This morning I realized that as of today, we have officially been back in Peru for 6 months now. Which also means that it has been a full year since I last wrote on this dusty old blog. Last time I wrote, I was big ball of nerves as we were gearing up to fly to the States so Simeon could have his big skull surgery.
The plan was only to be gone for 8 weeks, but Simeon caught such a bad cold on the airplane that the morning of the scheduled surgery the anesthesiologist opted to postpone his operation telling us that not doing so could have severe (like deadly) consequences. Our wonderful surgeon is so wonderful that he was booked solid for another 2 months, and so his surgery was postponed until July. It was a good thing we had the extra time between surgery dates because it ended up taking Simeon a full 6 weeks to get over his cold, and we were able to have some wonderful time in Tacoma with my family and Nathaniel’s family who live there and/or came to visit.
Though it was our primary reason for going home, in the grand scheme of the whole 5 1/2 months we were there, Simeon’s surgery was just a short blip in the summer. It couldn’t have gone better and we were so incredibly thankful for all of the prayers, the financial support, the meals church members brought over, the encouraging notes, and even the little comforting gifts people gave. Simeon is a tough little guy and he healed so quickly and perfectly that we couldn’t even believe it had happened. Our surgeon and the hospital staff were amazing and we know that the only reason why we were privileged enough to have access to this hospital was because of God’s grace, and the only reason why Simeon did so well was because of His mercy. I could go on and on about that week at the hospital, but if you are interested, I wrote Simeon’s story here. It was written as a way to encourage other mothers whose babies are also about to undergo cranio surgery and published on a website dedicated to helping cranio families.
Partly why I have been so silent this year is because I never felt like I could adequately communicate how wonderful our time at home was. It was the perfect summer/fall. What fun it was to introduce my kids to my home town, to have them ride their bikes on Ruston Way and to walk with them all over the Proctor District. Watching them get excited when Mt. Rainier was visible and majestic and to have them fall in love with the Point Defiance Zoo and ride the ferry to Vashon was a dream come true. What a joy it was to have them worship at my home church, participate in Sunday School, sit in the same pews I grew up sitting in and to knock over the kneelers with a loud crash in the middle of the service, just like I used to as a child. But best of all was to watch as my kids grew to love my family – everyone who we have tried and tried to tell them about, they not only got to know, but fell in love with. And the best part was, we weren’t just home for some intense two week visit where you have to spend every possible moment with your family to soak it all in, we lived there which meant we got to enjoy life as normal – living close enough to pop over for an afternoon or spontaneously go out to dinner together or go a few days with out seeing each other but not feeling too badly about it.
We were really discouraged when we first learned that we were going to be in the US for much longer than planned, but as time went on at home and we started embracing life back in Tacoma, I found myself needing to pray for peace and joy whenever I thought about boarding the plane back to Peru. I really enjoyed being home. I learned what a joy it is to run every morning outside and by myself with out fear. I enjoyed the independence and freedom I felt in the US that I don’t always feel in Peru. I enjoyed that I could leave my purse on the table next to me at a restaurant and it wouldn’t get snatched and speaking of eating out, I could order a salad anywhere and not regret it the next day. But I also knew that we are not called to Tacoma, and I felt antsy being there for too long. We are called to Arequipa, but last summer we were called at that moment to enjoy our time with family and at home and all of the simple, but meaningful pleasures of life in the US.
I think I realized this summer that our life’s calling is always going to be between two worlds. We will always have a desire, and sometimes and ache, for the culture we have just left behind, and we will always have the call to embrace and live in the culture where we are and work to the best of our ability to bring the most glory to God that is possible. Of course this also helps us live even more easily with the desire for our eternal home and rest, something that I didn’t used to think about too much before moving to the mission field. I hope that as time goes on the transition to and from each culture becomes smoother and smoother and that we can teach our children how to transition gracefully as well.
That said, coming back to Peru in October was exciting but a challenge. When we left at the end of April, we were all still settling in to our lives here in Arequipa. We were visiting different churches and trying to get to know the culture of Arequipa before planting a church here. During our absence, the team here, along with Nathaniel via skype, had made the prayerful and wise decision about which church to work in, one I had never had a chance to visit before we left, and had begun to invest in this church and work. I was nervous about jumping in to this church not having met anyone in the congregation or even being able to picture what the building itself looked like. I didn’t know what the church members would think of me or how I would be received there. 6 months of not speaking Spanish didn’t help either as I’m sure their first impression of me was most likely very comical. But let me tell you, that first Sunday here everyone was so warm and welcoming to us as a family and I instantly felt at ease about us working in this church.
Another really hard part about coming back was that our team had changed significantly while we were gone. In April we said goodbye to our teammates assuming we would see them again in 8 weeks, which turned into almost 6 months, but what none of us foresaw was that when we returned, one of the families would no longer be there because of a call back to the US. We were devastated, which was a testimony to how close of a team we were, and it was so strange coming back with out them here. It has certainly been an emotional time navigating life and ministry in their absence, and even 6 months later sometimes it still hurts, but we know that this was the Lord’s plan for all three of our families and as we continue on now as two families, God has been incredibly faithful to our team and the work we are doing here.
Life has moved very quickly since we’ve been back. We had the holidays, including hosting a big Christmas party for all of our neighbors, which all of them commented that this was such a unique and fun time since they never invite each other into their homes. There were a whole variety of ministry related Christmas events as well which kept us very busy and then on the first Sunday of the year the pastor of our church stepped down for personal reasons and handed the church over to Nathaniel and Nate. That was a significant moment for me. Up until that point, we were still the newbies in the church, and we still weren’t sure how long this church and ministry wanted our help. But, once my husband became one of the pastors there, I instantly felt a strong commitment and dove right in. Where I had been still unsure and insecure about my place and role in the church (having three tiny kids makes any extra curricular activity hard), I now had a defined role as co-pastor’s wife. Nikki and I are leading the women’s weekly Bible study and are taking them through Galatians. For many in the study, this is their first time reading this book, and especially studying the Bible in depth so that is exciting. We are both also teaching children’s Sunday School and ministering to the women in the church. I can honestly say that I don’t know what I would do with out Nikki here – she is a constant source of encouragement and it is such a joy to ministry alongside her, but even more, she’s just a wonderful friend.
One thing I never expected was to have a ministry through my kitchen. I used to feel like I had to leave my home to make any impact in ministry, but I am finding that the ladies here long to learn how to cook and bake, especially any kind of American treats or meals. Nathaniel and I joke that we are measuring our ministry by how many gas tanks our oven goes through a month. We used to make one tank last us a whole three months or so, but now it seems like we switch out the tanks every two weeks because there is often something in the oven baking for the church, or for the church ladies who have come over to learn a new recipe. The other day a few of the girls from church came over to learn how to make a few different kinds of cakes. Nine hours later they and their husbands left after having stayed the whole afternoon, through dinner and into the evening. We have loved being able to open up our home to people and having them just be a part of our every day normal lives, including the sometimes chaotic bedtime routine with the kids.
Nathaniel’s weeks are 10 times more busy than mine- he somehow juggles home visits with church members, sermon and Sunday school prep, counseling, prayer meeting, weekly church soccer night, worship music practice, administrative missionary tasks, keeping up with supporters, our finances and caring for his family. He’s a machine. At the beginning of the year, there were 10 regular church attenders each week and our two families almost doubled the size of the church. This past Sunday, there wasn’t a single empty seat in the sanctuary. Nathaniel and Nate’s hard work is demonstrated each week just in the number of people who are coming and continuing to come back to worship with us.
My days at home are spent homeschooling Jeremiah (and simultaneously trying to keep Gabriella and Simeon entertained), and other normal mom/wife tasks. Jeremiah has soccer three days a week which has been a lot of fun to have him participate in. We tend to stay close to home during most of the week but we usually manage to meet Nikki and her boys at the park at least once a week so the kids can play. And most weeks there is usually a Women’s Bible Study or a Sunday school lesson to prepare, a guest to have over, and something to bake to bring to some church event.
It’s almost impossible to look back and realize that we have already been here for 6 months. Of course there are plenty of details I have left out, but we are just so happy. Nathaniel is the happiest I have ever seen him, and I am loving how ministry is moving forward and how our family is being run. Even a year ago we were so weary from being sick so often, from the stress and anxiety of Simeon’s upcoming surgery, and from not knowing where in Arequipa we were being called to minister. And now we are so thankful to be healthy 90% of the time, we have Simeon’s surgery behind us, and we have a very exciting ministry taking place. This was a far different year than the one I had pictured us having the last time I blogged, but we are so thankful for what the Lord has done and how He has continued to be faithful to us here in Peru.