As I sat in our team meeting last week, I could feel myself getting kind of shaky and sweaty. We are encouraging each other to do what!?
Let me back up a bit. These last few months since arriving in Arequipa have been mostly about survival. Every missionary goes through the initial survival phase of moving to a new country. Visas, housing, transportation, cable, internet, water, electricity, waiting on the container, enrolling our children in school, finding a church, meeting people, getting sick every other week, trying to get our appliances to work, getting things fixed in the house, ordering or building furniture, getting into a routine that makes sense for our family, etc, etc, etc, and those are just a few of the things that have to come together in order to make our lives function smoothly and normally. And each of these tasks can easily take multiple days to complete. While in the US we can tackle multiple items on our to do list before lunch, on the mission field we can at best guarantee to get one thing done a day – and that may be as small as paying the water bill.
Anyways, as you can imagine, it took us a while to feel settled and emotionally ready to move forward, and this last week with the encouragement of others and ourselves, we as a team looked up and realized that ready or not, it’s time to get out there and start to make some contacts.
In the past, we have only ever served in pre-established ministries so the list of contacts, potential friends, even churches to attend were already set before us by other missionaries who had done the ground work many years before. Now it’s our turn to sow new ground, and let me tell you, the task is overwhelming. We literally had one contact when we moved here in December, a taxi driver, and the rest has been up to us to search for and figure out. In my American mind where speed and efficiency = success, it has been hard to be patient. I mean, in Bogota, at the three month mark, we were heavily involved in church ministry, I was in language school, and we had national friends and partners. In the Hispanic church plant in California, at three months, we were leading youth group, Sunday school, Bible studies and Nathaniel was doing a lot of admin work. We always dove into ministry head first and worked hard, to the point of exhaustion, so not even knowing where to begin in a new place is hard.
That’s what has led us to this team challenge: to actively search for ways to meet people, make friends, get to know the Peruvian culture, and improve our Spanish. For this introverted homebody, that scares me to death.
I love people! I love speaking the Spanish I know how to speak! I love the idea of making Peruvian friends and I love that we are missionaries here. I want to be those missionaries who are known in our community as being passionate for the Lord and for Peru. I want our home to have a constant rotation of guests. I want to use my gifts of homemaking to reach out to the community. But to walk up to a complete stranger, throw my hand out and say, “hola, soy Alicia,” is the single most daunting thing I can think of doing. I thought as a young mom I’d have a lot of natural interactions with other young moms, especially at Jeremiah’s school, but we as a team are finding that we don’t actually see other moms very often at the parks, around the neighborhood, and pick up/drop off at school is….chaotic and rushed.
So, all weekend I’ve had a knot in my stomach. I made a conscious effort at the checkout line yesterday at the grocery store to chat with a young mom, but that conversation only went so far in the 60 seconds we had together. I tried to hang around the school when I dropped off Jeremiah, but I just kind of looked like a weirdo creepers and slugged back to my house alone.
I was sharing some of this with some other fellow MTW missionaries who were in town this weekend, and one of the girls told me that she’s been on the field for a while and this year is praying for just one Peruvian friend. Just one. That sounded like a reasonable goal for me, I can handle one friend. But how do I make that one friend?
Then this morning we decided to go back to one of the churches that we have visited a few times and enjoyed. Aside from being fed, we thought we might be able to find a Bible Study to attend, or maybe even meet a few people, and possibly build a relationship over the next few weeks. Just before the service started, Nathaniel told me that there were some Spanish devotionals for sale I might be interested in, so I went out expecting to return quickly. Before I had even paid for the book, a sweet woman approached me and told me how wonderful this devo is and walked me through the benefits of it. Then she pulled out her address book and started taking down my name and number and handed me hers and invited me to Bible study at her house! She started pulling over everyone she knew to introduce me to them, mostly extended family members who are all related to the pastor of this church. One couple in particular seemed very kind and our age and like someone who we would like to spend some time with, so after the service I hunted her down and invited her to dinner this week, and she actually accepted the invite and seemed like she wanted to come over!
All day I have been marveling at the fact that the Lord met me in my need and provided in a way I couldn’t have even imagined. Here I was all stressed out that I’m not outgoing enough to meet people on my own, and all I had to do was buy a devotional and people came to me. Not only were they nice people to meet, but they have a Bible Study, and want to get together soon! It reminded me of Moses in the desert telling God that he wouldn’t be able to lead Israel, and God told him that He would take care of it and look at what the Lord used Moses to do! Sometimes it seems like we will be punished for the deficiencies we face in ministry, or in life, like we should be able to overcome those problems and just plow forward in spite of our fleshly opposition, but I forget that God is on MY side and He wants me to succeed in ministry.
Please pray for us as we continue on in this team challenge to meet more people and put ourselves out there in the community. Pray for these potential friends and possible Bible Study and church connections. Please pray with us that we will soar in our Spanish and be bold in how we interact with others. Our long term goal is to obviously start our own church with Bible Studies, and to make our own contacts, Christian and non-Christian, but this is a great stepping off point to help give me confidence to meet Peruvians, get to know the culture, practice my Spanish, be fed through Bible study and church while we work to start our own, and possibly just make a nice friend.
I tell you this story knowing fully well that this is not the “sexy” side of ministry. Most of us long for the stories that send chills down people’s backs – the stories that people remember and re-tell. I know that in the grand scheme of missions stories, and hopefully of our ministry over time, this story is and will be quite minimal, but for today, it was a big win, and an example of God’s provision despite my weakness. Where I started this weekend feeling completely overwhelmed and hopeless, I am now planning on what I will serve our first Peruvian guests, and getting ready to give them a call to confirm our plans. Here’s to one step at a time.