Saturday, October 22, 2016

Peru Trip, Day 5, In danger from rivers

Wednesday, October 12, 2016
"We looked at the venerable stream not in the vivid flush of a short day that comes and departs for ever, but in the august light of abiding memories." —Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Like every morning our team got together for coffee and a devotional before heading out to the church for breakfast and training. We talked about our schedule for the day and agreed to be flexible. After our morning sessions we were supposed to go with some of the students downriver to some villages where some of them serve in order to pray with the believers there and give them some encouragement.

Santos and I taught in the morning because we wouldn't be able to in the afternoon. Santos went over 1 Corinthians. Because the letter is addresses so many different topics, he needed extra time to finish, so I had to abbreviate a little of my material on 2 Corinthians in order to finish on time. By now I had learned from Santos's example to make my lessons more practical and address situations and questions arising from the church. It was a bit of an eye opener the day prior when someone asked about the ethics of receiving offerings from someone who made his money growing coca for drug trade. The details may be different, but the issues seem to be common across cultures. Most of the problems they identify revolve around matters of sexual immorality, domineering leadership, alcohol abuse—all problems you can easily find in most any church in the U.S. The overview of 1 and 2 Corinthians allowed us to touch on each of these areas.

Our afternoon excursion downriver was delayed a little, so someone from the church brought us a bag of juane to enjoy for supper on the way back upriver. We went down to the harbor to await the group and had to take shelter under a tent canopy when it started raining. Once the group arrived we all loaded up into a motor, a boat with a good-sized outboard motor. The peke-peke, on the other hand, is essentially a long canoe that sits low in the water and has a smaller motor that makes a sound that give it its name: peke, peke, peke, peke... Our boat could fit about 20 of us.

Santos was very nervous at this point. He can't swim and we had no lifejackets. To make matters worse, people were telling him that the life preserver was more to help locate the body, not save a person from drowning. As we set out on the river, the fast current, rough water, and whirlpools suggested the jokes may not be all that far off from the truth. When the boat started taking on water partway into the journey we were kind enough to not tell Santos about it. Looking back, Santos was probably the only one in our group who actually recognized the danger of our situation.

We made two stops to drop people off before arriving at our destination 9 miles and 1 hour away from our starting point. The village of Curiyacu doesn't appear on Google Maps, but it's there. One of our students, Osvaldo, ministers there. We arrived just after 6 pm as the sun was setting behind the mountains. A steep trek up the bank brought us to the main plaza of the town, complete with a cement soccer pitch. Up the hill we could see a small building with sheet metal roofing and no walls. As the sun set and the area was bathed in darkness, a light shone in that building. Ítalo, an elderly local believer, explained to us that the building we saw was the church. Two months ago it didn't exist.

After climbing the hill in the darkness we gathered with some believers, prayed, and divided up to meet some families that had supported the church in some way but were not attending. The New Testament describes these people as a "person of peace" or a "God-fearer." Because the arrival of outsiders was something of a special event for them, they wanted us to meet those people to express their appreciation to them. Santos and I followed Ítalo down the hill to the house of Galindo, his wife Celmith, and their five children. Santos was able to steer the conversation with Galindo towards the gospel. Galindo stated that he had believed the gospel, but had stopped attending the church for various reasons. Santos was able to talk to him, encourage him, and pray with him. We discovered that the two youngest children, fraternal twins about 13 months old, had been born with vision problems. The girl, Débora, had been treated, but the boy, Abram, remained blind. Until now, Galindo had not been able to take the trip to Lima to have his son's blindness treated.

This whole conversation brought Galindo to tears, and both Santos and I had to work to maintain our composure. Galindo decided to return to church and start reading his Bible again with his wife. We prayed together, thanked them for receiving us, and left to the central plaza to reunite with our group. Santos and I decided we couldn't leave Chazuta without doing something to help this family, and sure enough, we did. But that's another story for another day.

At the plaza we met more believers from Curiyacu and posed for some group photos before returning to the boat for the trip back. Santos had Ítalo write down the names of all the believers in Curicayu, as well as the names of Galindo and his family. By now the river and jungle had been swallowed by darkness. Navigating back upriver against the current and without a good line of site made the trip more dangerous than the trip down. We spent a lot of time in silent prayer as we made our two stops to pick up the rest of our group. We decided to wait until we returned to the hotel to eat our juane. The trip passed without incident. When we arrived back at the port we said our goodbyes until the morning and our team returned to the hotel to enjoy supper a little after 9 pm. I discovered that juane, a local dish, consists of rice cooked in various spices and wrapped in a banana leaf. Food never tasted so good.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Peru Trip, Day 4, Chocolates and Bees

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Medical clinic
Have I mentioned it's pretty warm in Chazuta? All the guys on the team carried little towels with us to wet, drape around our necks, and enjoy the cooling sensation it gives as the water evaporates. The high 80s temperatures and the daily rainfall that raises the humidity makes these little towels so important. On our way to the church for breakfast we saw that word had gotten out about the medical clinic and there were people already lining up to be seen and treated.

Enrique continued his devotional in the morning with the students before we broke yet again into our two classes. Santos and I both used Enrique's teaching time to go over our own notes. Santos led off again, this time teaching through the Gospel of John and the three letters of John. He was great at getting the participants to dialogue with him. During my turn after lunch I tackled Romans for just over two hours. I had been nervous about it because it was such a large block of time and the letter is one of the most intricate and complex of all the New Testament. The night before I managed to talk to Hannah over a wifi connection, and she encouraged me, saying that Romans was my book, the one I was meant to teach. I don't know about that, but I felt very confident, and I don't think I left anyone behind or confused, not even when looking the challenging chapters of 9-11 dealing with the sovereignty of God in salvation.

Me teaching
In the evening we took a little excursion with Pastor Jarvis from Tingo María. He had ridden his motorcycle 9 hours over all kinds of terrain in order to come to the training. As the week went on and we learned more about him, it was exciting to find out that he had been taking his church through the Spanish version of Step by Step through the Old Testament and he was now leading them through Step by Step through the New Testament. People who before hadn't read their Bibles or who had difficulty reading were learning the same sorts of things Santos and I were teaching these church leaders.

The ladies of Mishky Cacao
Our first stop was at Mishky Cacao (Quechua meaning "Sweet Cocoa"), the only building in all of Chazuta that I saw with air conditioning. The owner of the establishment told us all about how the business had started and came to be what it was. Back in the 80s and 90s Chazuta and the surrounding areas were specializing in one crop, coca, and selling it to the drug traffickers that operated within the region. For many it was a Catch 22. The coca provided a stable income for the locals and kept the drug traffickers happy, but it eventually brought down government forces and people were constantly in fear for their lives, whether it be from the traffickers or the military. Eventually the trade was significantly reduced and farmers had to find another way to make money. The families of the ladies at Mishky Cacao turned to growing cocoa beans, and the ladies made chocolates by hand. Eventually outside organizations, including USAID, began investing in the women's business and providing them with equipment to grind cacao beans and refrigerate their products. They were very proud that they had just gotten a bar code for their chocolate bars and they would be going on sale in Tarapoto soon. At present each of the women had a stable income of 30 soles a day (just over $9). Oh, and the chocolate was delicious.

The beekeeper and his wife
Afterwards we went to the property of a family that keeps three species of honey bee and sells the honey, pollen, royal jelly, and other products. The husband showed us a map of where the hives are located and explained a little bit about the bees. One species, the blue bee, was very small and had no stinger. He took us out to the hives and used a syringe to extract the honey for us to sample, which was much sweeter than I expected. His wife was a Swiss woman. I'm not surprised to meet foreigners in cities like Lima, but I never expected to meet a European woman in the jungle. It seems the husband had studied in Europe at some point, the two met, and they fell in love.

On the way back us guys engaged in our normal shenanigans. Jarvis came up behind me when some dogs were barking and grabbed my calf muscle with his fingers and about scared me half to death. Naturally I had to do it to someone else. We also picked up grasses and tickled each other on the neck or ear to make them think a bug was on them. In some ways, it felt like camp.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Peru Trip, Day 3, The Spider

Monday, October 10, 2016

Monday was day one of our survey of the New Testament. After breakfast at the church Enrique got up and lead the morning devotional, which he would do all week. The emphasis was on what it takes to be a pastor, looking specifically at passages in 1 Timothy and Titus. Then we broke out into two groups, the first going with Enrique and Ronaldo to learn about missions, and the second staying with Santos and me to get a survey of the New Testament. Aurora, Aldo, and Esther went to work at the local medical clinic seeing patients and providing free health care.

Santos taught in the morning on Matthew and Mark. His wife Roksana had confided in me that he was very nervous leading up to the trip. He had lead Bible studies before and one-on-one discipleship, but he felt ill-prepared to lead a seminar for pastors. You wouldn't have guessed it once he stood up and began the lesson. He hit on the major themes of each book and connected with the students, who respected him and called him "pastor."

At lunch time we learned a few words in the local Quechua dialect from Artidoro, a man who's been working on a Bible translation team in Tarapoto. Because there are so many dialects in the Quechua language family, not all of them have a Bible translation. This one only recently got a New Testament, and apart from a few Psalms, none of the Old Testament has been translated.

After lunch I got my chance at teaching through Luke and Acts. Despite having been largely apart from the Spanish-speaking community since moving to Buffalo in February, I was back in my element again. I gave a background and overview of the each book, then went chapter by chapter highlighting key passages and themes throughout. In all, I spent about two and a half hours going through the material and answering questions.

That evening after supper we went back to the hotel, and I went into the bathroom to wash my face. Santos stood by the door with his camera, and he told me not to move. I thought he was taking my picture. He wasn't. Outside the door was the largest spider I've ever seen outside a zoo. When I came out of the bathroom I ran down the wall towards the floor, and Santos tried to step on it. He missed. One of us let out a small scream (Santos insists it was me, but I'm not sure), and it ran up the wall. A second attempt with a broom only succeeded in knocking it to the ground and under the bed. Ronaldo, Santos, and I had to remove a lot of our luggage and our bedding to search for it, since none of us was willing to go to bed without first finding and killing the spider. We finally found it underneath an end table, and Santos redeemed himself by killing it with the broom. Aldo managed to capture some of my reactions on video, which led everyone to believe it was indeed me who screamed. Fortunately, that video hasn't surfaced on the internet yet.

We spent the rest of the evening by the river, listening to the water and telling funny stories. Before going to bed we made a thorough scan of our room for any more spiders. Because it had been on the wall next to Santos's bed, Ronaldo offered to switch beds with him, but that may be because Ronaldo was eaten alive the night before by little bugs that came in through the window by his bed. Regardless of his motives, Santos opted to stay by the wall, and I remained in the middle, hoping that the two of them would serve as buffers between me and the creepy crawlies of the night.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Peru Trip, Day 2, The team comes together

Peru Mission Trip | Sunday, October 9, 2016 | Day 2

Left, top to bottom: Aldo, Esther, Aurora, me
Right, top to bottom: Ronaldo, Enrique, Santos
I've never been good at sleeping on an airplane. Santos and I boarded our flight just before midnight, and I got little sleep between then and our 6:30 am landing time at Lima, which is an hour behind New York. It seems my seat didn't recline much at all, and attempting to lean forward to sleep didn't work either because the provided pillow and blanket couldn't bridge the gap between my head and and the seat back tray.

Once in Lima, Santos and I made our way through customs, got our boarding passes, and went to sleep in the airport waiting for our 1:00 pm flight to Tarapoto. Shortly before boarding we met up with our Dominican partners from the Iglesia Bautista Internacional (International Baptist Church), Enrique Crespo and his wife Aurora, and their son Aldo and his wife Esther. Their friend Ronaldo Sevillano, a Peruvian from Lima, also joined us. Santos and I were going to teach the New Testament survey, while Enrique and Ronaldo taught a missions class to those who had already completed the training. Aurora, Aldo, and Esther were going to provide their services in the medical clinic, as all of them are practicing doctors.

The landing in Tarapoto was fine. The mountains and valleys affect airflow, as does the jungle heat, which usually results in a lot of turbulence and a rough landing. From there it was a 1-hour taxi ride to Chazuta. Along the way we could see evidence where previous rockslides had blocked the road. In some cases the road was just rerouted around the rocks, and pavement was present in some places, absent in others. I remember we were a little nervous about the speed the driver was going and his timing for passing other vehicles, which brought us close to oncoming traffic, but hindsight reveals that he was a pretty safe driver compared to what Santos and I would go through just six days later.

Left to right: Me, Santos, Ronaldo, Enrique, Jairo (off screen)
The route took us along the Huallaga River to Chazuta. The river feeds into another river that eventually becomes the Amazon. In fact, if you had the time and resources, you could travel from Chazuta to the Atlantic Ocean by way of Brazil. The cost of transporting four people one hour in a taxi came out to 40 soles, or approximately $12. We checked into our rooms as the local hotel, with Santos, Ronaldo, and I sharing a room with three single beds. From there we walked about five or so minutes to the Iglesia Evangelica Central (Central Evangelical Church) where we would be doing the training and we discussed the itinerary with Pastor Jairo. Afterwards we participated in the Sunday evening church service and Enrique preached a message from 2 John.

By the end of the day Santos and I were tired from all our travels, and we settled in for some much-needed rest before beginning our class the next day.

Peru Trip, Day 1

Peru Mission Trip | Saturday, October 8, 2016 | Day 1

Once the bags were packed, checked, and double-checked to make sure I had everything, I spent about a half hour in the morning making recordings of me reading stories from my kid's books so they could have a moment with
me each day while I was away in Peru. Then we loaded up everything and everyone into the car and drove to the airport around at 11:00 am.

After tearful goodbyes, I was on my own waiting to catch my first flight from Buffalo to New York City. Once in New York, I had to wait for my friend Santos Garcia to arrive from Indianapolis. I used the time to pray, read my Bible, and go over my notes for the New Testament survey class we would be teaching in the week to come.

When Santos arrived, I found out I was waiting at the wrong terminal, so together we walked, rode the AirTrain, and used the many escalators and moving sidewalks to get to where we needed to be for our midnight flight to Lima. Besides catching up on each other's lives, we passed the time making a few phone calls, eating a good supper, and going over notes again. I was even able to tell the kids good night. Around 11:30 pm we boarded the plane and waited for our nearly 8-hour flight to begin.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Off to Peru on Friday!

It's finally here. At noon next Friday, October 7, I will be boarding my first flight in Buffalo, New York. Eighteen and a half hours later I will touch down in Lima, Peru, at 6:30 am local time. I will spend the day in Lima with my good friend Santos Garcia, and the following day we will fly from Lima to Tarapoto, then take a one hour car ride to Chazuta.

From Monday, October 10 through Friday, October 14, Santos and I will be teaching a group of pastors an overview of the New Testament. My sections are mostly in the afternoon. Here's what I'm covering:

  • Luke, Acts
  • Romans
  • 2 Corinthians
  • 1-2 Thessalonians
  • 1-2 Timothy, Titus
  • Hebrews
Rock slides are a real risk on the drive between Tarapoto and Chazuta, and the weather report indicates rain all week. In fact, it also indicates a high temperature each day at or above 90 degrees.

Santos convinced me to stay a couple days after the trip is over to visit Cuzco and Machu Picchu, so I won't be returning to Buffalo until Tuesday, October 18.

Please pray for our families back in the States. Hannah will have a lot on her hands, and, believe it or not, she gets lonely when I'm not around. I will not be able to contact her much while I'm in Peru, so giving her a call or sending her an encouraging word via text or Facebook would go a long way. The kids always miss me when I go away, so pray for them too.

Obviously, I want you to pray for Santos and me that we would handle God's word well and that we would not get sick.

After I return I should have plenty of photos and videos to share. Thanks to everyone who's supported me in fundraising and your prayers.

Bonus: Click here for a 360-degree view of the compound where we'll be training.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

One month until PERU!

It's hard to believe that almost a year ago I announced that I was going to Peru in October 2016. Since then my third child was born. I've moved jobs, cities, and churches. There have been ups and downs, but through it all I've found that God is faithful.

With time counting down I have a lot to do. I have to finish my seminary class, do some public speaking this Saturday, buy some last-minute items for my trip, and prepare my teaching notes for the following New Testament books:

  • Luke
  • Acts
  • Romans
  • 2 Corinthians
  • 1&2 Thessalonians
  • 1&2 Timothy
  • Titus
  • Hebrews

Oh, and I'm still about $200 shy of the $2400 needed for the trip. If you've thought about supporting me financially but wanted to wait until I really needed it, now is the time. Online giving is quick and easy. Just click on this link. Be sure to put my name, ANDREW WENCL, in the notes field.
UPDATE: Someone has contacted me to let me know they will cover the last $200!
Those of you who have already given can expect to hear from me pretty soon. Thanks again!

As always, I covet your prayers.

Oh, and one more thing. If you'd like to see a 360-degree view of where I will be teaching, click here.