On Monday mornings, Mary Beth goes out to SIM's camp to play horse wrangler in the morning and kid wrangler in the afternoon. (Neighbor kids visit her apartment in the parsonage to play games and learn how to apply to the Bible to their lives.) It takes about two hours to get there if the buses go well. Today they didn't go so well. A little over halfway to camp her bus stopped and sat hardly moving for an hour. It turns out there were strikers protesting (we don't know what they were protesting against, so clearly not a helpful strike to convey their dissatisfaction) and blocking the road. After her patience ran out, Mary Beth got off the bus and started looking for a vehicle heading back to Arequipa with an available seat. Thankfully, her prayers were answered by a taxi being driven by Carlos, the man who does maintenance work at the camp, who also felt waiting for the road to open would be futile. On the way back they came across a truck that had just recently tipped over on a curve, blocking the road again. Carlos and his brother saved the day by helping a group of men tip it back up onto its wheels so everyone could continue on their way!
This afternoon I looked down the street to see how the tree I had transplanted was doing and saw a ton of bricks (okay, probably a lot more than a ton) piled up where the tree had been. Clearly they had decided not to let this little tree obstruct their task at hand.
It wasn't until I went up to take a closer look that I saw that they had spared the tree! It likes like it will be hard to water it now, but it made me smile to see they had stacked the bricks around it without crushing it!
Last Friday, Mary Beth biked while I ran a long run in training for the Lima Marathon in May. It was long enough of a run that when we returned, someone from the municipality had planted a tree in our front yard! We've had bushes there before, but tore them out because they make it hard to get in and out of the truck. I applaud their efforts to make the dessert we live in greener, but there are less inconvenient ways.
Four houses down, they are building what looks like a new apartment building. They need a tree. So in the night, I dug up the tree in front of our house and planted it in front of theirs! I think the construction workers felt like Wall-E in the movie of the same name and took a liking to it. This morning I noticed that someone had even watered it!
Nehemiah, one of the counsellors (you can tell Mary Beth is writing this post as she uses the Canadian-preferred double 'l'!) at Equestrian Camp this year, regaled his campers with stories of how he had grown up without parents, started working at 6 years old and joined the gangs in Lima. He told how he then committed his life 100% to the Lord because of a brain operation he had that was supposed to leave him paralyzed and with limited mental capacity. Now he dreams of returning to university and becoming a missionary. During one of our Bible Study lessons I asked the campers to give an example of someone who had learned perseverance, character and hope through suffering (Rom. 5:2-5), one of them said ‘Nehemiah’. I asked, ‘Nehemiah from the Bible?’ ‘No,’ she replied, ‘Nehemiah the counsellor’. I thought she had given a very good example.
Nehemiah also encouraged his campers to learn the art of fire-making from scratch by hacking up a big old tree and using it to cook a 'Huatia', a traditional Peruvian highland dish where food (generally meat and potatoes) is laid over very hot coals and covered in a pile of dirt. It is left to cook for an hour (in our case half an hour because we had less meat and more veggies) and then unburied and eaten for supper. Ours was delicious and devoured very quickly.
Today was the fourth day of our VBS. When it was done, I went to the doorway to hand out fliers inviting the parents to come tomorrow for the finale. A mom was waiting at the door wondering if her son was there and I had to coax her to go into the church and look. She found her son, but he was having such a good time he didn't want to leave so she stayed a bit and Mary Beth started talking to her. The mom explained that she had been in the neighborhood to get a haircut and the next thing she knew, her son was gone, attracted to the music and kids at our church! But she seemed happy that he was there and indicated they'd return tomorrow.
Each child gets to have his picture taken in our rocket and take home a printed copy on the last day.
Today we had 40 kids for the 3rd day in a row. I had 14 in my class of 10-14 year-olds. They have been really well behaved and attentive in my classes each day.
We asked people to pray for 40 kids to come to our church's VBS that started today. I had 10 in my class, Mariela had 12 in her class and Elizabeth had 13 in her class. That's 35. Julio announced in our meeting that there were 5 toddlers present too, to put us at 40, but I think that would be cheating! Elizabeth remarked, "Allen said he had asked people to pray for 40 kids to come. Let's pray for 60 now!" "No! We can't handle that many!" I half-joked.
Praise God for the great first day of VBS and that we can handle however many show up tomorrow!
Tomorrow, Vacation Bible School (VBS) begins at our little church. Our theme is 'Galactic Observers' and the church members have worked hard decorating the church for the event as you can see in the picture. I think everyone is pretty excited about the event and last night we had the largest attendance without free food that we've seen since we started attending here. 45 people! We had to scramble to bring out more chairs during the middle of the service.
Pray that we have a lot of children attend this week. I have been praying for 40+ kids to attend, which would be a huge number of kids. We walked through the neighborhood handing out invitations today. Pray that the teachers prepare well. I (Allen) have been assigned the 11-13 year-olds and Mary Beth is in charge of telling the story of Amy Carmichael, missionary to India. VBS is each day from 3 to 5 pm until Saturday.
"You haven't written much in your blog lately!" Let's just say, "I've been busy." I won't bore you with details of the busy time leading up to the wedding, but instead tell you about the event.
Friday morning the 29th, I woke up at 6 am for the big day. 'Woke up' isn't exactly true. That would imply that I had slept some, which I'm not sure that I had. I quickly fell back on my experiences as a marathon runner to get me through. I've run several marathons without sleeping hardly a wink the night before and I don't feel that it made much difference in my performance, so my wedding day could be the same. The wedding dinner team was already clanging about the kitchen and setting up tables when the 37 North Americans and our pastor and his family were eating breakfast. After breakfast, my groomsmen, Erik Tullberg, Keelan Kaiser, and Jerry Busselman, tried to help me put my clothes on properly while the girls did their hair in the other bathroom. Too bad they didn't remind me to put sunscreen on my head. At 9:00am the photographer started lining us up for the requisite shots. By 10:30 we done, with enough time to wait in the wedding tent for the mayor. She arrived exactly at 11 am as scheduled. A week before I had asked the municipality secretary if the mayor was punctual and she only would say, "The mayor gets there when she gets there," with the same air as the Queen in Princess Diaries saying, "The queen is never late. Everyone else is simply early." The buses full of guests from Arequipa had just arrived and after they unloaded, we started the civil wedding. The civil wedding is quite sterile. No pomp. No fluff. I didn't even get to kiss the bride! The mayor read the legal articles pertaining to marriage, had us sign the forms and put our fingerprints on them (how do you wipe off the ink on your finger while wearing a white wedding dress?). She did say some nice things about what a wonderful woman Mary Beth was and then that was it. But we were married! I said several times the week before that as long as I'm married by the end of the day it is a successful wedding. Everything from this point on are bonus points! Mary Beth and I disappeared for 15 minutes while the waiters served fruit kebabs and drinks and then at noon we started the religious ceremony.
The religious ceremony was a fusion of American, Canadian and Peruvian customs. Everything went as planned, except the sunflowers on stage were already starting to wilt having been cut 6 hours before and not put in water soon enough. We did parts of the wedding in Spanish and parts in English, only translating the question, "Who gives this woman to be wed?" as we felt Jim and Linda should know exactly what they were answering when he said, "Her mother and I." The sermon was in Spanish. Our vows were in English as that is our heart language despite years in Peru. After getting to kiss the bride, we jumped off the front of the stage and ran out the back appearing at the reception dinner 15 minutes later.
The wedding was held in a tent for 400 people on the camp soccer field. We had about 275 guests. During the reception, a gust of wind carried away the tent. Providentially, it was after the wedding and the only damage we suffered was our piano getting smashed. Peruvian custom is for the newlyweds to go from table to table during the dinner and greet everyone and get pictures taken with them. We did this during the meal and then handed out the sunflower-shaped cupcakes that my sister Carolyn had made. Peruvian tradition is to toss the boquet and an exagerratedly big bowtie matching my already silly-sized bowtie to the unmarrieds and then have a mock wedding for the winners. My brother-in-law Keith performed the 'Mawage' ceremony in a bishop attire similar to that from the Princess Bride movie, which was a hit. Ben caught the bowtie!
By 4:30 pm the buses were loading to head back to Arequipa and Mary Beth and I escaped shortly thereafter to begin our Happily Ever After.
As an interesting note, my parents were married on the same date, December 29th, 1954. My sister put this picture up on the cake table of them and brought the candle that is pictured from 63 years ago!
This weekend was the annual women's retreat out at camp. Mary Beth was the director of the event and she did a great job, especially with dealing with some changes because two helpers couldn't come at the last minute. 32 women came to the event along with seven women who helped lead the event. Our speaker was Claudia, a Peruvian-born woman living in Omaha, Nebraska that fellow missionaries, Scott and Tami Wade met before coming to Peru. After her first talk last night, Claudia told Mary Beth that some women wanted to get baptized! You might think that that is a common thing at such an event, but it's actually quite unusual, and we decided that I needed to talk to them and find out what they had in mind before I could baptize them. Today, only one of the women was still interested, so I talked to her to ask some basic questions, like why she wanted to get baptized and if she was even a Christian. It turned out that she wasn't sure if she had ever made a decision to accept Christ, so I had the blessing of leading her to Him! Afterward, we talked about baptism with more resolve and I explained that it didn't save her (Christ had just done that!) but it was a way to publicly declare her faith. She decided that she wanted to wait until her son could witness her baptism. I called the pastor from her village and it worked out that he was coming by the camp two hours later, so he stopped in and met with her to exchange phone numbers and they plan on meeting this week! Pray for Matilde (in the beige hat and purple shirt with her back to us) to get baptized and to grow into a woman of great faith!
I marvel at pastors of megachurches that preach several times per day. Sometimes when I have to preach twice in one day during the second service I pause and wonder, 'Did I already say that, or did I only say that during the first service?' I'd definitely lose track if I had to preach 4 or 5 times in a morning. November is missions month in the Alianza (Christian Missionary Alliance) churches in Arequipa and I preached about the church's role in promoting missions in three different churches this morning! They were such different churches, I think that helped me not forget if I had said something before. One thing that I noticed in all three churches was that when I mentioned that Peruvians are often better suited to being missionaries (less political stigma in Muslim countries, more relational culturally (happy to extend a conversation even if it makes them late for another event) and lower maintenance (They don't need Starbucks to survive)) I got a lot of pleased/surprised looks from the congregation. So, that's a new record for me: 3 different churches in one day! I have no desire to break that record, though I could ask my pastor to let me preach tonight to go for four...