In July of 2008, I packed a suitcase full of bug spray and work clothes and traveled with my twin brother and fourteen adults from my Nazarene church to Iquitos, Peru. Our mission was simple- help to rebuild two churches and spread the Gospel to the people we met along the way. Little did I know that the trip would turn out to be the most memorable and changing experience of my life.
When we arrived, we dropped our luggage at the hotel and went straight to work. We rode motor taxis to the worksite, which was deep within a small village along the Amazon River. The houses we passed were no more than shacks. None of them had floors, and many of them had no windows or doors. People stared at us openly and curiously. We arrived at the first worksite and quickly became close to the locals, even though there was a significant language barrier. The kids swarmed around us, and we gave them suckers and stuffed animals we had brought from the States. We worked hard together with the locals, and within just a few days that church was finished. It was then time to move on to the next project.
At the next site, we learned we would be building a church from scratch. Nothing but boards were waiting for us. It took us almost a week, but we completed the project. It was at times almost unbearably hot when working, with the temperatures reaching over 100 degrees most days. However, the locals in Peru helped tremendously. I have never seen people work harder than those men and women did. They were incredibly excited about finally having their own church in their little neighborhood. Their help and support affected me deeply. The night after we finished, the people had their first service in which we were the guests of honor. They showed their gratitude in everything that they did for us.
In between the working, we did some sightseeing. I experienced many unusual things, including swimming in the Amazon River, playing with monkeys, and eating a grub worm. We visited one of the numerous outdoor marketplaces, which I have never seen anything like. It was extremely crowded and smelled of the fish, pigs, grubs, and other delicacies that merchants were attempting to sell. It took almost an hour to walk the length of the market. On our last day a guide took us by canoe about three hours down the Amazon to a small indian village rarely seen by those outside the tribe. Although cautious and harsh at first, the natives eventually accepted us and even let us watch their tribal ceremony and dances. It was quite the honor to see.
The things I learned from the Peruvian people and their culture are things I will never forget. They truly know how to be happy in all circumstances. They know what it’s like to have absolutely nothing and still have joy. It had been our goal to bring the Gospel and encourage them, but in the end it was those hardworking and joyous people that encouraged and strengthened us in both our faith and in our every day lives.
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