During our pioneer school, last October, our circuit overseer explained that there are still many territories that are unassigned in almost every department in Peru. He told us that the branch had made an arrangement to apply and receive an assignment to visit one of these territories or congregations with need, for a minimum of 15 days up to 3 months. This immediately appealed to Monica and I. So, at the beginning of this year we wrote, and we were happy to receive a letter assigning us to visit Huanta, Ayacucho!
We were both excited to have the opportunity to visit! First, because Ayacucho is the land of Monica's parents and grandparents. She holds memories of visiting as child. Secondly, because Ayacucho was listed as one of the 6 cities needing help on the initial letter I got from the branch back in 2010!
Therefore, we made arrangements with the coordinator of the congregation there in Huanta. On the phone, Br. Ramirez was very encouraging and enthusiastic, assuring us that we would be taken care of well. He advised us to bring sunscreen for the blistering sun, as well as rain boots for the downpours of the rainy season. He also talked about the potential of us being sent to isolated territory were we could hold a meeting! So this made us even more excited. Ayacucho is a region or state north, and just about 16 hours from Moquegua.
So, first bus! This was the most comfortable. Well as comfortable as you can be after several hours in a bus! Along the way we observed long stretches of desert, not much else. After about 10 hours we stopped in Ica. Ica was interesting because they grow some of the biggest grapes I've ever seen, and they were only 2 soles a kilo.
The biggest grapes I had ever seen!
Since there is no direct route to Ayacucho we had to stop here and then find a way to San Clemente. We heard that this would take us to a corner where we could catch a mini van to Ayacucho's capital Huamanga. From there we would have to take another ride down to Huanta. The ride from San Clemente to Huamanga was most interesting. It was a 12 passenger van with 14 or 15 people. There were lots of ups and downs and twists and turns. Even though the elevation is only about 9,000 ft, I remembered how I felt when I first arrived in the country and travelled to Cusco. Mountain sickness! Well, it was easy to remember because we were surrounded, sitting nice and snug and cozy, by 4 children who were all taking turns throwing up in plastic bags. Monica, was right next to one of the boys but ever so patiently helped the mother clean up after her him over and over again. So needless to say, we were so glad to get out of that van!
It was evident that we are were in the sierra because at one point the roads got more spirally, greener, and wetter. We drove through several streams of water, and even had to stop in the road to let people cross with their groups of llamas!
So once we made it to Huamanga. It was time to find our way down to Huanta.
We took a mototaxi to the stop for Huanta.
There we found groups of people standing around waiting, and some shouting, "Huanta"! So we looked for the van that was filling up the quickest and got in. So, after our luggage was packed strapped to the top of the vehicle, we began the downward spiral to Huanta.
Soo two buses, a mini van, a moto-taxi and a combi later, we arrived in the town of Huanta! After briefly looking around on the unfamiliar street corner with dead cell phones; we found a place to call, and we met up with the coordinator of the congregation. He gave us a large smile and enthusiastic "Welcome to Huanta" greeting. Then, we began walking along with some other brothers that came along to help carry our bags. We walked about 5 or 6 blocks to the house of some sisters who are also supporting congregations in Huanta. The house was dark, damp, brick, and cold! But we were warmly welcomed, and made ourselves comfortable for the days to come.
The very next morning we went out in the ministry. We were then able to see why Huanta is called the "Emerald of the Andes". Huanta is renowned for fruit growing because of it's rich green land. Here there are tuna (cactus fruit, or prickly pear), white peaches, lucuma (eggfruit), pacay, cherimoya ,and avocado!
Ministry in Huanta
Food sold on the streets of Huanta
Lunch with some of the friends
It was suggested we visit Luricocha,
a territory just a few minutes away off the beaten path. The congregation doesn't have an arrangement to work it regularly. This was our first assignment. There is regular transportation to this city which is really only about 10 minutes away in taxi.
Quechua is the native language of this woman and the majority in Ayacucho
Since this territory hadn't been worked in a long period of time it was up to us to keep good track of the progress made. I had fun drawing a map and marking the return visits we had encountered. It was important to keep good notes in order to visit them again soon. The people were hospitable, and sometimes gave a listening ear. But even when they didn't they did share a handful of fruit, like pacay and peaches.
But overall we noticed that the people are quite shortsighted. Many were just not open to viewpoints other than their own, not even Jehovah's! How dangerous! Not only have they not heard the bibles message in some time, but to make matters worse a lot of them were quite zealous about defending the pagan doctrines taught steadily by the 'Assembly of God' religion. Teachings like the Trinity and hell-fire are widespread. One woman told us she didn't have time, but began to speak very defensively about the Trinity. We decided soundly to leave her door and continue with the next. But then, she sent her husband/brother outside to question us!
That experience didn't get us down, because there were several others who very quickly began to study with us at their doorsteps using the Good News brochure. Children were also very willing to learn and answer questions about the bible.
I'm not sure these girls had ever seen someone with my skin color. They asked a lot of questions, and were happy to know that I'm a twin too!
I was able to show these kids on their way home a few of Jehovah's videos with Caleb.
Our beautiful surroundings begged for our attention at every turn. But, one man saw me taking pictures from afar and kind of reprimanded me for it. When we reached his home to speak with him he first told us what he thought of us. He couldn't understand why it was necessary to have a camera, and was very paranoid as to what I was going to do with the "pictures that I took of him". Ha, ha! After assuring him that we didn't work for some secret government agency, he accepted some literature.
We visited Luricocha every day for about 4 or 5 days and were able to cover the territory well. Each time we visited we went further and further back into the thicket. Avocado trees lined the walkways, and decorated the homes. We were able to have some good conversations and see how the people live in the the area. I liked seeing how here, man still live in close harmony with nature. But still, we were ready for more. More work. More isolation. More humility.
I got my shoes all muddy in Luricocha one day. And while we rested in the park, I got my shoes shined and polished by a little boy.
The Challenge We Were Waiting For
SAN JOSE SANTILLANA
The car we rode in to Santillana.
After expressing our observations to the coordinator, and speaking with many brothers in the congregation, we decided to visit another city. San Jose Santillana is a city a couple of hours from Huanta that hadn't been visited by anyone in at least 5 years. So we decided if we wanted a chance to find more interest, now was the time! We expressed our interest in visiting, and Br. Ramirez supported us. But he was really worried about our safety on the trip. During the rainy season the roads can be very dangerous because the route to Santillana is just a dirt path along the side of the mountain. There are no railings, no protection; just slippery mud and rocks. The brother told us of the many accidents that have occurred with people losing their lives because of falling. Even so, the next morning we packed our bags. A young brother from the congregation meet us at the terminal/stop, and brought us 4 boxes of literature to use.
On the way to Santillana it seemed as if we were driving without a destination in mind. As you see the seemingly untouched mountains, you wonder how can anyone live out here, there's nothing! was easy to wonder what life is like for the people who live in the cluster of houses seemingly hanging on the mountains.
scenery along the way
We prayed a lot. The drive was rough, we experienced a little rainfall. But what was most scary was the fact that the only thing keeping us from the next head on collision was the car horn and the attentiveness of the man driving. Trust in Jehovah, because it was hard to trust the driver. Well, I must admit that he was being very careful as he honked the horn at almost every sharp turn. It was just a one way muddy street the whole time. Looking at the steep precipice I couldn't help but wonder, what we would do if this car fell off the cliff. But thanks to our prayers to Jehovah expressing our desire to fulfill our assignment, we made it safely
The first thing we did was investigate the two places available to stay. Monica went to ask the two hostels that were right in the plaza, while I waited with our things. She found the best option for us, and we waited while the woman of the house sprayed the room heavily with air freshener and got us our key. No, I'm just kidding there was no key, we used the padlock that I brought! But thanks to Jehovah we were comfortable in the room provided, and eager to learn the territory!
The hostal we stayed in
The entrance into the town of San Jose
This is the literature we were able to distribute all over town!
Monica with a mom and daughter who were so happy to receive the large print version of 'What Does the Bible Really Teach?'
We began preaching at the first house in town and proceeded to follow the road wherever it went. It was easy to find people at home in the late evening. That's because by this time they have finished grazing the animals, and manicuring their fields.
We found many who were willing to listen, and made sure to get literature into everyones hand that we came in contact with. We used mostly the Bible Teach book, and tracts.
As we trekked along the road, a man in his late 30's approached us with a very curios stare. He wanted to know what we were doing. He questioned what we were teaching. And once we stated our purpose and what we believed, he patiently asked us if we could show him from the Bible. We did that and offered him literature that he didn't want to take. But we were happy because he seemed very interested in conversing with us further. Since we found him on the road, we weren't able to easily contact him again. It wasn't until our last few days in the city that we found him again, this time in his home. By this time he knew who we were, and he knew our work. To our surprise, he was the pastor of the local church! He considered us a threat, and constantly suggested that we go elsewhere with our message, assuring us that the "flock here was well cared for". He devoutly believed in the Trinity, and didn't want us further "misleading" his members! The saddest part is that we had been visiting his daughters who really had a great interest in getting their questions answered from the bible. We didn't know it was their father. But after that, he no longer permitted us to come to his home, and asked us to stay away from the whole block of homes near him. Talk about the blind leading the blind. Satan never sleeps! And neither did we. We spoke, and did our best to reason with the man for about an hour. But then, as we had already planned, we began to visit the other cities on the outskirts as he had also suggested.
Searching for sheep in Santillana
Our Favorite Experiences
Subiendo a Picas
The route to Picas smelled of the freshest air and the fresh eucalyptus trees that surrounded us. We felt the mountain dew fall upon us as we travelled up and up. Picas was an even quieter town. The walk was only about 30 minutes. But we were able to find the most humble people! It is amazing how the people in these towns go up and down these mountains with ease! It's their everyday route. We did our best to keep the pace placing tracts along the way with people that were coming down to go to work. It's so nice to receive hospitality from a stranger. As soon as we would arrive to some homes they would preoccupy themselves with finding a place for us to sit, and share our ever so important message with them. We meet a young woman who lived with her parents and grandparents. So we sat down with them almost immediately it seemed, gave her a brochure as she found her large bible in Quechua, and we began to read a lesson. There were many ears listening, not only her parents, but there were two huge milk cows, pigs, a trip of goats, and a heard of sheep that seemed to be a part of the conversation as well! She was so happy to have her own reading material to study her bible! She was so grateful that as we said goodbye, and distanced ourselves from her home, she ran after us with a bag full of dried lima beans from their fields. We wished that we could return again and again to the doorstep studies that we started. We only pray that Jehovah will continue to care for the people up on the highest hilltops in Picas and that someday again soon the message will reach them, and their hearts.
Hiking to Occopecca
We needed to make it to one more town within our reach. It was Occopecca. In Quechua the "double c" has the "jota" sound in Castellano. So it's pronunced OJO-PEJA, and in English OHO-PEHA. This was a long trek, we packed fruit and water to sustain us on the way, and we even stopped to rest. It took us 2 hours one way to make it to Occopecca. The town was quiet and empty. We first ran into a family. The mother was combing her hair, and braiding looong braids on both sides of her head, the grandfather was slightly blind, and the young girl didn't say much. The mother made it clear that they too read the bible and knew all they needed to know. Eager to find deserving ones, we left them a small tract and continued on. Another woman came out of her house, after seeing us, and gave us armfulls of peaches. The white peaches are so sweet here, you never get tired of them. She directed us to more houses just below. So we followed her pointing finger and found a large yard with kids at play. I was looking for the best path as Monica followed. I ended up sliding down a hill right next to their entrance way! O well.. I shook myself off and the children were happy to see us. The neighbors were also visiting. We introduced ourselves and told them that we wanted to share videos with them based on the bible. Monica pulled our her tablet, and we were able to introduce all the little ones to Caleb and Sophia! They were so happy. Even though they had never seen anything like it, I loved their humble appreciative attitudes. You didn't hear one comment like "Cool! A tablet, do you have any games?" "Can I see!?" They just humbly and patiently watched. It was awesome to see them learn little lessons from the bible. Then, with the adults gathered around, we spoke to them and found out how they were related, and they all ended up being quite humorous. The only male there was visiting his mother along with his wife and kids. They were from the jungle, and looked different than other Peruvians I had seen. Light skin light eyes. Very simple. He told us how much he likes reading. So he was happy to receive 3 books from Jehovah, Mankind's Search for God, The Bible God's Word of Man's, and Knowledge that Leads to Everlasting Life. He seemed to be searching for the truth, but was headed back home very soon. We don't know when someone else may find him with the truth. But we made sure he took it along with him. It's comforting to remember 1 corinthians that reminds us that it's Jehovah who keeps making it grow
On the way down from Occopecca
One evening we went to visit a mother with her 5 children we had been visiting and they invited us inside and offered us a bowl of soup. I remember that the bowl was thin and metal, and that the soup mostly consisted of wheat. We sat on short stools near the dirt floor in the dim sunlight that entered the mud brick and wooden walls. We tried our very best to eat the meal that represented the hospitality and kindheartedness of the family. Before we even began to speak about the bible the rain began to fall! Then came the thunder and lighting. It was a downpour that wouldn't letup. The family all crowded into the small bedroom quarters with us, and lit candles. It was difficult to hear from the rain drumming on top of the metal roof. But once everyone settled we were able to talk about some bible characters. The young ones had their bibles nearby because they told us they were churchgoers. So we were able to do something like a game of bible trivia to see which characters they remembered, and the lessons we learn from them. Since the power went out, we were unable to eat at the little cocina we had been frequenting. Maybe the soup was a blessing after all! We made our way down the hill with just the flashlight from Monica's phone. It was hard not to slip on the rocks. But we made it back to our dark room and were glad to have some of the fruit leftover from the day to eat before bed.
One day in Santillana we meet a man whose eyes just lit up to learn about the resurrection. He was so excited we made plans to visit him again the same evening and he promised to have his family waiting with him. When we made it to his home they brought us into an empty room that had just a few buckets to sit on. He, his wife, sister and law, son and niece all joined us. They had so many questions! They were asking us why others believed what the bible clearly doesn't say! We talked about many subjects while trying to focus on a few paragraphs in the Bible Teach book. We returned everyday until we left. It was so fulfilling to help them find the answers to their questions using God's Word the Bible! They were very happy to understand that the Bible does not teach the Trinity. We loved helping them understand just what the soul and spirit really are. And they were happy to accept just what the Bible said.
Really outstanding was the opportunity and privilege Monica and I had to organize a meeting. We began to spread the word from the beginning that there would be a meeting held. We arranged to speak with the head of the local hospital, because the brothers told us that there is room on the second floor that we would be able to use it we got permission. We were happy to hear that we could come back to hold our meeting there in the evening. It was a nice clean room that even had a dry erase board for us to use. We invited and invited! We also prepared a small talk to be able to teach a simple lesson to whoever arrived. The time approached to begin the meeting, and our audience mostly consisted of young ones. There was an attendance of 20! There were only 3 adults! But we were happy to see the young ones willing to learn. We gave the "talk" like a two part symposium. haha. It was like conducting a group Bible study. We asked questions and got everyone involved. It really made us see that there still are receptive hearts out there. We see why Jehovah is patient about bring his day of anger. It impressed upon us the need to be a close as you can to the people. They responded well because they saw us everyday. The people can really progress once they get to know you. You have to be constantly present and consistent with them. So needless to say it was sad to know that our stay was short. We pray that the congregation can return as soon as possible to continue watering their interest.
This is after the meeting with some of the young children that attended.
Saturday morning we heard that there would be a feria (farmers market) where many from deeper in the valley would come up selling their fruits and vegetables. So we went with our backpacks full of literature; full of books to plant as many seeds as we could. We saw the small street lined with merchants who had just walked the 4 hour trip from below. Many of them came with their donkeys fully equipped with huge quantities of tuna, papaya, mango, banana, peaches, and tremendous sweet potatoes. We began preaching on one side of the street. It was so neat that, although wanting to sell their produce, they took the time to stop and pay attention to us. We were able to read many scriptures before moving on to the next. We focused on Jesus Christ and Jehovah's name, since we noticed that many are confused about who they are. We would read a few scriptures along with a paragraph from the Bible Teach book, show them how they would use the questions, give them the book, and move on to the next. We did that until a line formed! People noticed that we had books and began to line up for their free reading material! It was great, we couldn't talk fast enough. It was nice to have the Bible Story Book to share it with the parents too! Many, after receiving their book would "contribute" fruits and vegetables. My backpack was full of literature when we came down, but I had to go back up and empty it because it filled up with fruit! We continued speaking with as many as we could throughout the feria. I began to notice that the merchants really weren't that busy because in reality they were mostly just exchanging things between themselves. In such a small town they can't expect much business. So what a spirit of giving they have! Since some things only grow in the low valley, like papaya, they travelled all this way to basically share their fruits! But this time their visit was even more worthwhile and we hope now they will cultivate something more than physical food.
When our assignment ended ...
we were able to go down to the capital Huamanga. There we visited the congregation, went in service, and even had the privilege of having lunch with the Bethelites at the local Translation Office. I was suprised by the way, despite being a busy city, somehow managed to keep it's ancient charm. Huamanga really seemed to be one of the homes of artisan work and crafts. We went shopping in the stores, and explored the plaza. In Huamanga, it's nothing uncommon to see teenage boys with their guitars strapped to their backs, they love music! I was able to find a good deal on a guitar too!
These are our friends the Thoms. They graduated from Gilead in 1997 along with Todd and Melinda and have been in the same territory, same assignment for 17 years! It was so encouraging meeting them and hearing about the progress they've seen the brothers make. When they arrived to the city there was very little activity. And now there are several congreagations in Spanish and Quechua, and the brother are participating in the construction of a new Translation Office! Jehovah is certainly blessing their efforts in Huamanga! They taught me what a joy it can be to patiently work with the territory and assignment that you have so that you can experience Jehovah's blessing!
Monica was surprised to find out that a friend she hadn't seen in years is now serving at Bethel with her new husband!