- Written by Tom Miles Tom Miles
- Created: 04 August 2014 04 August 2014
We got some extra helpers today! The village children have gotten bolder and bolder about finding their new amigas and amigos as we get off the boat in the morning and head to work. They love the attention they get from their very distractible friends. Today, Kimberly, Janet and Tom were down in the trenches pulling floorboards, which a group of elementary-age boys apparently found fascinating. They had a great time placing nails in the nail holes that Sam was drilling, getting them ready for us to nail in.
At one point, though, they got a little over-ambitious. While we distracted posing for a group photo, one of the kids grabbed Tom's hammer and started nailing down one of the not-yet in place boards. We looked back to see a proud face and a board in the wrong place. Tom explained to everyone that "This is why we don't take pictures". Of course, he soon realized that the children, with a little guidance, could wield a hammer at least as well as he could, so he started letting them do some work for him here and there.
It's not just the children helping out, though. Nueva Palestina men and some of Ricardo's crew are up early every morning to haul equipment and start some of the bigger projects, like framing walls and putting metal sheets on the roof. Really, we are helping them. In addition, three members of other tribes who have been traveling with us have been faithfully helping each day. Wilmer jumps in on any project, wherever he can. Kedie is always ready to lend a hand, as well. Another older woman, who is an elder of her own village, doesn't necessarily "jump" anywhere, but she has been sitting at the leading edge of the open floor placing nails into every board and chatting—as much as is possible given our lack of a shared language—with whoever is working next to her.
We are surrounded by amazing Peruvian people. We've slowly gotten to know them, often as Janet “interviews” them through one of our translators. Kimberly understands Spanish quite well and is able to do some translating, and a few of our Peruvian passengers speak excellent English and are very willing to help our communications.
One of the most interesting conversations we had was when a small group of us adults met with the Nueva Palestina village leaders. We were privileged to meet the town president, or El Hefe, who represents Nueva Palestina in meetings with other area villages, the mayor, the pastor and youth pastor of the church and the village's police officer. They tried to give us a sense of life in Nueva Palestina and the hopes they have for their village.
The police officer, César, we met a couple of days ago. He is the father who had sought out Kimberly's help for his little girl, who had an infection after stepping on a nail. César and his wife care for Elizabeth and seven other children, many of whom they've adopted. Then again, the youth pastor came from an even larger family—he has 22 siblings!
The Shipibo people, we learned, have very limited opportunities outside their village. Moving to the city of Pucallpa or beyond requires education or a trade. Though children in the village receive the customary five years of elementary school from village teachers and five years of middle/high school from itinerant tutors, advancing to high school/college in the city requires fluency in a second language, Spanish, and money. For villagers who make do day-to-day, surviving on about $2,500 a year made from sales of plantains and crafts, any monetary barrier is significant. In addition, most people one meets in Lima and throughout the country have native and European descendants and grew up with Spanish as their first language. It's common for these Mestizos to discriminate against the Shipibo, who look and sound different.
Even while the obstacles to escaping the village are large, these men talked about having high aspirations for their children, wishing to see them become successful doctors or lawyers. In the mean time, though, they have bigger plans for Nueva Palestina. They hope to build a saw mill in the near future, so that they can finish the lumber they take from their property in the jungle rather than paying to have it shipped and milled elsewhere. Perhaps most notably, the people here have nearly completed a medical center. This large building has about a dozen individual clinic rooms and netted windows, and will soon have running water (from a nearby cistern) and a generator for electricity. Once the leaders complete the necessary paperwork and get a sign-off from the Peruvian government, the village will bring in a doctor and nurse to tend to patients throughout the region. Patients will be cared for in the clinic rooms, and waiting families will be able to stay in the Community Center. They plan to build a residence for the medical team next, in a clearing behind the clinic. These leaders are thinking about improving their own lives and being a blessing to the villages around them.
There are, of course, many other images of these people that will stick with us. A toddler barefoot in a puddle. A child falling asleep in the safety a Kentucky team member's lap during a worship service. The group of children playing with a small monkey that had strayed into the village from the jungle: they had tied it (temporarily) to a table, and were feeding it plantains and rice and giving it water.
Janet and Kimberly went to see a demonstration of the sewing work that the women of the village do, and were astounded that the patterns we assumed were printed on, for example, the dresses of the dancers at the worship service, were actually cross-stitched. This work is the primary occupation of many women, besides housework and childcare. They spend about two weeks per piece. The items they don't use in the household they bring to sell at the markets in Pucallpa. Janet and Kimberly saw an old Singer sewing machine in use, though most of the women sew by hand—some, lacking scissors, even snap the thread with their fingers.
It was fascinating and humbling to spend this time among these wonderful people. Thankfully, at the end of the day, we had a chance to give a little something back. Thanks mostly to the generous contributions of Saint John's members, who donated all sorts of clothing, shoes and toys for us to bring to Peru (plus the money to purchase a few extra items and pay for the airline's extra luggage costs), we spent the late afternoon distributing much-valued items to the villagers. The Omaha team put together a program, leading us in a few worship songs and acting out the David and Goliath story (with the help of the children). Then Betsi coordinated an amazingly well-organized distribution of gifts. Each child received a hand-made bracelet, a coloring book, a few crayons, stickers, candy or gum and a toy. The older kids got notebooks and pencils. Tim was nearly trampled when Janet suggested that he let the children pick their own hair bands—the organization falls apart as soon as it seems like not everyone is going to get something. But Betsi regained control, and then cleared everyone out of the church and formed them into a line to hand out clothing, shoes and household items.
While a few people worked to distribute items to the waiting parents, a pickup soccer game got started in the field between the church and the new community center building. A mix of missionaries, Americans and Shipibos played together in a pretty entertaining game.
This all lasted until a big iguana wandered into view, at which point the game broke up and everyone gathered around for a chance to see some local wildlife. After everyone bold enough to get a closer look had their chance to see the lizard, one of the adult villagers carried it away, followed by a big group of children. We're not quite sure what happened when they all got out of view … perhaps it's better not to ask.
When we returned to the church that night for one last worship service with the Nueva Palestina congregation, we were delighted to see people wearing new sandals and clothes, toddlers blowing bubbles, and little boys taking advantage of the sanctuary's concrete floors to race their toy cars (which Kimberly, Janet and Sam had purchased with Saint John's donations). Roger, the missionary pastor, gave the message again tonight, on Psalm 103:15–16, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” and Philippians 1:21, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Which, really, is a perfect fit to this reflection on the people of Nueva Palestina. The lives we live are fleeting, and what truly matters are the relationships we form as the community of Christ, the Church united across borders and nationalities, and the new life we share as those redeemed by Christ. There was a special joy in being able to join hand-in-hand and dance through the church building and back to the boat at the end of tonight's worship service.
“Hesed” is a Hebrew word that means “kindness”, “mercy”, “loyalty”, “loving-kindness” or “steadfastness.” It’s the way God intends us to live together—a “love your neighbor as yourself”, active, selfless, sacrificial, caring-for-one-another brand of living contradictory to our fallen natures. The “Heseders” are continually looking to work together to share some small measure of God’s extraordinary love. Won’t you join us?