The promised blog

Well folks, I am back from a wonderful day at the Lima zoo, fondly known as El Parque de Leyendas or The Park of Legends. The kids were in prime form and I saw my first up close and personal Baboon. Whew!

So it has been a while but here I am blogging once again. Since I last wrote the fiestas have only continued and my time here has only become more eye opening. I have had the joy of going home with one of the boys for his birthday celebration where we salsaed with cousins in a one room mountain hut. I have been to the streets at night four more times, every time only attracting me more and more to this time when we get a short glimpse of what their life is really like. I have been visited by a familiar face from home (Regan Foster for all you Iowans... yah it was good times). I have learned so much about what it means to be a part of a team and how hard it is to let go of my desires and wants in some moments. I have been to three more birthday parties. I have read some amazing books. I have been a super fan at a soccer tournament. I have witnessed 8 kids, a baby, a stroller, three orange crates and a spare tire all fit into one taxi. I have come to a point where I can really say that some of these kids are my friends. I have begun to understand how funny it is to love someone you can hardly speak to. I have become a better spanish understander (hopefully the speaking part comes next). I have thought a lot about my life at home and I have thought a lot about poverty. I have also had fleas and lice.

The kids are really good at getting rid of lice. They do not have money to spend on special shampoos and combs so they have learned how to take care of it on their own. I was rather embarrassed the day I had to ask one of the girls at the Casa Job if she would pick through my hair for the lice I knew I had. It was one of those mornings that makes you feel like the whole month you have been in the country means nothing and that you cannot get one thing right. My mind kept replaying the looks on the kids faces as I tossed them their breakfast sandwich across the table. Apparently “tossing” food is one of the more rude things you can do in Peru. Who knew? Obviously everyone but me. Someone should write that down somewhere and show it to every foreigner that enters the country. Maybe I´ll suggest the embassy make it a part of customs...

So, even though the staff assured me it would not be offensive to ask for help with one of my many bug problems, I had my doubts. Finally one of the boys that I have grown rather fond of, noticed me standing in the middle of the patio with a kid-lost-in-a-crowd sort of look on my face and asked what I was thinking. I confessed my problem to him. He did not believe me. Why would I have lice? So I let him look and much to his surprise, there they were. With a smile on his face he called over one of the girls that I have also come to love. She did not belive me either but agreed to have a look.

“Stop that,” another of the boys called over, “she doesn´t have lice...stop it, you´re being silly, how could she have lice.” You can imagine the shock on all their faces when the girl looking through my hair, smiled and made the announcement that I did indeed have lice. Immediately I was surrounded and five pairs of hands were sorting through my curly mess. I laughed as they gasped and patted me on the back. Almost welcoming me into their daily life. Soon she batted all their hands away and they dispersed to shower and play fuzbol as she continued to move through each section of my hair killing the bugs and removing the nits. Another of the boys, came and sat close to me smiling and talking for the whole 45 minutes that I enjoyed my free head massage, we talked of my family and his family and how funny it was that I had lice.

“I think thats the last one, pretty little huh,” she said showing me the bug on she had on her finger nail and then, “here, let me put your hair up for you,” she smiled taking my hair tie out of my hands. With little contemplation she gathered all my hair at the very top of my head and clasped it together as her contagious laughter filled the patio. The others came out of the woodwork to point and laugh. I couldn´t stop smiling, all feelings of embarassment had flown out the window and I joined the kids in their laughter.

As I left the Casa Job that day walking next to my friend who had originally helped me out, he gave me strict instructions. Put vinegar in my hair and sleep with a plastic bag over my head to make sure all the lice is dead. Don´t fall asleep on the bus or else I will miss my stop. Tell the cobrador ´Casino Copacabana´ and it should only cost one sol to get there. He kissed my cheek and waved goodbye as I boarded the bus he flagged for me. Itching the flea bites on my stomach, I looked for a seat and realized that I left him feeling more like him and the others than ever before.

So I got to thinking. It started with the fleas and the lice, and the feeling that day that I had shared something, even though small with the kids. Then when I was throwing up all night in a toilet that would not begin to flush until 5:00 am. I sat there bent over that toilet bowl missing my mom half the time and thinking about the kids the other half of the time. As much as I tried to push thoughts of them from my mind they continued to come. What happens when they are sick? Is there a toilet bowl for them to cling to? Who cares for them? What would it be like to have no bed to crawl back to? It was a combination of sadness and frustration. Really what could I do about it? Honestly, I was partly upset that my pity party for myself was broken up. As much as I wanted my mom I knew in that moment that I was blessed to have ever had her at all.

Because I had fleas and lice and my mom wasn't there to help me in my sickness I feel like I am more one of them? I know, it doesn´t seem to calculate out. Actually it seems an almost offensive thing to imply that somehow because I have experienced two minor consequences of street life that I somehow understand the emotional and physical pains they endure with every passing day. I do not mean to communicate that even in part. Rather it is to say, my experience in the Casa Job that day partnered with the experience with my toliet bowl and the reading of Jean Vanier´s From Brokenness to Community has launched a new round of thought and contemplation. What is it that made the youth find me to be immune to lice? In that moment I realized how aware they are of our differences and yet where it really counts we are not much different at all.

They recognize their poverty. In fact, they are very aware of it. They are not the only ones. Everyone they meet recognizes it. It is written in scars on their faces and announced by fleas and lice and clothes well worn.

So there is all of this floating around inside my skull battling the other messages that really they do not need sympathy what they need is love and dignity and Christ. But really thats funny too because I view myself as in need of those things as well. Interesting. So this word poverty is taking on a whole new meaning and my role in this place is constantly being redefined. I mentioned earlier Jean Vanier´s book, a wonderful read, convicting and powerful in an amazingly gentle but confident sort of way. His words regarding poverty came at an opportune time,

"People come because they want to serve the poor, they will only stay once they have discovered that they themselves are the poor. And then they discover something extraordinary: that Jesus came to bring the good news to the poor, not to those that serve the poor! I think we can only truly experience the presence of God, meet Jesus, receive the good news, in and through our own poverty, because the kingdom of God belongs to the poor, the poor in spirit, the poor who are crying out for love."

My thoughts turn inward and flashing through my mind are the thoughts I have had about other people, my teammates, my host, the staff members. Ways I have reacted to situations I did not prefer come forward next, followed by the selfish things I have chosen instead of time with my Savior. All of sudden it is becoming quite obvious to me that I consider myself better than others on account of intellect, service, wittiness, kindness or a whole host of other meaningless things. I was embarassed to realize, as I dug deeper, that I find myself to be a rather gracious contributer to human society and I believe that others should be rather impressed maybe even thankful to know me. Its almost as if I could hear myself saying, "Jesus, can we meet up tomorrow I am bit busy today saving the world for you, there is just so much to do to keep myself top notch, but its all for you, you know that , right?" And even though no one recognizes me as being poor or treats me differently because of it, I found myself in that moment to be quite poor indeed.

Somewhere along the way I had hidden my poverty under robes of accomplishment and deep spirituality. I have forgotten, or maybe never really understood, that it was my poverty that brought me to the foot of the cross in the first place. I am only beginning to recognize my poverty in the way that I cling to the cheap thrills of recognition and in this beginning to realize I can already see how I have reflected this mode of thinking onto the God of heaven. I have been trying so hard to impress Him, to win his affectioon, to be His best and maybe (if I am lucky) favorite child. And in reality what He is offering is unconditional love, nothing I could ever earn. In the process I cover the signs of my poverty and withdraw from the people around me in an attempt to fool everyone.

I mean if you think about it people are dangerous creatures really, they ask questions, they need you to be vulnerable with them and something inside me knows I need them as well, while at the same time it knows that they will fail me and, even worse, that I will fail them. The problem is that we need community nonetheless. When I peak under the robes I can see its true more than ever that Christ has created us as community creatures so as to celebrate together the beauty He has put inside each of us but also to aid one in another in our impoverished states.

That´s the thing about these kids, as they have recognized their poverty, their poverty that they cannot hide, they have admitted that they need each other. And by coming to the Casa Job they admit, in some form, that they need Jesus and that they want to be a part of a the family there. They come and share a meal and do their chores and share their stories. They look out for each other, watch each other´s children, influence each other´s decisions, pray for their friends that are in jail, they share their food, they share their rooms and they cram 8 people into a cab so no one is left behind. One of the reasons it can be so hard for a kid to get off the street is because it means leaving the one family and community they have ever truly felt a part of. It is all rather beautiful and so painful at the same time...

So while having lice and fleas and throwing up without my mom there to take care of me doesn´t give me half an idea of what it means to live life on the streets, it did allow me to share in a small part of their daily routine and it has in a way brought me to a point of wanting to throw off the robes covering my own poverty and face into the fear of shame and of discovery and go to join the kids as they reach up to Christ saying, “I recognize my poverty. You are the one who restores my life and my dignity, you are the one who loves me in a pure and incomprehensible way, and you are the one who hears all the cries of the poor .” And in this way we can hold each other up, we can walk these weeks of our lives together sharing smiles and tears and broken conversations in Spanish and hopefully we can teach each other even just a little bit more of who Christ is and how God makes Himself present in our lives and what it means to follow hard after Him.

I guess I´ll leave it at that for now. I hope that made some semblance of sense. It has been a rather freeing journey in some many regards and honestly I am going to try and stop guessing what will come next, I never seem to get it quite right anyway :). I must thank you again for those of you that are praying. It is the backbone of this ministry. Well, actually its the backbone for life in general. Thanks for listening to me ramble... until next week...

paz y amor -- mon