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Monday, January 2, 2012

Twenty Four Hours

When the plane landed, it was already dark. It was around 10:30 pm, New Year's Day. I didn't get to see much of the country as we made our descent. Soon after getting off the plane, I found myself in a long line outside of the immigration check point. It was there that I met Harry, a minister from Philadelphia, and Cecilia, a very kind Peruvian woman who insisted on helping me through immigration and customs. It was such a blessing to meet her in my first moments in the country.

After making it through immigration without any problems, I continued on to gather my bags and exchange my money. From there I headed towards customs. On my way I prayed that I would receive the green light. In Peruvian customs you are asked to press a button as you pass through. If it lights up green, you are free to go. If it is lights up red, they check your bags. Thankfully, I got a green light, and made my way out into the lobby.

The lobby was full of Peruanos holding signs with people's names written in felt pen. Christen had told me to look for the pay phones, and to wait there to be picked up by either her or her husband, Cristian. Almost immediately three young men approached me, and one said, "Tu eres Travis?" But I didn't understand him. I said, "No." But then I saw Cristian standing a few meters away with another group of boys about the same age. When Cristian recognized me, they all gathered around for introductions. Marcelo, David, Pedro and the other guys helped me get my bags to the van, and were ripe with questions about what I liked to do, and about life in the US, and most importantly, about whether or not I was going to camp. When we got the the apartment, Christen and Cristian introduced me to the boys as their sons. This was my first glimpse at the importance of family in Peru.

The first news I heard from Christen, immediately after arriving at the apartment, was not good news. Just about the time that my plane landed, they had received a call from Peru's Young Life National Director, Alberto. His wife had died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving him with a four-year-old child and a one week old baby to care for. As soon as the boys left, Christen and Christen left me in the apartment to unpack while they went to be with the family. They stayed with Alberto until around 3:00 am. That's the way things are done here. La communidad es muy importante. When your family needs you, you go.

This morning, Christen and Cristian invited me to have breakfast with them. It was then that Christen received news that the National Director had spent everything he had for the hospitalization of his wife last week for the birth of their child. He had nothing to pay for the funeral or the burial, or to take care of the baby. But in a couple of hours, all those needs were met. Different family members and Young Life staff stepped in almost immediately to care for this grieving man's needs.

When Christen and Cristian went out to buy the diapers and formula that Alberto needed, they left me at the apartment again. They told me that their friends, Janeth and Samuel, would be coming by to check on me. I used the time to read and finish settling in. Eventually, Janeth and Samuel arrived. They are both Capernaum leaders here in Lima, and just recently got engaged. They spent the morning with me and helped me understand a little about the grieving process in Peru, a process that I hadn't anticipated experiencing, but one in which I was now involved.

Later, Christen and Cristian returned and made lunch for all of us. Then Christen told me that Alberto's wife's funeral was going to be that afternoon. From what I had gathered about the grieving process and the importance of family in the Young Life community here, I figured I needed to go. Though a distant relative, I am a part of that same family. We spent the afternoon resting, and then around 4:00 pm we left for the funeral.

Now, we're living in San Martin, un barrio in Lima. The funeral was in Mira Flores, the richer part of the city. So, as we crammed into the van and drove across the city, I was able to see how truly diverse it is. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of San Francisco, where you can cross a street and cross into an entirely different culture and an entirely different world. The buildings are built right up against each other, and almost one on top of the other, just like in San Francisco. There are signs in several languages. Streets that almost never intersect at right angles. But in a lot of ways it is also very different. I'm sure I will be able to see those differences soon.

We arrived at the funeral and made our way downstairs to the viewing. Now, most Peruvian funerals, or velatorios, are held in the family's home. In fact, there is one underway as I type this just down the street from our apartment, with people gathering en la calle and probably planning to stay all night. This funeral was different because it was in a church. The family got permission to use the church because they knew how many people would be coming because of Alberto's relationship with Young Life. Janeth told me as people gathered outside the church that every single person in attendance, probably a couple hundred, were all Young Life. Every one of them, either a leader, staff member, or student who grew up through Young Life. And this is only about 17 hours after the death. News travels fast, and family responds faster.

I'm not really sure how I'm processing all of this. In our culture, death is very sanitary, and very slow. Here, it is very public, very raw, and very quick. What would take us a week to put together happened in a matter of hours. It's just a completely different way of grieving. It's very hard for me to understand. What I do understand is that this group of Christians loves each other deeply. Christen told me that most velatorios are very dramatic and that people stand around and cry for hours, often all night. But this one was very calm and peaceful, tranquilo. Christen said it was the only service she had been to that included any sharing time or music or message. But this service had something different. It had hope. The words and music that were shared, from what I gathered with my limited grasp on the Spanish language, were full of hope and life. So far, twenty four hours into this trip, that seems to be what Young Life is all about here in Lima--hope, life, and Jesus Christ.

We haven't had any time to really rest or process this yet. I've had no instruction in the culture. Mostly, I stick close to Christen, Cristian, Janeth, or Samuel, and do what they do. But in this hard time it is difficult to know what to do or what to say. For now, I'm a baby. I know less about how to respond to this than the children do. But that's all part of learning the culture. In the next few days, after the burial, Christen and Cristian will have more time to help me understand the culture, learn bus routes, know where to get food, and so on. For now, I'm trying to do everything I can to not be a burden on them. For now, they need to be with their family.

Please lift me up in your prayers, and ask God for wisdom for me as I navigate this tragedy. And pray the same for Christen and Cristian. Ask God to comfort the Young Life community in Peru, and especially for comfort for Alberto y su familia.

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