Trying to find a suitable way to begin this post was ridiculously difficult. I delight in words and what I can convey through them. But sometimes, there seems to be such a sad lack of words that can fully communicate the extensiveness of what I feel. Or what I experience.
Such is the case for my time in Peru.
Welcome to part 2 of me attempting to tell you about my trip… I hope I can do it some justice.
I met up with part of my team the night of the 29th, picked up the rest of them at the airport at 2 a.m. on the 30th. We only had a few hours of sleep before having to board the bus for the 9-hour ride to Yungay. And from Yungay, we took a taxi to Kusi. The boys’ home. The place I had left a piece of my heart in five months prior.
The reunion with my boys was better than I had imagined. I was met with hugs and kisses and ‘welcome back’ greetings and smiles. For dinner, the boys mingle with the team at nine different tables, and that first night, mine filled up the quickest. My heart was so happy.
Because December is one of Peru’s summer months, the boys were out of school and the weeks I was there were spent, literally, just being with them. Loving on them, teasing them, laughing, playing cards, writing with chalk, drawing pictures, going on walks and hikes, a water balloon fight, taking pictures, playing games, watching Guardians of the Galaxy, tickle fights, and many, many hugs.
I spent New Years with them. First time spending that holiday out of the country. And it was, hands down, the best New Years I have ever had. We rang it in with fireworks, sparklers, and dancing under a disco light. We were up till 4 a.m. and I went to bed with a full, happy heart and tired legs.
My team and I had raised enough money to take all the boys to a public pool for a day. I had caught a bit of a cold, so didn’t get in the water…at first. But one of the boys convinced me to jump in with him. So I did. That night we also took them all out to dinner. It was so wonderful seeing their happy and pleased faces after that long day of two activities that they never get to do altogether (because of expenses).
And on Sunday, we all crammed into the cafe in town for a Spanish-spoken sermon, and Spanish worship songs. I got to help translate the sermon too - which was a big first for me. I translated during an interview the team had with the overseeing parents, though. A challenge that I was up for, and definitely enjoyed.
The Oregonians ^
One of my favorite memories is from the last night I spent in Kusi. We had a slumber party on the balcony porch of the overseeing family’s house. We told ghost stories, had a pillow fight, swung in the hammocks and I stayed up till 2 a.m. whispering in the dark with one of my boys. And he fell asleep on my shoulder as I stroked his hair.
These boys are so much more than just ‘kids in another country’ or ‘boys I’ve spent time with’ or even ‘friends’. They’re like my own brothers. Family. People have even told me that I could very easily be related to them. Dark hair and eyes. It’s a Peruvian thing. And being able to tell them that I’m half-Peruvian, and communicate in their language (honestly, I love Spanish so much more than English)…it just made the bonding ties that much stronger.
I cried that first night. I cried when a teammate and I shared our struggles with each other. I cried when I was brought back to reality and knew I was leaving soon. I cried when one of the boys I am closest to gave his testimony, in a detailed version that he had never shared it before. I cried when I was trying to say goodbye and hug every one of them the night I left. I cried when one of my boys didn’t want to say goodbye and hid in the house, but I went and found him and hugged him tightly. I cried when one of my boys waited to be the last one to say goodbye to me, gave me a hug, gripped my hand and asked me ‘When are you coming back?’ I cried as I opened the bus window and waved at the disappearing figures of all the boys gathered by the home as my team and I drove away. I cried as the last boy I saw was the one who had impacted me the most, who I had loved the hardest, who I knew needed my love, and who didn’t want me to leave.
And I cried for an hour and a half after leaving that beautiful place, filled with the beautiful people whom I love.
There’s something about being able to feel. About letting yourself be vulnerable and open and willing to experience whatever it is God wants you to be aware of. And when you cooperate with God’s touch, He will use you. Many times it will hurt. Because one way to feel is through pain.
This second time to Kusi was very different from the first. In July, my focus was to build a foundation of friendship with the boys. And I was blessed to be able to speak their language. When I got back to Oregon, I was satisfied that I had succeeded, and had a deep yearning to go back. And the list of lessons God had taught me was quite long.
In December/January, I returned to that small village at the foot of Peru’s highest mountain. And my goal this time was to build on that foundation I had started, and cultivate the relationships.
Since being back in Oregon, I have been trying to pinpoint certain aspects of my trip that were life-lessons. But every time I tried, the image of a boy appeared in my thoughts. Yes, a boy. One boy. One who taught me many things.
Remember what I said about being open and vulnerable? Well, I was. And when it came to this boy, God let me experience pain in a way I never had before. This fifteen-year-old boy called me out on a habit I didn’t even know I had. He tested my patience, pushed me to a limit, seemed demanding sometimes, appeared to others as a bit violent, didn’t express or show affection easily, and rarely smiled. But I loved him. And I knew he needed love. It took a couple days but after we got over the little bumps, we were inseparable. And he smiled when he was around me. He smiled in the pictures I took with him. He started showing affection, too. Held my hand, hugged me, wanted me to sit with him, and even grabbed my arm and put it around his shoulders. And when this fifteen-year-old boy shared his testimony in front of my whole team, the last night we were there, I don’t think there was a dry eye or whole heart in that room. I was torn. With every detail he spoke of, I felt my heart breaking, piece by piece. He was crying. I was crying. One of my other boys was there with us too. I pulled up a bench and sat in between them, rested a hand on both their shoulders, and prayed while he spoke. Once the testimony ended, my team gathered around and prayed for him, for them, for all the boys. And those two took my hands and held them as we prayed. I didn’t initiate it. They did.
You know that saying ‘Home is where the heart is’? And ‘Home is where the ones you love are’? Well, that place I call home is in Oregon, with my family. But it’s also in Kusi, in Yungay, Peru, where all my brothers are. Where God used me in more ways than I know. Where He changed me and broke me and molded me in an excrutiatingly, glorious, painful, and magnificent way.
My heart aches to be back. And not a minute has gone by that memories don’t flood my mind and heart and the faces of my boys fog my vision.
I need to go back. Someday.