I had traveled roughly 400 miles. I wanted so badly to watch “Friends” with the guy sitting next to me on the plane but I had to stay focused. I was heading to Iquitos, Peru to share love and work to change lives. It’s easy to be distracted from what the true purpose of my mission was, especially going somewhere I had never been and thinking about all of the incredible things I would see, but in order to make the amount of impact that my team and I were capable of, we had to rid ourselves of all distractions.
I couldn’t help but think about all the different reasons the people sitting around me on the plane were venturing to Peru. Coming from different backgrounds and lifestyles. Maybe to visit family, maybe just for vacation.
We arrived in Iquitos early morning to meet our host family, Adam and Jen Bostic. The Bostics have 3 biological children and many other adopted children who they have taken in through a Christian school they built just miles down the road from their dirt ridden and distressed home. As teachers at the school, they cater to children’s needs, give them an education, teach them to study the Bible, and teach them to help around the house as they are being provided with food, shelter, and education that has helped them.
Shortly after our arrival we started our work as we spoke with Adam and Jen and learned about their family and how they felt about living in Peru. Jen said she doesn’t like certain things about Iquitos but it’s only the least she can give back for all the good that’s been done in her life.
Through the course of our work, naturally people were injured. Not terribly, though! Apparently, Cayenne pepper is the cure for everything in Iquitos. Even a headache! For example, one of the guys in our group, Sam, woke up Sunday morning with a Peruvian water hangover (the water is toxic to foreigners) but no one panicked. He was given a Cayenne pepper, told to give himself a few minutes to allow the Cayenne’s burning sensation, and he’d pass out. Problem solved. Kind of. Luckily, Sam didn’t heed to this advice. He rested up for the rest of the afternoon and met us back at the Bostics’ home later that evening for dinner.
Weather was another problem we faced while working. We were in the Rainforest, on the edge of the Amazon River. I don’t know why I didn’t imagine it raining often but for those of you like me who don’t thoroughly process given information: it rains in the rainforest. A lot. This was only an issue because the work that we were doing was outdoors. Rebuilding houses, moving dirt; you name it, we were doing it. But as Adam said “The devil comes to kill, steal, and destroy. Anything that’s lost, dead, or destruction (the rain at the time) must be his work. It makes me want to push through in the weather.” So that’s just what we did. Through rain, sweat, and tears we pushed on and did what we had come to Peru to do.
After a long morning of helping rebuild a portion of the Bostics’ home for schooling and housing purposes, we had our second Peruvian meal (we were served breakfast upon arrival. South American hospitality is almost equate to Southeast Texas hospitality). But this was not just any lunch. Jen Bostic is, hands down, the best cook in South America. Jen’s food is the kind of food that you have to take a bite of and then put your spoon down a minute to enjoy it. The water was the freshest; the bread (served with every meal) melted in your mouth like South American cotton candy, and the butter for the bread was honestly just as satisfying as the bread itself. I may or may not have eaten a couple spoonfuls a la carte. Jen prepared her meals with all natural ingredients, mainly because it is what is available in Peru but the taste is incomparable. Any good food is worth mentioning and this food was A M A Z I N G.
But believe it or not, we didn’t only work and eat while visiting Peru. We hung out with many children, visited markets, and played futbol (soccer). Peruvians take pride in their soccer. We all met one evening in a large field and divided up into teams. Boys played with boys and girls played with girls. Partially because the boys were too aggressive and partially because the girls didn’t want to embarrass the boys by beating them at their own game. After dividing into our teams (North American girls vs. South American girls) we played a game of soccer. And to my surprise, North American girls kicked butt. Shortly after I wrote “beat Peruvians in a game of soccer” on my bucket list just so I could scratch it off. I had never ran so fast and been so competitive in my entire life, I guess because I knew whom I was facing.
I think that stance could sum up my entire trip to Peru. I DIDN’T know what I would was facing when signing up for the trip to visit Peru. I had an idea. I knew it was an undeveloped country, I knew there would be people who needed to be loved on simply because there are people everywhere who need to be loved on, and I knew that the conditions I would be living in for the time I was there would be uncomfortable, but that was the extent of my knowledge. For one week, I chose to be uncomfortable and experience a new culture without knowing the life changing encounters that would live with me for years and years. There was something about Peru that made me feel a level of contentment that I had yet to experience. With all the things Peruvians don’t have access to, they’re hearts are still happy and they are thankful and joyful for what they do have. You cannot be introduced to a people so amicable, gentle, and content with their standards of living and leave a country unmoved.
By the end of my trip, I had traveled 5, 610 miles, flying 37,000 feet above all things living. But it is not the distance between Houston and Iquitos that gave me the true experience of traveling and being equipped with a new understanding. It was all the moments between stepping off the plane onto Peruvian soil, attempting to understand another culture, influencing and being influenced by another people, and venturing back to America on a six hour flight where my thoughts were overwhelmed by the idea that there’s more to life than what we have to offer that allowed my broken heart to be mended.
I want to show love. I wanted so badly to do it all again. To speak with the guy who was originally sitting next to me on the plane, and not only watch Friends with him or have a meaningless chat, but tell him all about my experience in Peru. I wanted to hear about his reasoning for visiting the country, and explain to him how I was a considerably different person than I had been just days before. I couldn’t help but think about where are the people on the plane were going once we land back in the states. Knowing we all share the same sky but all going back to our very different lives but leaving with a small part of South America.
No matter what your religion (or nonexistent religion), I believe everyone should go on a mission trip. Helping others is a universal good and experiencing life in a completely different way than your own builds moral and increases your understanding of particular aspects of life. If you ever have the opportunity, go explore a new place and a new people, live in an uncomfortable environment, help those around you, and allow the experience to change your outlook on life.
The experience is running through our veins, encrypted on our tongues, and engraved in our hearts. Nothing that happens can lead us to forget the lives changed on the soils of Iquitos. We were broken vessels that allowed love to take over and change lives– but we now realize it was Peru that changed us.