Peru Adventure Mission, 2019
By Paulina Cherabie
It was that time of morning; the air was still, the roosters were crowing, and the village hadn’t woken up yet. I felt the sun on my skin, smelled the crisp air of the Andes and beheld the majesty of the golden mountains encompassing the school we were staying in. Basking in the silence, I felt something I had not felt in a little while: peace. The peace that you feel in your core, the kind that allows your muscles to go limp and your heartbeat to slow. I knew that this was more than just a feeling- it was a gift.
Let me rewind.
I know I’m not alone in saying that the first semester of 2018/2019 was rough for many. It seemed like whoever I was talking to in the world was also going through a bit of a slump. Sitting in a finance class one day, I had one of those waves of existential questions hit me. “What am I doing here? Why is everything about maximizing return? Why can’t we get our priorities in line? Shouldn’t we focus on bigger issues?” This was not the first time I’ve pondered these things. The last time I did, I realized that a life worth living was that of serving others, but university life is not exactly set up like that.
Later on, I prayed St. Francis’ prayer, asking the Lord to show me a way to reconnect with Him. One thing leads to another, and I heard Creatio was leading an adventure mission trip down to Peru. At first, I shrugged it off, thinking of it as merely a nice thought (that I could not pull off), but God is persistent.
Next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Cusco. We spent the first few days sightseeing in that area, exploring the Baroque architecture, getting a lesson on alpaca fiber dyeing and weaving, trying various Peruvian foods (yum) and getting to know each other. It was so interesting to listen to all the backgrounds and stories from everyone on the trip, especially since we came from everywhere for the same mission. Machu Picchu was absolutely surreal! It’s one of those places that takes you back in history, as if you’re walking amidst the Incan Civilization. At one point, we were praying the rosary, surrounded by the immensity of it all, and another family chimed in. As with the Mass, I was once again blown away by the universality of the Church. No wonder the one and only adjective used to describe it is ‘catholic’ (katholikos = Greek for ‘universal’).
Besides the striking beauty we were witnessing, I was also reminded of the other side of it. Although I love certain attributes of different countries, the community, the simple living and the faithfulness, I was made aware of the acute poverty. C.S. Lewis once said, “how monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.” The same can be applied to corruption in governments. I was struck by the resemblance of Peru with parts of the Middle East and many other regions of the world. Greed is such a terrible vice. I think seeing this often makes us want to go out and ‘change the world,’ but I’ve come to realize that the solution lies in everyone offering a hand, one service project at a time.
We arrived in Llalli, a small village at approx. 13’000 ft with 5’000 inhabitants. Each morning we spent an hour in silence with God, preparing ourselves for the day. Mary, our incredible leader, would remind us to anchor in the present, to ‘be where your feet are.’
We spent the mornings working on a preserve, hiking up a mountain, planting trees, digging irrigation canals, fixing fences and planting seeds. Farming alongside the indigenous people was such a beautiful experience. Soon, they would have access to clean water. In the evenings, we would visit the local homes, offering blessings of holy water, praying together and bringing the kids to catechesis. The enthusiasm of the children was especially touching. I’ll never forget every smile, every football match (they crushed us), every drawing and every moment with them that we were blessed with. Our nights were all about community formation, exchanging stories, laughing hard, playing games, stargazing and appreciating each other.
Although I would love to go into all the details of each experience, there are a few key lessons I learned and would like to share:
“Taitanchis Munasunki.” This is a Quechua saying that translates to “Our Father (Papa) loves us.” Our faith is one of relationship. Sometimes, life is just about basking in this truth. You are loved. Of course, this truth begs to be passed on to others in service.
Every person you meet can teach you something. Every missionary on this trip taught me something profound, and for that, I am immensely grateful.
“El Señor es mi pastor.” I used to think of this verse as kind of a ‘painting’ of a Shepard but have come to realize that He is a guide, a light in the darkness.
We do not bond over our fake perfection; rather, we connect over our shared struggles.
One of the nights, I was graced by a conversation I’ll never forget. One of the brothers and I were talking about all the moving around I had done throughout my life. He asked why, through it all, I try to keep an open heart. I have come to learn that an open heart is the default position; it is easier to be who we were created to be- vulnerable and open. There is always the risk, but it is greatly shadowed by the beauty of loving in a way that joins us to the heart of Christ.
Gracias, Sodalitium et muchas gracias, Creatio!
Dios les bendiga.