The Hope of Dawn

Mark's August 2013 Peru testimony sermon at Zion Church of Millersville

Isaiah 8:18-9:2; 26:19; 42:6; 49:6; 58:1-8

Thank you for walking with us as a prayerful community into Pucallpa, Peru. We enjoyed a six week window through which we daily greeted the dawn of God’s justice. There was a beautiful normalcy of responding with hope before the faces of the broken. We recognized the faces, because we are among the crowd of those who have shared in the grief of brokenness and the joy of hope. Claudia is one of these faces. Kristin both greeted and said goodbye to this mom, not in words through a shared language, but in hugs and tears expressing their shared language of grief. Five months earlier, Claudia’s baby boy, Carlos Fernando, died unexpectedly after birth, before Claudia even held him. Kristin regularly shared with her the hope we have in Jesus, who holds both our little Victoria and her little Carlos. Through Victoria’s Little Lambs Fund, Claudia’s 4-year-old son, Sebastian, received medical care for severe ear infections which were causing hearing loss. Kristin also presented Claudia’s 9-year-old daughter, Genesis Cristel, with a birthday gift of The Jesus Storybook Bible in Spanish, so that the true story of hope can be heard in their home.

Three local children, named Mason, Alex, and Cloé, also received medical help Victoria’s Fund. Mason needed an abcessed tooth removed that was causing a painful infection. Christy Chacón, one of the missionaries serving with her family at TEC, was instrumental in helping Kristin connect with Mason as well as Claudia and Sebastian. With Christy’s coordination, we have decided to send regular funds to Misión TEC to help with medical treatment for the children. Alex is a Shipibo boy living in a remote village outside of Pucallpa. This four-year old boy was discovered during another team’s medical clinic to be in urgent need of medical attention. With the follow-up assistance from Cesar Soto, a friend in Pucallpa, Alex was taken to receive medical treatment for a severe case of parasites, and he is now on the road to recovery. Cloé Ramirez is the little girl who shares the same birthday as Victoria, and she needed three injections for a bronchial infection. Her grandfather, Pastor Samuel, helps oversee Victoria’s Fund where it began at the Lamb of God Church in the Shipibo village of Nueva Era, and throughout the Amazon with native missionaries from the missions organization that he leads.

During an evening dinner with the Ramirez extended family and a team from our church, they shared amazing news with us. They are establishing a new settlement for several hundred Shipibos moving out of the deeper jungle due to a variety of hardships with flooding, crop damage, disease, and lack of education. Pastor Samuel’s daughter and son explained to us that this represents a final dream of their father’s life, their promised land. Their reason for sharing the news with us left us speechless – they asked if they could name this new settlement the village of “Victoria Gracia.” Deeply humbled by the honor, we accepted the name and agreed to operate Victoria’s Fund in this new village as we will continue to do at Nueva Era. Days later we visited Victoria Gracia, which was a beautiful land. Near the end of our time, we attended a dedication as many of the new residents gathered to begin preparing the land. Pastor Samuel shared with all present about the story behind the name of the new village, holding in his hand the program from Victoria’s Celebration of Life service. We also shared our hope that this community will share in the testimony of Victoria’s life and legacy, which is “God victory by His grace.”

Except for a couple of days at the beginning and end of our trip in Lima, staying at the South American Mission (SAM) Guesthouse and having a great time with the Rios family and friends, we lived at Misión TEC. Housed in a furloughed missionary family’s home, we lived in community with the three missionary families, staff members, two short-term teams for a few weeks (one from Azusa Pacific University in CA and one from our church), and three individuals visiting with a college students sports mission (Mario’s story – originally from Lima and teaches in California. Several years ago, Mario lost his twenty-five year old son. In the grief over his son’s life, he began to walk closely with the Lord, which led him into a life of missions as a redemptive response out of his brokenness. We continue to pray for Mario’s nine-year old granddaughter in Lima who is also suffering and losing her physical life due to a brain tumor. Mario is a meek man, which is about as high a compliment as we can give.). There were ongoing relational opportunities to reach out to the TEC and surrounding community. One morning, Kristin shared with a group of mothers of children who attend the homework club about raising children by being God’s child first. I led Bible studies for all those serving at TEC, based on Isaiah’s servant songs. I was able to preach at Nueva Era and another local church in San Jose. He also taught three sessions on kingdom education for a youth retreat. We joined the team from our church in offering a VacationBibleSchool for the missionary children. Throughout, Misión TEC’s ongoing programs continue to provide holistic support for the children and youth that attend.

All this doing of ministry was fueled by being in community, which raised awareness of the daily dawn of hope in God’s kingdom. We brought Tiffany Nuñez to TEC for a week long visit (the young lady going to medical school in Bolivia on a scholarship through Victoria’s Fund). She was so grateful for this time of renewal. It was such a privilege to learn more about the hope God is stirring in her for medical service. Kristin and Tiffany especially enjoyed many extended and meaningful conversations. We also connected with Erica, as she prepared to begin her second year of teaching at the SAMAcademy in Pucallpa. It was rewarding to witness the relational influence Erica has established after just one year with her students and their families.

Once the mission teams left half-way through our time, community life slowed to a pace where even greater depths could be explored. Again, there was a beautiful normalcy to the rhythms of hospitality, table-fellowship, prayer, and ministry through the daily opportunities of playing and working. This also expanded beyond the TEC family to the broader and very connected missionary community in Pucallpa. We had multiple opportunities to meet and fellowship with other missionary families. To live among these normal families trusting their lives to God and His work of justice was humbling. We discovered deeper understanding of the joys and trials of missional living in the jungle. We learned that 80% of missionaries do not last beyond their first term. We rejoiced in meeting families who have been laying down their lives on the foreign mission field for generations, into the third and fourth generations. We even learned of the widespread terrorism that overspread the region in the eighties and early nineties. Pucallpa was in the red zone, and some of those we were with grew up with their families threatened by terrorists. As then, so it is now, the call of God’s mission compels them. Our time with the TEC family culminated with me leading a time of teaching and reflection on their community’s being and doing as it relates to missional wholeness and its characteristics. Mobilizing missional families along these lines is the focus of my dissertation. After writing throughout our stay, I submitted the first draft before leaving Lima.

Our summer in Peru was full of play and adventures. Alongside with the other missionary children and others, Caleb, Jacob, and Rachel played hard all-day-every-day. Daily adventures for the boys included fishing, swimming in the lake, chasing bats (until the parents figured out what they were doing under the house and put an end to it), making a variety of things in their “mud factory” (including outdoor toilets), riding bikes, playing soccer, building a raft, climbing trees, sitting in a tree and eating handfuls of oranges at a time, playing on the playground, tire swings, and Lego building. Rachel’s play with the other girls was a little easier to supervise, like tea parties, dress-up parties, swimming in the kids’ pool, and dolls. Together, we all celebrated Rachel’s 4th birthday in the beginning of July; went on an overnight camping trip; took a three hour boat trip to a huge clearing of sand where we swam and the boys plodded through bogs of mud up to their knees, and where Jacob and Rachel experienced painful stings by poison spine fish; and we traveled three hours by van to a gorgeous waterfall, where the water was clear and cool, and everybody enjoyed hours of swimming at its base. I also read through C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle before bedtimes. This story evokes profound images of the new heaven and new earth, which is the destiny of the mission of God. This hope seems especially close when living our days to share love with the least of these while playing with the family of God.

It is the beautifully normal way to live in the kingdom of God. On our long boat trip, we passed many fishermen, spending another ordinary day catching fish so they and their families could eat. It was a vivid reminder of that day Jesus walked into the ordinary lives of Galilean fishermen, inviting them to follow Him into His Father’s kingdom, where it would become routine for ordinary people to fish so that the families of the earth could eat. While attending our second service at the Shipibo church in Nueva Era, Kristin stood and gave a testimony to all present about all of you who were faithfully present in our lives and with us through the Spirit – through prayers, fellowship, encouragement, and many expressions of support, including Victoria’s Fund. Thank you for going with us in these ways. So we return from the land where there are ten pounds of insects for every pound of humanity, where the main form of transportation is mototaxi or pecky pecky (boat), where the dirt roads are scattered with rocks for safety when it rains, where the heat and humidity pale only when compared to the warmth of the love and hospitality among the Peruvian members of God’s family and the missionary community that serves alongside them – a constant community where everybody is family and the children call other adults their aunts and uncles, and Peruvians and North Americans refer to one another as brothers and sisters. It is with a full heart that our family returns in the same hope with which we left, that we will be joined by a community of servants who are family in following God in His mission. May all of our lives be so beautifully normal as this dawn.

Isaiah 60:1-3