Last week Lori wrote some reflections on her first six months in Peru, now it is Neil’s turn:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Not so much the tale of two cities but of the twin responses to living in Nauta. I’ve often felt both emotions on the same day (and even at the same time). But it isn’t the short term crisis of confidence that shapes you, the ‘why are we here, what are we doing, is it really worth it’ question, so much as the ups and downs of daily living. In my case with culture shock, changing mindset and considering joy.
There is nothing that really prepares you for living overseas. Most mission preparation involves learning a bit about culture shock, but what you actually experience is different to the books:
The earliest culture shock was going to Arequipa, away from the jungle, and living in a city with shops, malls and middle class professionals which was completely disorientating. Even now, each time we go to Lima it is hard to reconcile these two aspects of life in Peru. However, after 6 months I’ve noticed another trend as the culture shock deepens, that’s best illustrated by travel:
- Generally local travel is by moto and the uneven roads of Nauta bump you around (I have bruises to prove it)……. At first it is fun, then it becomes normal, then it becomes irritating, then it becomes ‘I just can’t face having my insides bounced around again’.
- Most weeks we travel from Nauta to Iquitos and back on the Colectivo, a sort of minibus taxi service. On the last two journeys back to Nauta the car has hit something. The first time it was a dog which the driver just didn’t see and collided with at 110kph; the second was a log / large stick which the driver ran over whilst avoiding children walking on the road. Oh, and in the last month there have been at least three serious accidents on the road.
And so, as you go about your business, there is a little bit of you traumatised each day.
I have similar reactions to living in a community where there is poverty and people keep asking for money, where each night when you shower you have a sharp intake of breath (cos the water is cold), and people playing loud music at night and early in the morning.
Short term mission can come with a particular ‘mind set’ with its focus on doing things and working to help support longer term mission aims. But after 6 months, although still ‘short term’ I’m appreciating how different ‘long term’ mission can be. Long term mission workers adjust to the cultures they are part of and find ways of getting the time and space they need for rest and recuperation. Life in the jungle is tiring and energy sapping (heat, language, culture) and because there aren’t many things to do with your time off (how do you keep fit when getting out of the chair makes you sweat?) so you need to find ways to recharge. If you are to avoid living in a missionary bubble you need to make friends in country.
As a UK minister I wanted to do things, to change things and make a difference. Now I’m the one who is changing and learning that mission life is different. The most effective things are those that the local leaders initiate, the best solutions are those the community come up with and change only happens when it is motivated by the dreams and values of those who make it stick. The world is littered with programs that lasted as long as the missionary, projects that fulfilled the objectives of the donor but are of less interest to the recipients and ‘handout’s that maybe more harmful than helpful. As an outsider I can be a resource, I can be an enabler and I can be an encourager (often by just being present) and am slowly learning to live this out.
But it’s not just trials and tribulations; there are a whole host of benefits to life overseas. There is the beauty of paradise, the sights and sounds of the jungle, the tranquil vastness of the rivers, and the warmth of the sun. The relative lack of chocolate, cake and cookies is good for the waistline; and it also means that you can indulge when you get the chance (though now my stomach can’t cope with too much at once). The warmth of people, their genuine emotion when they thank you for being here, living with them and sharing life together and hunger they have to know more of God. It is a real privilege to see students eyes light up when they understand something for the first time, to see their confidence grow as leaders and the impact of the training on their communities. There are days when I think I could live here for the rest of my life.
The first six months may now be over, but the journey has only just begun.