“We’re Happy You’re Here”

A Report from Peru

The Importance of Presence Cannot be Overstated; A Report from Peru

Lima, Peru, is a city where greenery equates to wealth. It’s the proverbial “greener grass on the other side of the tracks,” only literally. There is a wall in Lima that separates one of the wealthiest areas from one of the poorest. The graffiti-clad wall is adorned with a crown of spiraling barbed wire. One side of the wall is full of lush green trees, lawns, and beautiful flowers; the other is a sprawling wasteland of dust and dirt. One side has beautiful homes with swimming pools; the other doesn’t have running water.

Such is life in Lima. There are many stark contrasts there. The draw to visit the people of Lima was immediate from my first Sunday serving as Curate of St. John’s Parish Church. We prayed for Bishop Jorge Aguilar and the Diocese of Peru during the Prayers of the People, and my interest was piqued. I wanted to find out more.

When I first stepped foot there a few months later, in November of 2018, I immediately fell in love.

St. John’s has a mission partner in one of the poorest parts of Lima: the barrio known as Nueva Esperanza—New Hope—a providential name indeed. This is one of those barrios with no running water and no plumbing. Water is trucked in and kept in tanks. The landscape is rugged and dusty. A cement factory produces a great deal more dust that affects breathing. In Nueva Esperanza we serve a church called Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family). Padre Aurelio is the rector. He has a big personality and looks like a big teddy bear. Padre Aurelio offered to take our group on a prayer walk through the barrio.

While walking along the boundary of the second-largest cemetery in the world, a young man of about 13 or 14 years of age approached two of us. He said, in his very broken English, “We’re happy you’re here.” He continued to walk with us for about 30 minutes and then disappeared. We didn’t see him again the entire time we were in Nueva Esperanza.

I’ll never forget those words, “We’re happy you’re here.” They’ve become more and more significant as time goes on. Those words affirm what is so incredibly important in world missions: our presence is crucial. As broken and imperfect as we are, when we go in the name of the Lord to our brothers and sisters around the world, we bring hope and encouragement—simply by being present.

Bishop Johnson Gakumba from Northern Uganda was at St. John’s in September for a visit. He shared some wisdom that affirms what the young man in Nueva Esperanza had to say. Bishop Johnson said our presence in Northern Uganda provides hope for the people. Other missionary partners said they would come, but did not.

We came—and without realizing it—brought suitcases packed full of hope. In 2010, during a time of civil unrest and insurgency in the nation of Uganda, a church from the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina made a commitment to go. When people see others who truly care and are invested, hope rises.

Sometimes there is only hope: hope in the risen Lord Jesus Christ; hope in eternal salvation; hope in the resurrection of the dead.

Bishop Jorge Aguilar, Bishop of the Diocese of Peru, also visited St. John’s in September to give a presentation. In that presentation, he talked about the importance of being present. Financial support is needed, but even more importantly he urged us to come to Peru.

He talked about one city, La Rinconada, high in the Andes mountains. La Rinconada is the highest altitude permanent settlement in the world. Many of the people there suffer from Chronic Mountain Sickness, a disease brought on by the high altitude. It is a place where there is little hope. The city and its inhabitants are dedicated to the gold mines. The conditions of the mines are unsafe, dangerous, and the people work in near slave-labor. The women aren’t allowed to work in the mines so many of them turn to prostitution to earn money. La Rinconada is a place of deep despair. Alcohol, drug addiction and violence are rampant. Bishop Jorge said they go into La Rinconada teaching and preaching the Gospel, and through that (something I’ll never forget) they help the people there find their humanity.

Friends, the power of presence cannot be overstated. There are people all over Peru who are in need of hope, in need of finding their humanity and eternal worth in Jesus Christ. There are people in the dusty barrios, the high mountains, the low valleys, and everywhere in between who are searching for hope.

When we go, we bring hope. We go because Jesus sent us when He said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) We go because we want to help people find their humanity through Jesus Christ. We go because the love of Christ compels us to go.

If you are compelled to go, I can help facilitate. The Diocese of Peru is in need of missionary partners. There is need in the large cities like Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, and Puno. There is also a potential for partnerships in the more rural areas.

Bishop Jorge, in his presentation to St. John’s, made a plea that I now extend to you. He implored us to “come to Peru.” He then asked for a show of hands, “Who will come to Peru?” Several hands shot up immediately. The words from Isaiah echoed in my mind, “Here I am! Send me!” (Is 6:8) and “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news.” (Is 52:7)

Will you partner with Peru? St. John’s Parish Church, Johns Island, Trinity Edisto, and St. Paul’s, Conway, already have partnerships. To learn more contact me at at frjeremy@stjohnsparish.net.

By The Rev. Jeremy Shelton, Curate, St. John’s Parish Church, Johns Island

(Image by Jeremy Shelton)