June 29, 2017
This is a long one.
I think you’ll be drawn in anyway.
The summer of 1968, before my college Junior year, is lasered into my memory. Richard Nixon was on his way to being elected, by a large margin, as President of the United States . (I was a fan of his in those days.) That same summer, I left the country for three weeks.
The trip catalyzed life change, informing my worldview ever since.
So, How Do You Change Your Life?
First, a brief (so very brief) summary of my Summer of 1968.
Cheap would not describe this mission – not in 1969 dollars. My “Faith Fund” for YES Corps (Youth Enlisted Serving) was $495. That amount would get me from Eastern Oregon to Lima, Peru, for three weeks, to travel, live, and serve in that exotic place.
I was a naïve college student, just having completed Sophomore year. YES Corps was our denomination’s short-term mission outreach opportunity. That summer seven or eight destination opportunities were offered. I don’t remember why, but Peru had been in my imagination for many years. Peru was where I wanted to go, and the first of three choices I submitted for the trip.
The headquarters people granted it to me.
We were a team of eight, led by a well-respected denominational leader and his wife. I only knew one, Tim Fisher, who was a fellow student at Bartlesville Wesleyan College.(Yes, I used to travel in that choir bus in the photo.) The rest of the team I met in Miami airport.
Fund raising was a big deal for an impossible amount. $495. Now, 49 years later, that would be $3525.33. Two or three summer jobs, though, were promised to me before I left Oklahoma for home in Eastern Oregon.
All fell through.
I had committed myself to a fund that seemed astronomical, and my only known hopes of gaining that money ceased to exist.
At a camp meeting in Clarkston, Washington, I told the gathering about my calling and plans to go, and about the needed Faith Fund. An anonymous donor contributed $100 ($712 in today’s [lack of]) value. That put me on the team. When the giving was completed over the next few weeks, I was able to send in $525, $35 more than the required amount to go.
With giddy feelings, my mind asked “How did that happen?”
The following few weeks filled with preparation, study, vaccines, packing, and my first passport. (I still have it.) Soon I was on a jet flying out of Portland, air sailing to Miami. That was a thrill in itself, being my second plane trip ever.
Upon meeting my team, we entered an airport conference room and spent several hours getting to know one another and learning more about the country and the people we’d serve. We had all spent several weeks on a study course to prepare us for the adventure. Still, by the time we boarded the Equatoriana Airlines Turboprop, we had under 20 hours of total preparation.
Flying Equatoriana made me dizzy with its oddly banked turboprop turns. We set down in Panama City, Panama and Quito, Ecuador for fuel. This was rarefied experience for me, looking down on Cuba on the way and seeing people I never thought I’d see.
At Lima International, we went to the customs line. I was just behind a team member named Ron Batman. Two officials at the counter looked at Ron’s passport, giggled, then looked back at me. They pointed my direction and said in unison, “Superman”. Batman and Superman we were, the remainder of the trip.
There were other offbeat moments, but what hit me the most was the spirit of the Christ followers we encountered in that sprawled city.
We spent the first three nights in Lima.
Our wondering eyes and ears spent long minutes staring at the chaotic traffic below, accompanied by constant sounding of horns. The back window of our room showed a much different view.
Our first weekend was connecting and serving with a congregation in Lima.
Our experience in Lima’s hillside slums still resides in the 3D portion of my memory. As you can see, they still exist today.
To get there, we took a bus across town. It broke down, leaving us to wait a couple of hours for one to come by with enough standing room for ten gringos and three missionaries.
We arrived in the slum after dark, small crowd waiting. The “street” upon which we walked several blocks was 4-inch deep talcum-powder-fine dust. Arriving at the church building, we were startled to see a mud-wall structure having three walls. The entire front was open. No door. None was needed.
The pastor and family greeted us with grace, immediately asking us to come upstairs with them to their tiny apartment on the roof of the building. “But, the people have been waiting!” They responded that it was fine; they had nothing else to do anyway.
This dear family served us chicken and rice. That is 13 people with our missionary guides and our swiftly-becoming-favorite young Peruvian man, Fermin Bocanegra.
The family’s two young children with big solemn brown eyes surveyed every move we made. Our cultural instructions had been to be sure to eat everything set before us, as it would be considered an insult or rude to leave anything on the plate. Yet, we had also been told that in many cases the host family and kids would have whatever was left when the guests were finished.
- Cognitive dissonance.
- Puzzlement and sadness.
What was the right thing to do? We ate until full.
After the meal, we joined the Peruvians downstairs for worship. We sang in English. They sang in Spanish. The three walls resounded. Maybe that was why there was no entrance wall. The sound pressure might have done damage.
Strange observation: usually the ritzy homes get the city high places. Lima seemed reversed. There was nothing fancy up there, but genuine joy and hospitality overflowed.
Our three weeks brought an endlessly renewed stream of new things.
- Overland taxis.
- All night bus rides.
- Hopelessly narrow town streets too small for busses.
- Toilets with no front walls, holes in concrete floors being the facilities.
- Piles of human waste, six feet high, on city street corners, where people did their thing (not in the slums – downtown).
- Apricot-sized, bitter-tasting olives.
- Shoeshine boys shouting for business everywhere we walked. (We started wearing tennis shoes.)
- Groundhog served in a roadside cafe in the Andes.
- Speaking through the assistance of a translator.
- Driving by horn. Everywhere.
- Sleeping all night on an overland bus (school bus type painted green) because it broke down.
- Being followed several blocks one evening by two young men whose intentions were not clear.
- Juan Pizarro
- Visiting a small Bible college for a week, using it as a hub for ministry jaunts.
- Haggling in an open-air market.
- Llama skin rugs.
- Ignoring further conversation with a man on the bus, who was doing his best, I was told by one of the missionaries, to get me to marry his sister. I was 19. So that’s why he offered me a watch. (She was pretty, though.)
- Warm sodas to drink, replacing the locally bad water.
Our team took a 3,000 mile tour, driving up the coast 600 miles north of Lima, then following a large loop in the Andes Mountains.
We visited a village where we were the first white evangelicals to be there. We held an open air service in the evening in the town square, on an elevated section of the town. Batman and I played our trumpets. The team sang. One of us gave a Scripture sermon. During most of the service the Catholic priest rang the church bell, we presumed for the purpose of disrupting the gathering.
Vivid forever in my brain is what happened when we were done. We had hundreds of tracts – colorfully, well-done Spanish literature – ready to hand out to people before going to our rooms. It was dark. There was the barest of lighting.
The 10 of us (with our leader couple) were swarmed with our handfuls of literature. The crowd pressed in hard against us, fingers reaching for those pieces of paper printed with pictures and words of Life. We were lifted off our feet by the simple, steady pressure of human bodies closed in all around, holding stacks of the brochures high above our heads. Barely able to hear one another, we managed to stay composed.
Somehow we gave away all 900 – 1000 pieces of literature in those few moments. We saw people give some to others who could not get to us. When the dust settled, we did not see one bit of paper left in the area.
Never have I seen such hungry eyes. Not in 49 years.
Three weeks expired faster than any of us wanted. As Peru sank behind us on takeoff, I told Batman “I will never be unthankful again.” It has been a mindset for me ever since.
Not always have I lived up to it, but the mindset remains. Gratitude changes things.
God was on that trip. No, He was there waiting for us.
So, how do you change your life? Here are actions that did it for me; there may be others:
Put Yourself in a Position That’s Too Big for You
Get into Situations Where You Must Trust God
Associate With People More Thankful Than You
Associate with People Who Have Much Less Than You
Immerse in A New Thing
Be Willing to Go Where You Have Never Been
Step Over Your Fear of Unknown and Discomfort
Do Something That Has Little to Do with You, but Lots To Do with Others
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