Written by Cusco Summer student, Abby Jansen! Check out her program here!
After spending five weeks in a foreign country with an unfamiliar culture, way of life, and faith system, it is impossible to return home without a changed perspective to accompany the invaluable memories made. When traveling abroad it is important to leave more than just your comfort zone behind, you have to also leave your expectations at home as well. As soon as I stepped off the plane in Cusco, I was overcome with an overwhelming feeling that the five weeks I was about to spend in Peru were going to change my life forever. Luckily, this first impression proved truer than I could have ever imagined, and I am forever changed after my experience in Peru.
First impressions are a powerful thing, especially in my personal life. Too often I let my first impressions of a place, a person, or a thing alter my perceptions, which leads to an impact on my overall experience. As my departure day to Peru drew closer, I knew that I needed to avoid any preconceived notions about my upcoming experience that could potentially change my experience before I even left the United States. With prayerful consideration and extensive research, I was able to board the plane with excitement and anticipation rather than expectations. The first week in a new country is always the hardest. The food is different, the beds are different, the language is different, everything, everything is different. However, with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, I became a new daughter in the home of my host family and the transition into the Peruvian culture followed with similar ease. After the first week of adjustment, we immediately began our work with the Veritas program and my experience in Peru took a sharp positive turn. The first week of work with Veritas was difficult. I am a very organized person with an incomparable type-A personality that desires structure more than anything. So being thrown into an environment without strict instructions or a clear understanding of what I was supposed to accomplish was another leap out of my comfort zone. If I were to be totally honest, I was ashamedly frustrated the first week of the program. Frustrated with the unknowns and holding onto my own selfish desire to make a tangible difference in the lives of the kids of San Jeronimo, I found it difficult to believe that I was actually doing anything worthwhile. Luckily with the words of a friend and some devotional time, I quickly realized that it is more about the time that you spend with kids, not the activities that you choose to do with them. All of the kids of San Jeronimo are so desperate for love and for someone to simply take the time to sit in a rundown soccer field and play duck, duck, goose with them. The thirty-five-minute bus ride was also an area of frustration, but I quickly realized that the trips taken between Magisterio and San Jeronimo were not for the kids, but for me. I was able to stand, or occasionally sit, on the bus and have time to evaluate my experience in Peru and my true purpose in being there.
Once my perspective on my volunteering purpose with Veritas changed, my entire experience changed. The time spent in San Jeronimo became my favorite part of the day and evolved into a welcomed escape from the fast paced ISA classes and every other concern that accompanies living in a foreign country. I was able to build relationships with the kids of Sión in just a few short weeks regardless of language or cultural barriers. Relationships can be built without words and once that realization is made, the impact of ministry is boundless.
Working under Geovane, our mission mentor, and hearing her stories of mission work and seeing her love of cross-cultural ministry completely opened my eyes to the important of working together with other cultures towards the goal of sharing the love of God with all of His children. I learned more about the importance of ministry in the five weeks I spent in Peru than I have in all of my life. A smile and a hug communicate the same message across any language or culture and learning that lesson while spending time with the kids in San Jeronimo is an invaluable experience that I will forever treasure. Looking back on my time in Peru, I would not want to change a single thing. My initial frustrations quickly faded, making room for an unparalleled appreciation for the time that I had to spent with the kids of Sión. I learned valuable lessons not only about cross-cultural ministry, but myself as well. I learned that it is perfectly acceptable to not have a plan with ministry and that if you heart is in the right place, God can use me to show His love through ways I never thought was possible. Even taking time to play duck, duck, goose in a field with the kids showed them that someone loved them, and most importantly, God loves them. God placed such an emphasis on caring for children and welcoming them into His kingdom, and my only hope is that I can continue to do the same.