’ve taken advantage of kids having their mornings free to offer an extra, hour-long Bible class. I’ve been teaching about two of those classes per week, in addition to helping out with the 15-minute Bible classes that we also offer Monday-Friday.
In addition to that, I’ve also continued to help lead our youth group that we have at our church in La Victoria. With the new school year just around the corner, Deaconess Caitlin Worden (one of my fellow missionaries, who has been leading the youth group with me) and I decided just a couple of weeks ago to start opening up the youth group to our kids who are about to be freshmen en la secundaria (“in high school”). We’ve been spending a lot of time just doing life together with these youth, growing our relationship with them, as well as studying God’s Word together. We’re focusing right now on walking through the Gospel of Mark with them, helping them learn more about their Savior and the grace and life that we can have in him.
In addition to all of that, I’ve also had a few chances to step back, reflect, and process my experiences here in Peru thus far. One such chance was when I took a brief trip back to my alma mater, Concordia University Texas (in Austin, Texas), at the end of January. Being a Director of Christian Education (DCE) intern, technically my time here in Peru is part of my DCE internship, and this past month at Concordia Texas there was an intern reflection event. I was able to meet up with my DCE professors, as well as my fellow interns who are serving right now in different churches back in the States. It was a great chance to share with each other what God has been doing through us, as well as to be refreshed and get some new ideas for what to do in the future. It was very encouraging to see how God is using his servants all over the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ, and to be reminded that this is his mission, and I’m just one of his many servants in that mission.
Sometimes this missionary work stuff can get a bit tiresome and frustrating…and it can become really easy to think that God isn’t at work simply because some things aren’t perfect. A couple of weeks ago I was at our church plant in La Victoria (which shares the same space with our Castillo Fuerte Mercy House there) trying to run our Saturday night kids’ Bible class…alone. Usually one of my fellow missionaries is able to help me out…but that night she had to be at a funeral. And I totally forgot to call one of our church members who might have been able to help me. So after two hours of not doing a very good job of controlling rowdy kids and also trying to teach a Bible class…I shrugged off that night as not being much of a success in this Kingdom work. I assumed that none of the kids got anything out of the lesson and that it had all been a waste of time. Thankfully I don’t have that attitude every day…but that was definitely my attitude that day.
And then that next Monday afternoon, I was chilling at our Castillo Fuerte Mercy House in La Victoria…working on some Bible study stuff while the kids were in their “talleres” (classes) with our teachers.
Just then, one of the kids who had been at the Bible class on Saturday night walked in (just a bit late!) with her brother…and before she dashed upstairs, she asked me, “We’re supposed to read one page a day from Matthew, right?”
“Huh?” I asked.
“I’ve been reading one page a day from Matthew, like you told us,” she replied.
And that’s when I remembered that, at the end of the Saturday night Bible class, I had given out some Bibles to a few kids that didn’t have their own Bibles at home…and rather than just giving them the Bibles, I had suggested that they actually dive in and read them…and I had suggested that they start by reading from Matthew every day (so that they could start learning the stories about Jesus…’cause everyone should be learning more about Jesus). Ironically, a major point in my Bible class had been the gift that we have to be able to connect to God through his Word and receive his Holy Spirit. So hearing on Monday that at least one kid was actually reading her Bible…I realized that God actually had been at work that night, even if I hadn’t seen it right then. And sometimes that’s for the best…’cause it helps me remember that this is all his work (as he works through me), not my work. He should get the credit, not me.
And here’s a few more photos from the work going on in La Victoria:
There seems to never be a dull moment here in Peru. Just before Christmas, our Castillo Fuerte (Mighty Fortress) Mercy Houses shut down for a few weeks, since the school year was wrapping up and many people would be going on vacation over the holidays. Since Castillo Fuerte often takes up the majority of my time each week, I wasn’t sure what I would be doing to keep myself busy during those weeks. Thankfully, God had a plan for my time.
If you read my December newsletter, you might recall that I had talked about having some really good conversations on the bus rides to and back from our opening church service in San Juan de Lurigancho. From those conversations came more conversations, as I specifically began connecting with some men (most of them a lot older than me!) who had interest in becoming more involved in our church in the district of San Borja, where I live (I actually live in an apartment in the same building as the church). The problem: A lot of them (and the friends that they want to bring) often work on Sunday mornings, so it’s been challenging for them to come to our Sunday morning church service.
Not wanting to have something as simple as work schedules get in the way of these people hearing God’s Word, I offered to meet up with them when I could. We have been able to meet a few times, sharing some food, having quite a few laughs, and diving into God’s Word. Right now, due to those relationships that God is developing through me, as well as due to other relationships that I have been developing for a while with other people connected to our church in San Borja, I’ve been praying. It looks like God may be opening up the door for me to start a more formal Bible study for all of these people, meeting on a week night. So prayers would definitely be appreciated as I seek to do God’s will in all of this.
Life is also a lot more crazy now that Castillo Fuerte is done with its Christmas break and is back in action! Summer sessions (’cause its summer on this side of the equator) officially started up on January 9 and have kept me fully occupied. My official duties at the Castillo Fuerte site in La Victoria include helping to teach an hour-long Bible class in the mornings, Monday-Friday, as well as helping with a fifteen minute Bible class in the afternoons. I’m also in charge of the music ministry there.
In addition to all of that, there’s also the task that is a lot more difficult to quantify: that of creating relationships with the different kids and youth that come through our doors. After all, one goal of our Mercy Houses is to help these kids in this poorer neighborhood in the areas of health, life, and education. But our even more important goal is to help these kids learn who Jesus Christ is, how he died and rose again to save them, and how they can have a faith relationship with him.
It’s finally summer time!!! After taking a couple of weeks off for Christmas break, our Castillo Fuerte (Mighty Fortress) Mercy Houses are back in operation, offering help to kids in need while also teaching them about the good news of Jesus Christ and the eternal life that we can have through faith in him. I was able to be there most of today to help our staff get things ready, to get kids signed up, and to make sure that the kids felt at home (for whatever reason they kept calling me “chistoso” and “gracioso” today…maybe because I was joking around with them the whole time…and those words both mean “funny” or “goofy”). And in addition to all of the fun today, we were able to expose the kids to God’s Word, which is, of course, the most important thing that we could ever do for them. It will be exciting to see how God will use his Word, as well as our relationships with these kids, to do some pretty amazing things. Prayers are always appreciated as the this work continues!
Since here in Peru, on the southern side of the equator, summer is about to start, Christmas break marks the end of the school year and the start of summer vacations. So, yesterday was our last day of the year of normal programming at our Castillo Fuerte (Mighty Fortress) Mercy House in La Victoria, since we’ll be taking a couple of weeks off before starting up our summer programming. But, of course, even when our mercy ministries are taking a break, we’re never taking a break from offering our weekly Bible studies and church services, always giving people a chance to hear God’s Word and be eternally changed by it.
There’s nothing like seeing people come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And even more than that, there’s nothing like seeing people continue to grow in their faith-walk with Jesus here in this life while waiting for the eternal life that is yet to come. And because of all of that, I am so glad that God has sent me here to Peru to use me as his missionary to help people know Jesus and grow in their knowledge of him.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we celebrated the opening of our latest church plant in San Juan de Lurigancho (the largest district in the metropolis of Lima, Peru). To celebrate this event, transportation was arranged to give all of the attendees of our churches throughout Lima the chance to celebrate with us in San Juan de Lurigancho. I was in charge of gathering together all of the members in the church in San Borja and getting them onto a bus, which would then take us to our church in La Victoria to pick up some more people. From there we would head on to San Juan de Lurigancho. This whole trip probably took 1 ½ to 2 hours, since Lima is so huge!
During that whole trip, I could see God’s hand at work, for he used that long time in the bus to let us missionaries work on building our relationships with the different people that came with us. After all, mission work often starts when God’s people (whether they be paid missionaries or just normal Christians) reach out and befriend those outside of the Church. With those friendships comes the opportunities to share God’s Word and, from that Word, the good news of Jesus Christ and the eternal life that we can have through him. And through that friendship also hopefully there is the chance to not only tell that person about Jesus just once, but rather to continually guide that person as they grow in their faith relationship with God.
Thus, throughout that bus ride, as well as the ride back from San Juan de Lurigancho, I was busy moving up and down the bus from one conversation to the next. I was seeing God help me form new relationships with some people whom I didn’t even know that well but who had interest in becoming active in our churches. Some of these conversations were with people my own age, while other people were easily 2-3 times older than me.
And of course, if you’ve ever seen any of the pictures before on my blog, you’ll know that I was also enjoying that time to build my relationship with the kids who (accompanied by their parents) came with us as I encouraged them in their own faith relationship with God, while also just having fun with them.
After the church service in San Juan de Lurigancho, we had a lunch to celebrate the new work that God is doing in that community. Even as I was busy running around, trying to help pass out the food, I also took advantage of the time to be with some of the youth who had come from our church in La Victoria. Even the simple act of working together with the youth to carry heavy serving trays back and forth turned into moments to strengthen my relationship with them while also modeling for them what having a Christian servant-attitude looks like.
On the bus ride back home, the vast majority of us were far too fatigued by the heat to talk much (we had gotten a lot of sunshine up in San Juan de Lurigancho). I thought I was too tired to do anything other than sit back and relax…until I heard up in the front a couple of the kids from La Victoria trying to remember how to sing the songs that we sing all of the time in the Castillo Fuerte Mercy House there. I just happened to have a songbook in my backpack, so I pulled it out, dashed over to where they were, and while handing them the songbook, I joined along in singing with them. We were singing for so long that I was starting to fear that I would be losing my voice!
Thus, God was using me in amazing ways that day to connect with a bunch of people. And since that day, I have seen God continue to let those relationships grow and blossom as he continues to use me to share the good news with those people, and many more.