Peru: Part 2 – A Week in Arequipa

The sun had already risen and was shining brightly when I awoke the first day in Arequipa. Oh, no, I’ve overslept! It’s got to be at least 8:30 or something. I looked at my phone to see the time. 5:45 AM. What in the world?

That was my first experience with an Arequipa sunrise! It comes up very early in comparison to Chile and I was surprised to see a few people already up and getting ready. Breakfast wasn’t until 8 and the first session of the conference started at 9, but I went ahead and got up too.

Not only did the sun rise early, but it set early as well. Around 6 o’clock it’d start getting dark and before long night would set in. I also later found that some of my roommates would go to bed fairly early. One time I went back to the room about 9:45 to grab something before going to play games with the group from Chile, and I noticed somebody was already in bed. Oh, wow, you’re tired? I have to say that overall I do prefer the “early to bed, early to rise” mentality, but the culture in Chile is a late-night culture, which makes that impossible to live by sometimes.

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Above: Sunset in Arequipa

Below: Late-night gaming!

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I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching at the conference. We would have three sessions from 9 to 12 in the morning, about forty-five minutes long each with a fifteen-minute break before the next one. A different missionary or pastor would speak first, and then Pastor Austin Gardner, who is the leader of Vision Baptist Missions, the mission board that Jason Holt is with (and the one that is kind enough to let me go through them for my internship here), would teach the next two. His teaching was excellent.

My favorite sessions of his were actually not the ministry ones as we think of ministry, such as pastoring or leading a church, but rather the ones about marriage and family. He would tell stories in strikingly honest detail and give applications that I found interesting and helpful. In a day where marriages fall apart all the time and people joke about being tied down to another person, he made marriage sound like it should be: A wonderful lifetime shared between two people serving the Lord together and finding joy in it all, even through the struggles.

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Pastor Austin Gardner

We would then have a service at noon, free time in the afternoon, and then a service in the evening as well. That may sound like a lot but I loved it. The conference itself lasted from Tuesday evening to Friday morning.

It was a blessing to meet all the pastors from so many different countries, especially Peru, and for how kind they all were. It really was one giant meeting of brothers and sisters from many parts of South America coming together to worship the Lord, learn more, and go back to our respective countries spiritually refreshed and invigorated.

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Another really neat thing about this conference was all the missionaries that were there. One afternoon Jason asked if I could go out to eat with them so I could meet Brother Gardner, so I did and met several of them. The next day I was going to hang out with my friends from Bolivia when he stopped me again and asked if I’d go help them plan and talk about things, so I went ahead and said yes. I’m extremely glad that I did as it turned out to be a great evening full of laughter and fun but, more importantly, great help spiritually and practically for me.

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I found out about Aaron Vance’s ministry in Colombia a couple of years ago, was impressed with what I saw, and thought it’d be neat to meet him someday. He was there and was very encouraging to me!

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Well hello, there!

One of my favorite aspects of Arequipa was the taxi rides. The rides themselves were fun enough, but they were also a great opportunity to witness if the trip was long enough. One advantage to being a gringo is that they’ll naturally ask what you’re doing there and it opens a door to explain what we’re doing and segue right into the gospel. The bad thing is they almost all think we’re Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses at first (This happens to me in Chile too and they’re generally surprised to find out I’m neither).

Two taxi drivers specifically stand out to me but unfortunately I can’t remember either of their names, so I’ll call them Mario and Denis (I feel like Denis is actually close to one of their names). I met Mario on Saturday. After venturing through the city for a while with some different people, one of the missionaries, Kyle Shreve, hailed a taxi to take me back to the seminary. Alongside me was Andrew Wilder, a missionary intern in Bolivia. Before we knew what was happening, Kyle stuck us in a taxi, said something to the driver, and off we went without really knowing where we were going! We did have a general idea and I felt like I would recognize the road when we got near it, but it was still another one of those fun experiences where you just hope everything turns out okay.

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Look who I met while out in Arequipa!

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We were out about in the city and saw these familiar faces!

Andrew has a very outgoing personality and it wasn’t long before we were talking to Mario and explaining to him that we were with a group of Baptist churches for a conference. Soon he dropped Andrew off where he was staying and then continued down the road to take me to the seminary. Somehow the door opened up for us to continue talking about spiritual things.

“I’m Catholic,” he said, and then he said something that I’ve heard plenty of times. “I mean, it’s really all the same thing, isn’t it? Evangelicals and Catholics.”

“No, not at all,” I said, before proceeding to explain all the differences between the two, including salvation. He listened intently and by the time he dropped me off seemed to understand that there was a difference between what I believed and what he believed.

The next day, Sunday, I jumped in a taxi with Katie Holt, Josh Holt and Grace White (A daughter of missionary Kevin White from Bolivia). We started talking to Denis right away.

He asked if we were Mormon, and I told him no and was getting ready to try to get into the gospel, when all of a sudden Katie Holt jumped in and took off with it. Having grown up in Chile, she speaks Spanish fluently as a first language and was easily able to begin explaining the gospel to him way better than I could’ve. I was happy to see Denis was actually very engaged with her, talking and answering her questions (I wasn’t so excited that he kept looking in the rearview mirror at her instead of the road in front of us, though!).

We pulled up to the seminary and she invited him to church. He was so kind to us the whole way through and I remember thinking, Every one of these drivers is somebody God is divinely putting in our paths for just a brief period of time, and we have that moment and that moment only to make the best of it. And isn’t that how life is? Sometimes we see people over and over again and have multiple opportunities to witness, but there are others that step into our lives for just a few minutes, and we have that short time to plant a seed of the gospel in their hearts and trust God will continue working with it.

We all went to different churches on Sunday morning and evening. After the service on Sunday morning, I spoke to the pastor for just a moment. “If you come back tonight, I’ll let you preach for five minutes,” he said. I was thankful and excited for the opportunity, so that night I brought something to preach.

But I made a mistake I never want to make again. I tried to fit a whole three-point sermon into five minutes, and the passage was like seven or eight verses long! I’ve been told before that when a pastor gives you five minutes to preach, you take your five minutes and then sit down and shut up. I really wanted to honor that and tried my best, but the result was that I blazed through the passage in Spanish that was probably barely inteligible. The next time I think I’m going to read a verse or two, give a main thought, and be done.

Francisco Nuñez was there that night and was very encouraging to me after I finished. He did laugh about how much of the Bible I read, though, and said something like, “I thought you were going to read the whole book!” I laughed too because it was a bit ridiculous in hindsight.

Just a few days ago he was talking to Mauricio about it and jokingly said, “Yeah, he was supposed to preach for five minutes and he read through the whole book of Corinthians.”

“Philippians!” I shot back, laughing along with them.

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It was good to see Pablo from Bolivia again! He got ten minutes to preach before the main speaker.

The next morning, Monday, I got up early to say goodbye to my friends from Bolivia before they left. Then I went and packed up the rest of my stuff for our return trip home. By about 8:00, we were on our way to the bus station. It had been a great week and I was expecting a relatively straightforward ride home.

And then a crazy turn of events occurred…

But that’ll have to wait for Part 3: “Mad Dash for the Border!”

 

Peru: Part 1 – The Road To Arequipa

It seems no South American travel story of mine would be complete without some misunderstanding at the airport.

We left for Peru on Tuesday morning, October 3, for a churches/leaders conference. I had to be up at 3 in the morning to catch an Uber to the airport, so I got very little sleep. However, I made it there without incident before anybody else did, so I decided to go ahead and check in. I wasn’t the one who purchased the tickets but I knew we were going to some place that started with an A and ended with something like a Pa. So I walked through the international travel line and presented my passport to the lady at the desk.

“I don’t have you in the system,” she said. My first thought was that Jason had somehow accidentally messed up my ticket and I was going to be fighting to get on this flight just like the one out of the US. So I discussed and questioned and wandered around trying to figure out what was going on. As it turned out, we were flying domestically to a city in Chile called Arica and then crossing over into Peru from there. Our final destination in Peru was Arequipa, so naturally I confused the two. I finally found my way into the domestic flight line and made it through. In the future, I really should know a little more about what exactly we’re doing. Two days before I had been asking, “Do we leave tomorrow or Tuesday?” Everything’s a surprise these days.

As you can see, the day before I thought we were flying internationally.

Our group consisted of Jason Holt and his family (His daughter Katie was coming with a group from Bolivia, so she wasn’t with us on the way there), Francisco Barra and his wife Connie, John Moncada and his wife Cote, Francisco Nuñez, his wife Paula and their little girl Francisca, Mauricio Peréz and me. There were other people from Chile who went as well, but they left at different times.

On the flight, I sat next to an older lady from Peru who lives near me. She said when she returns to Chile in January, I’m invited over to eat and meet her family!

We landed safely in Arica and then hopped into three different cars to go through the border into Peru, where we crossed without incident and continued toward the bus station.

After purchasing our bus tickets, we bought a cellphone chip for our phones and headed out to Arequipa in a bus. It was a double-decker and we somehow got to all sit together in the bottom part with the room to ourselves, which was nice. The seats were also much nicer and more spacious than I expected.

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Now, I get sick on buses sometimes, so I wanted to get the air flowing as soon as possible. I reached up to twist the nozzle and nothing came out. Oh no. Twist, twist, twist. Nothing. And then the door to our little space shut with a thud. It’s over. I’m doomed. Seven long hours in this hotbox. I just resigned myself to my awful fate.

As the bus headed off down the road I was pleasantly surprised to find I was feeling okay. After a while I realized there were vents elsewhere blowing out air, and the trip, while forever-long, was at least nausea-free. I sat across from Francisco Nuñez and Paula and was able to talk to them for a little bit, which was nice since of all the people on the trip, I knew them the least. This is them below:

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Arriving in Arequipa, I was glad to get a chance to stretch my legs and find that we were in a city that reminded me of something you’d see out West in the United States (kind of like Cochabamba in Bolivia). Our first stop was the local mall food court to grab a bite to eat since we were all starving and hadn’t had a solid meal all day. As the twelve of us hauled our luggage through the mall, people didn’t even pretend not to stare. After eating, we hailed a taxi and headed toward the seminary, where the first service of the conference would be starting soon.

Getting in a taxi, especially with luggage, was always fun. If the taxi was pulled over on the side of the road, you’d jam everything in there as quickly as possible, pile in, and take off in about twenty seconds flat.

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It’s blurry, but here we are in a taxi

Traffic in Arequipa can be handled in two ways. You can either panic and fear for your life the whole time, or you can sit back and enjoy the ride like a roller coaster. I opted for the roller coaster and wow, was that fun! We blazed through traffic with horns blaring and buses driving close enough for me to practically reach out and touch them. At one point we stopped at a red light and I hollered, “Hola!” at a man in the next car. He looked at me really fast and gave this panicked half-wave before taking off again. Our taxi driver was actually getting a kick out of the whole thing! To be truthful, traffic was always pretty busy, but I think that first night was the craziest because it was around rush hour.

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We arrived at the seminary, where I was excited to be greeted by my friends from Bolivia! More than anything, I had actually been the most excited about going to Peru just to see them again. The married couples that came were shown where they were staying, then Mauricio (whose wife couldn’t come) and I were taken to our room, which was a large area with several bunk beds like you would see at camp or a dorm. We got ready quickly and headed down to the auditorium, where we were treated to an excellent service. We ate and fellowshipped afterward, went to our room, and fell asleep almost as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

All-in-all, it was about a twenty-two hour day with the time change factored in.

That was just the first day of a spiritually refreshing and fun week that would all culminate in one wild run back to the airport. But more on that later.

Lasernita – A Dramatic Retelling

Apparently her name is Lasernita, which was news to me. It’s a play off of the last name of one of my friends from Bolivia, and I’m not sure why she was given that name inasmuch as he didn’t seem to have any special attachment to her. Since I never named her, I’ll go with it.

I’ll preface this by saying that stray dogs are actually a fairly common thing in South America, but they’re basically all friendly and seem to receive enough food to survive without much problem. There were probably about five or six strays roaming around the seminary where we were staying in Peru, including Lasernita.

One afternoon/evening, Mauricio and I had to run back to our room to grab something. It was setup like this: A giant door outside led into a room full of bunk beds, almost like you would see at camp or something. The door often would be somewhat open unless it was time for us to go to bed, in which case we would shut it (and if somebody opened it after that, the sound would wake the dead). As we were running back out, Maury pointed out that there was a dog sleeping in our room. She never woke up as I took a picture of her and we left.

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The next night I came in late to find one of my roommates that I had gotten to know as a friend, Jorge, sitting on the bunk beds talking to a friend. I said hello and then climbed up onto my bunk, proceeding to do something, I can’t remember what.

All of a sudden, I thought I heard a bark. “Is there a dog in here?”

The two of them laughed. “Yeah, she’s under the bed.” I went over and looked, and sure enough, there she was! The same dog as the night before.

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I started to take a picture and then she came out to look at me. I don’t really like to pet stray dogs but I just couldn’t help it. She proceeded to climb up onto a mattress that was on the floor and go to sleep.

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I decided it wouldn’t hurt anything to let her stay the night. Then Jorge said she had to go outside, and the fireworks began. Okay, it was more like a mock argument in which we were having fun with one another, but both of us really did kind of want our way. At least, I know I did. This conversation is far from word-for-word, but it’s a general idea.

“She can stay. The Bible says that as we’ve done to the least of these we’ve done unto Jesus.” A little out of context, perhaps, but it sounded good.

“The Bible says you’re supposed to care for your own dog, not every stray.”

“She’s fine, she can stay!”

“You don’t know what kinds of diseases and things she’s carrying.”

“Oh, big deal, she’s fine.”

“Okay, well then I’m like the department of health,” he said. “Where’s proof of her vaccines, her rabies shot, etc?” Well, I guess he had a point. “And imagine this: What if somebody travels many kilometers to get here, only to lie on a bed that’s full of diseases and who knows what?”

“Well, can he not suffer a little for the Lord?” I asked, wondering what the Christian world was coming to when we couldn’t be expected to bear any type of cross. He laughed, then proceeded to say something about Revelation and dogs not entering the kingdom, which I told him didn’t mean literal dogs. “You’re going to feel terrible when you stand before the Lord and she comes walking up and Jesus asks what you did with her.” He thought that was hilarious and proceeded to further “discuss the matter” with me for a while.

Finally I channeled John chapter 8. “You Pharisee! Maybe you’re right and maybe she isn’t perfect and maybe she has diseases, but I just say let he who is without sin cast the first stone at her.”

And then, one by one, starting from the eldest unto the…Oh, different story, never mind.

Actually, he thought it was hilarious that I called him a Pharisee and while I think deep down he didn’t want her to stay, he was okay with it and so was Mauricio and everybody else sleeping in there.

We shut the door and as I got into bed the thought crossed my mind: What if she has to go to the bathroom? I figured we’d deal with that in the morning.

As I was drifting off to sleep, somebody entered the room and started to take her out. I sat up in bed. “What are you doing?”

“She can’t stay here.” And, unlike Jorge, he actually was serious. I fussed with him for just a minute but then decided it was best since it really would be a problem if she had to go to the bathroom and, honestly, who knows what she was carrying.

For some reason, when I woke up the next morning, she was on those mattresses again! I’m guessing somebody left the door cracked enough for her to get in. I gathered my things to get ready for the day, stepped out for about twenty minutes, and when I returned, she was no longer on the mattresses. I wonder where she went.

As I rounded my bed to put something in my suitcase, I got the answer to my question. Not content to simply lie on the mattresses, she had wandered over to my suitcase and was lying inside on top of my clothes!

Even I have my limits. The poor girl had to get out of the suitcase.

I’ve not started itching or anything yet, so I think I’m okay. I’m not sure I can say the same for those mattresses.

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