Peru Mission Trip – Finding Family, Sharing Christ by Tom O’Neill There is only one thing that frustrates me about leading mission trips for Beautiful Savior. It’s that I can’t possibly articulate how much the people of Chilca, Peru, and especially our host family, mean to me and my wife. When I say they are our “Peruvian Family,” I’m not speaking in hyperbole. We love them; we care about them—just as we do our own family. And over the years, we have seen so much progress in our relationship with the people of Chilca, with our host family, and with the development of the community, that it is often hard to articulate how much they mean to us. Chilca holds a special place in our heart (a good percentage!), and we want so badly for the members of Beautiful Savior to understand and feel the same way that we do about these very special people.
Maybe I should back up. My wife (Jennifer) and I have been leading trips down to Chilca, Peru, for 15 years. Through a true act of God (ask me about it sometime), we ended up serving at this orphanage in Chilca during our first trip. We immediately made a strong connection with the parents running the home (Felix and Erica), their girls, and all the wonderful children of the home. Over the course of seven years, we brought many teams back down to serve in the home and in the community. Being able to see the children grow up in the home, year after year, has been a highlight in our lives!
So, when I think about our trip this past February with members from Beautiful Savior, I think less about WHAT we did, and more about WHO we interacted with. Because we have seen over and over that a much greater impact is made (for them and us) by spending time in relationship, not necessarily painting a wall or building a structure. I remember our third or fourth year down there, Erica came to us and told us that the number one thing we could do was to spend individual time with the children. Felix and Erica have done an ABSOLUTE AMAZING job providing for these children, but it’s tough to provide enough love and attention to so many. So, we played soccer and Uno®, made bracelets, colored, read Bible stories, participated in dance parties, and created true and lasting connections with these children.
This idea of focusing on building relationships was reinforced on this last trip. Jen and I were standing on the road outside the orphanage (now a school). A young woman came running down the street to greet us—it was Cynthia, who was 14 the last time I saw her. She is now 21 and has a daughter. When she recognized us, she ran up and told us how much our yearly visits meant to her and the children. Coming back year after year showed more than anything how much we cared for them. They KNEW that we loved them.
We weren’t the only ones to come away with a special interaction with our friends and family in Peru on this latest trip. While visiting another local school, Judd surprised several young children by engaging with them through the game of chess. Nancy made some new friends by joining a dance party with a bunch of 8-year-olds! I saw Wendy sitting with the cooks at the home, trying to figure out how to recreate their meals and sharing recipes. When we visited a local community center, it was so much fun to see Stan and Gloria getting into deep conversations with the individuals there, sharing pictures and stories of their children and grandchildren.
One of the big “projects” that our team accomplished was assembling 54 wheelchairs for distribution to those in need. While this in itself was a job well done, we quickly found that this project went from “handing out wheelchairs” to “changing a person’s life.” To be able and sit and talk with individuals, to hear their thanks, to share the reason why we were doing this (servant hearts for Jesus!) meant more to the people who received the chairs than the chair itself. It was great to see Wade, Stan, and Judd lifting people from broken/rusty chairs to brand-new chairs, and then getting hugs and tear-filled thank-yous.
Another great relationship “moment” came on our first day when we worshiped at a local church. The pastor asked us to join the congregation up front, where we stood in a line looking at each other and holding hands. We then spent five minutes praying for the person whose hands we were holding. Very powerful, and something none of us will forget.
I look forward to next year, when, hopefully, those who came this year will choose to go again. Because while it was amazing to meet new people, it is that much more impactful to go back and build upon the relationship that was started earlier. And hopefully others in the congregation, moved by our stories, will want to experience this opportunity to build relationship and grow in faith TOGETHER with our friends and family in Peru. I promise it will be impactful for you, and impactful for the people we visit. And who knows, maybe ten years from now, a member of Beautiful Savior will be in Peru, and get the chance to reconnect with somebody with whom they built a relationship on a previous trip. We thank God for putting these people in our lives, and we hope that God grants Beautiful Savior many more opportunities to bless the people of Chilca, and more opportunities for the people of Chilca to bless us.