Lutheran missionaries bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus and are merciful in His name all across the globe. From Macau to Malawi, from the Philippines to Papua New Guinea, Lutheran missionaries in various contexts throughout the world are privileged with the task of gathering God’s people around His Word and Sacraments to receive His wonderful gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. I was privileged to do so in the South American country of Peru.
Peru is home to the deepest canyon in the world (Colca Canyon), the highest navigable lake in the world (Lake Titicaca) and the longest river in the world (Amazon). It is the land of the Incas, an ancient civilization that would rise to become the largest empire in the Pre-Columbian Americas.
That is, until Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro and his men arrived hungry for riches and fame in the year 1532, resulting in a clash of of cultures that would give way to a complex fusion of customs, values, and world views. It was to this country so rich in history and culture that I was sent to share the love of Christ in word and deed in 2008.
Before moving to Peru I didn’t know the first thing about the country, let alone the cultural don’ts, dos, and taboos there. I had no idea, for example, that I would be eating a cute little rodent on a regular basis (Guinea pigs are considered a delicacy), that I would be kissing strange women on a regular basis (Peruvians greet with a kiss on the right cheek), or that I was supposed to wear yellow underwear to bring in the New Year (for an article about Peruvian New Year’s traditions click here).
If you’re anything like my Peruvian friends, you’re probably wondering how in the world a pasty-skinned, goofy looking red head from Southern California even ended up in a place like Peru. Well, it wasn’t that I had received some special sign from God compelling me to hop on a boat and float down to Peru. I hadn’t been dreaming of llamas, or hearing Peruvian flutes as I read my Bible.
My journey to Peru was a lot less dramatic than that. After graduating college, I knew that I wanted to serve God. I knew that I wanted to see the world. And, I knew that I wanted to do something meaningful. First, I seriously considered doing the Peace Corps. Then, I thought maybe it’d be fun to teach English as Second Language in a place like Costa Rica or Spain.
But then, thankfully, I learned of the opportunities for foreign mission service with the Office of International Mission (our church body’s missionary sending agency), and that there was a need for missionaries to serve in Peru. It seemed like a no brainer – serving as an LCMS missionary abroad would allow me not only to see some more of the world and do something significant, but being used by God to bring others to the knowledge of Him and His great love would be eternally significant.
Once I got to the field I found out from a new friend who was serving with the Peace Corps in Peru that their organization’s motto is “it’s the hardest job that you’ll ever love.” Serving as a missionary in Peru would most definitely turn out to be the hardest job that I ever loved. The difference, though, is that no Peace Corps Volunteer can say he’s witnessed God at work in the lives of the people he or she serves.
He can’t say he’s seen people that were living in complete despair over their sins understand for the first time that Christ’s forgiveness is free, and full and for them. She can’t say she’s witnessed a baby be welcomed into the family of God through the waters of Holy Baptism. A Peace Corps Volunteer can say none of these things, unless, of course, they’re hanging out with a Lutheran missionary!
Being a foreign missionary is the hardest job I’ve ever loved…with eternal significance. And, it can be yours, too!!!
Hark, the voice of Jesus crying, “Who will go and work today?
Fields are white and harvests waiting – who will bear the sheaves away?”
Loud and long the Master calleth; rich reward He offers thee.
Who will answer gladly saying, “Here am I, send me, send me”? (Lutheran Service Book, 826)