There is no doubt in my mind that any time you are willing to remove yourself from your comfort zone and experience something new you’ll be changed.
Leaving the United States and flying to another country where I did not know anyone was most definitely out of my comfort zone- and it is safe to say that I’ll never be the same. Life in Cusco, Peru has changed me, my cultural views, and my understanding of cross–cultural ministry.
I think a lot of times when Christians set out to go on a mission trip they can get a sort of tunnel vision, and honestly, I had a bit of this myself concerning my expectations of the time I was to spend in Peru. I did not know what type of mission work I would be doing, but I knew I was going to show up and make a difference in the lives of the people there for God. Though I know that God used me there, I think I was the one more changed than anyone I witnessed to. God had a lot more for me to learn and a lot more ways for me to grow.
One of the big lessons I learned was how to better relate to a wider range of people. Coming into the programs of ISA and Veritas, no one knew anyone else in the group. Because of this, we were all forced to make friends with each other rather quickly- and man we are a diverse group! After the first week or so, we all got to a point where we were really comfortable around each other and got to have a lot of meaningful conversations. Being such a varied group, there were a lot of opinions on different things. Back home I realized I live in a Christian bubble. Everyone in my family is a strong believer, the overwhelming majority of my friends are, and the two years of college I had under my belt were spent living at the Christian Campus House. It is very important to have a strong Christian support and accountability group, but I was convicted. How are we as Christians supposed to spread the gospel if we are only around people who know it? That being said, making close friendships with non-Christians taught me how to relate much better to people who are really different than me. Also, getting out of my Christian bubble, making friends, and witnessing to non-believers is something I want to continue doing back in the States.
Another part of me that grew while abroad was my relationship with God, specifically trusting in him more. Before leaving I liked to think that I had a pretty strong trust in the Lord in my everyday life, but I quickly realized that it was not quite as solid as I had thought. Being in a new, foreign environment tested me constantly. A small, maybe silly, example of this is the dogs in Cusco. They are everywhere. You walk down the street and you will undoubtedly see several stray dogs living off the street. At our orientation for the program, a doctor came and talked with us about several health concerns to be aware of, one of them being rabies. After this talk, everyone in the group was very leery when it came to the dogs. For me, I would cross the street to avoid them, stop a distance in front of them until they left, etc. After a week or so of this I was reminded that Christians are not called to live in constant fear. We serve the Creator of the universe and I was scampering around dogs? As I said this may be a silly example, but this and many other experiences caused me to trust and depend on God daily for much more than I ever had before. Being completely immersed in a new culture and language has also had an impact on my views of other cultures.
Before going to Peru I had learned a little bit about the culture in Spanish classes, from research, or the online orientation, but you can never fully anticipate what it is going to be like. Living in a foreign culture with a native family every day was incredible. I loved seeing the different ways people interact and learning how to navigate public transportation and worshipping in Spanish. I learned that though my culture is different and mine, it is not necessarily better and not necessarily worse, just different. There are pros and cons to my culture and every other and I could spend years living in a foreign environment and never stop learning about the culture. I think that living abroad, even for only five weeks helped me to expand my horizons and accept more fully the differences of others, no matter what those differences are.
I chose Veritas because it combines a study abroad with missions, the perfect program for me. It allowed me to get college credit while serving my passion, missions. Five weeks still is not that much time in the grand scheme of things, but during this time I was able to learn a lot more about cross-cultural ministry than I ever had on a short-term mission trip. One of the people who taught me the most about this was my mission mentor, Geovane. She is an incredible woman of God and was so valuable to my time in Peru. Also, she was an excellent mission mentor because she is a missionary herself. Being from Brazil and now living in Peru, she knows what it is like to leave your country, family, friends, and life. During our weekly bible studies, which always seemed to be exactly what we needed to hear, she told us a lot about her experiences in ministry and what she had learned. Something that I thought was surprising was what she told us was the hardest part of missions, relationships with other missionaries. She also shared her wisdom on dealing with being away from friends, family, and your home culture and how we can learn a lot from the apostle Paul and learn to be content where God places us. Additionally, from Geovane and my own observations I’ve realized what a marathon mission work is. Week long mission can do a lot of good, but long term is so much more people and relationship focused. The results of this work often take a much longer time to come to the surface. I loved getting to build relationships and witnessing to the students in my program, people at the church, and the kids at Sillon. I think the ministry at Sillon would have been more effective for me if my class schedule had not clashed with the time so badly, but it was definitely still beneficial and meaningful.
When God asked, “Who shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah could have answered differently. I am sure committing to something so big was scary and not having a set plan was uncomfortable, but nevertheless, he answered, “Here am I. Send me.” Similarly, when my first plane took off I couldn’t help but think, “What on earth am I getting myself into?” followed by, “Here I am God, I’m going.” I knew going to Cusco, Peru wasn’t going to be easy, yet I was excited. Now, reflecting on how I have changed, how my world views have expanded, and how I understand ministry in missions a little bit better, I can easily say that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. My “kept-under-control” excitement about missions has now transformed into pure passion and I cannot wait to see what God does with that passion and where he takes me.
There are so many opportunities for you in a Veritas Peru program! Come explore the country and receive mentorship from Geovane just like Rose. Check it out here!