I may be white, but that doesn’t mean I’m rich!!!  (Lessons learned in generosity) by Teresa

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Our happy, white family enjoying a day off.

So, I’m white.  My husband is blindingly white!!!  All of my children take after my husband except for their hair, which is extremely blonde and his is brown.  Needless to say, when we stepped off of the plane in Peru, we stood out as being foreigners.  Starting the second day we were here (because we slept through the first day due to overnight layover in the Lima airport the night before) we noticed a certain, how should I say . . . trend among the locals.  Often when we needed to buy something (foods from the market) or receive a service (catching a mototaxi) we are charged more than the locals.  We call it receiving the gringo discount.  It’s not all in our mind either.  We were told by friends from here that they are in fact charging us more because they think all white people are rich.  Since experiencing this for the first time in Mexico, I have been tempted to expose to them all of our families finances and explain that in fact we are no where near rich.  Our family of 8 lives on $900 a month (which includes money for alms to help the poor) compared to $3,407.50 that is the poverty line in our country.  We almost always wear donated clothing and eat simple meals.  And not only that, how dare they charge us extra when we are here to serve them!  How RUDE of them to even think of ripping us off!!!!

  As one of our company’s (Family Missions Company ) 12 charisms, we try to live Gospel poverty so as to better live in solidarity with the poor whom we serve.  We have, until very recently, thought we did an exceptional job of living out this particular charism.  We spend very little on ourselves, and if we get a treat, it is always a cheap one (15 cents can buy you an ice cream).  We have been offended and aggravated at people daring to give us the label of “ricos” (rich people).  If only they knew how much less we live on than the average person in our country.  They would be shocked!!!!  Or so I believed they should be . . .

 But God has been revealing to us a new perspective since we arrived, and we have only now been able to put it into words.  It began when we received our first electric bill.  It was for $150 soles (about $50 USD) and I was so excited that our electric bill was only $50 because of the hundreds it would have cost in the US, and even in Mexico our electric bill was over $100 USD.  But then my dear friend Teresita came by and told me that her electric bill that month was $28 soles (about $9) and she thought that was high.  She explained that it was because she didn’t unplug her refrigerator every night that month like she normally does because she had made popsicles to sell.  Usually to save money, she would unplug her refrigerator so that her electric bill was only $8 soles (a savings of less than $7 USD a month!).  I was pretty shocked.  In order for it to be that low, she must rarely use a fan (and it’s pretty hot here) and barely ever a light in the house.  I had seen a TV in her house so surely that would cause her bill to be over $8 soles, right?  Come to find out, she doesn’t even own a fan.  She only has two lightbulbs in her entire house and the TV is in her house only because one of her nephews moved to Lima and needed a place to store his furniture (which is also where she got the refrigerator).  

A mototaxi. This is our most common form of transportation.

  Later I met this same friend.  She and I were both trying to travel to Picota, a town about 7 miles away.  We both decided to catch a ride from someone travelling on the road.  It was really hot, and there was no shade where we were standing.  Not long after I arrived at the road, a mototaxi (like a motorcycle that seats 4) showed up and I got in.  Teresita said she would stay and wait a little while longer (even though there was room in the mototaxi).  I paid my $3 soles ($1 USD) and arrived in Picota not long after.  Teresita later informed me that she waited for 30 minutes for a truck to pass and caught the truck instead of the mototaxi.  After I asked why, she explained to me that the truck only cost $1 sole (30 cents). But she had to wait out in the hot sun for 30 minutes to save 70 cents!!!! I couldn’t believe she thought that it was worth it!!!!!

  Then we began Hogar Ezekiel and every now and then, during Hogar Ezekiel hours, a man rides a bike past our house, honking a bike horn to let us know that he is selling ice cream cones.  Each cone is 50 centimos (about 15 cents).  We like to occasionally buy an ice cream for the children that are in our house at the time this gentleman rides by.  On average we buy 20 cones and it “only” costs me a little more than $3 USD.  Not much at all, right?  And occasionally we like to pay for our motocar driver to receive a full tank of gas.  It costs us the equivalent of $5 USD.  Such a small amount for us, so why not surprise the driver every now and then when he pulls up to get gas on the way to bringing me home?  

  Why not, I ask?  I’ll tell you why.  Because then everyone calls us rich.  They think of us as being rich.  They start to try to charge us $4 soles for a ride home, instead of $3 like it’s supposed to be, and we can’t have that now can we?  By being generous to the people here we are risking our reputation of being poor.  They may end up deciding that we are, in fact, rich, and . . . and . . and . . . what?  

  I’ll tell you what.  They will think we are rich because to them and their wallets we are rich!  They will call us what we are!!!  They live on around $17 USD a day, and that’s if they receive the “good” workers wage.  We live on double that.  If you are an unskilled worker you earn $10 USD or less. That’s why my filling up their gas tank is a huge deal.  That’s why buying all the kids an ice cream may be looked on as  extravagant.  That also happens to be why happily receiving the gringo discount may be the best thing we can do!  What’s an extra 30 cents to me?  Now here’s the real question . . . What’s an extra 30 cents to him???!!!!!  

  After this revelation we have decided that we will, from now on, willingly accept the label “RICO.”  If it allows us to freely help those around us, then we dang well will give more when we can.  Such a little thing, and so easy to do, to bring a smile to many faces!!!  The money we have isn’t even ours, nor is it really the money of our benefactors.  This is GOD’s money and we are here as His hands and feet!!!!!  It’s just another opportunity to spread God’s love around.  And when people ask us why we do what we do, we will more than happily explain that it’s not us, but our awesome God who created us,  loves us, and provides for us, who is doing this through us!!! Let the conversations begin!!!!!!!!

   

God is So Good

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Children’s Choir

When Teresa and I had been here in Pucacaca a few weeks we began noticing how divided the Christians were here.  Catholics, Adventists and Evangelicals didn’t talk to each other.  When a lady down the streets son died none of the Catholics wanted to visit or help her family because she was Evangelical and they didn’t visit those who belonged to the “sects”.  We were more than ready to visit the family and to the great surprise of most of the Catholic community Teresa actually visited the lady several times and they became friends.  They bonded in their common suffering and loss of a child and their common hope of the resurrection.  

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Some of the guitarists of Hogar Ezekiel

Later we needed some work done on our house and one of the workers who came and helped me lay out a concrete floor was an Adventist.  His name is Secundo.  We worked for a couple weeks together off and on and really hit it off.  Before long we were sharing testimonies.  He told me about how Jesus changed his life and brought him into the Adventist church.  I shared my testimony with him as well.  God is so good- and has a sense of humor.  I remember one day Secundo telling me he couldn’t work on Saturday because it was the Sabbath and he never worked on the Sabbath.  He said he would come on Sunday to help finish the project.  The problem was, I told him, that I didn’t work on Sunday because it was the Lord’s day.  We ended up finished on Monday as the Lord planned.  Secundo’s wife I later discovered is the pastor of the Adventist congregation here in Pucacaca.  Later when Secundo had to have surgery and then couldn’t leave the house I visited him.  We joked and prayed and just talked about life.   People saw me go into his house and asked me if I realized he was Adventist.  

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Hogar Ezekiel Guitarists and the Children’s Choir performing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy

The division was so evident and yet in Hogar Ezekiel we had kids coming from all walks of life.  We had kids coming from broken homes and devastated families.  Of course brokenness and pain do not respect congregation lines and nearly all the children, Adventist, Catholic or Evangelical, Atheist or other were and still are experiencing great pains and lack of family ties that often bring them together in ways their grandparents don’t experience.  Teresa and I took these concerns to prayer daily and God, in His goodness, granted us a vision of peace and unity.

All this week we have been celebrating the 80 yr anniversary of Pucacaca.  When we first heard of the anniversary week back in June we felt it could be an opportunity to bring the communities together.  We approached the mayor with the idea of an interdenominational thanksgiving service.  A service without preaching.  A service focused on our common message (what we missionaries call the Kerygma) speaking of God’s love, the reality of sin and the need of a savior, God’s provision in Jesus Christ, and life in the Holy Spirit.  A service where everyone could sing together and give thanks as a community.  

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Deacon Torres, Pastor Reister and Jonathan releasing the three doves

The mayor (who is Evangelical) was visibly moved by the idea.  He said he has never heard of such a thing occurring anywhere.  He was excited to think it could begin in Pucacaca.  We had already earned his trust working together in other projects and his daughter comes to our Ezekiel Home.  He said he would give us the central night of the week but that it might be hard to get people to come out.  We prayed and trusted that Jesus would do so much more than we ever could.  I went and visited each of the pastors of the churches.  They seemed very suspicious and uninterested at first.  I tried to explain that I would not be preaching.  We would not be inviting outsiders including the priests from Picota to come.  It would just be our local people celebrating our town.  They said they would think about it.  Within a week both had agreed to do the service, although with reservations.  I began preparing songs with his choir.  We promised the others that we would choose songs that everyone could sing.  They agreed.  

Elijah Singing Psalm 23

Elijah Singing Psalm 23

Last week everything seemed to be falling apart.  The Evangelical pastor came to our Ezekiel Home to talk and was deeply disturbed by the fact that we had a crucifix on the wall.  He paced the room and told me we worshipped idols etc.  I tried to be gracious and not take offense.  He asked why we had saints or Mary on our wall.  I asked him if he had pictures of his family on the wall of his home.  He said yes.  They also had pictures of their church founder on the wall of their church.  I told him these saints were my brothers and sisters, my family.  He smiled.  Obviously he hadn’t ever looked at it that way.  He left a little less angry but I was worried that he would back out of the celebration.  

Sure enough within days a rumor was spreading around town that I was going to make the Evangelicals pray the Our Father (which they don’t do).  They contacted me and said they would not be participating.  On the Catholic side of things we were approached by some Catholics who were upset because I explained that on this night we would be singing all together.  The three groups thought we would be singing one after another like a battle of bands.  I laughed and explained that we would be singing in unity.  For this reason we wouldn’t be singing Marian hymns or yell out things like “Long live the Catholic Church”  Some murmured and didn’t want to participate.  I continued to visit and try and smooth things over.  The mayor also helped with the Evangelical side of things.  On Sunday the Evangelicals said they would participate but only by saying a prayer and reading a scripture verse.  They would not be singing.  I told them I would be blessed by any participation they could give.  

IMG_2919By Tuesday (a day before the celebration) the Adventists still hadn’t given me any of their songs and seemed to be backing out as well.  I went to visit Hermana Reister (Secundo’s wife) and she said they were trying to get a guy to come down from Tarapoto to preach for the celebration.  I told her that they couldn’t preach, that I had promised the Evangelicals that we wouldn’t have preaching.  She didn’t seem to understand.  “What are we going to be doing then?”  She asked.  I smiled and wanted to run away.  I explained again the point of the service and she finally said she would just have the guy sing songs.  I felt so over my head.  Yesterday a few hours before starting, deacon Torres came to inform me that not only were the Evangelicals going to sing but they would be bringing a team of pastors from as far away as JuanJui (about 2 hours) to lead “their side.”  I felt so frustrated.  I went to pray before the Blessed Sacrament and begged for help.  Then I remembered Pope Francis’ words about it being better to try and make mistakes then do nothing.  It was in the Lord’s hands.  

Then last night it all happened.  The one hundred white ballooons (which were to be let off to represent peace and love between the churches) didn’t arrive.  When it was time to let the balloons off someone had actually brought three doves!  What an amazing surprise.  We let three doves fly up into the sky to represent our new friendship and a hope for the future.  My guitar class led us in the Ode to Joy and Happy Birthday to our town.  Later our Choir sang, the Adventist singer arrived and did a phenomenal job and to top it off the team of pastors came and played some amazing Mariachi style worship songs.  It was an amazng night.  I hope the first of many.  Praise you Jesus.

The Choir singing and dancing

The Choir singing and dancing