Friday, December 27, 2013

So This is Christmas...

Christmas down South has been... an experience. In just a few words, I would describe it as:

1). Loud
2). Hot
3). Turkey

I realize Turkey isn't an adjective, but this is why I say turkey.

Our family cooked two of the biggest turkeys I've ever seen and one pig for Christmas. (I'll spare you the picture of the pig...).

On Christmas Eve, it was like any other day. Everyone worked a half day, people were shopping, and it was hot. I went with a friend to the mall to buy bread and fruitcake in the afternoon, and everyone was wearing shorts/tank tops while fifteen different Christmas songs were blaring at the same time. Speaking of fruitcake, I have never had so much fruitcake in my life. We've had some about every other day since the beginning of the month. They sure do love it. With hot chocolate. Even though it's 80 degrees.

I went to Catholic mass with my family and then we watched movies while waiting for the turkeys and pig to arrive. At midnight, we all hugged and then waited for the gifts. Then about 12:30, Santa Claus and his super helpful reindeer came down and gave out all the gifts. The adults did a Secret Santa.

There was lots of screaming, lots of loud music, and lots of laughing. A good time was had by all, and then we finally ate at about 1:30am. We ate turkey, pig, stuffing (of the turkey innards), bread, and fruitcake. Slightly different from the various platters in the States, but still delicious!

Then, we stayed up until 3:30 talking. On Christmas Day, it also felt like a normal day. Nobody really did anything and we had turkey leftovers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Yum.

Since there was nothing going on, I decided to go to the beach with a friend. We went without a map, without direction, and we arrived to a beautiful beach called Puerto Morí about 45 minutes from Trujillo. It was an awesome day for the beach and we had a blast. Especially when we couldn't get back to the main street so we hopped in someone's truck bed.

This was by far the strangest Christmas I've ever had, and it was hard to be away from my family, but it has made me appreciate the traditions and the fellowship we have. I am just thankful for technology that we were able to Skype!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Losing My Religion

Before you jump to conclusions, I haven't lost my religion, but I sure have learned a lot about it these last few weeks.

People in Perú and the States often ask me what the difference is between church here and there. I've always struggled with that question as there are many churches with different traditions, practices, and interpretations of the Word of God. I have finally come to the conclusion! Are you ready for it?

Aside from the fact that in Perú it is not divided Catholics and Protestants but rather Catholics and Christians, they have a much more urgent outlook about their Christianity. Evangelical Christianity in Perú is relatively new, and almost everyone I have met has an incredible story about how the Lord saved them from a life of alcohol, drugs, etc. These people are on fire.

Here's where the difference comes into play. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, because I would love to hear your opinion. In America, we are such an individualistic people that we see what the Lord has done in our life and how He has saved us, and that is sufficient. We are saved. Now we have the rest of our life to just kinda study the bible and have some good fellowship until we die and go to Heaven. We go about things so casually. From talking to the Peruvian believers I know, you would think the second coming was tomorrow! Daily evangelizing through our actions and words is a given. The church doesn't necessarily demand everyone to go out and evangelize, but it should be clear to anybody you come into contact with that you lead a life that is set apart from the rest.

In the States, we try to put our worldly preferences on God.
"Well, I don't like how that church plays music, so I want to go to another church."
"That pastor kinda rubs me the wrong way. His sermons are too long and I get bored."
The fact of the matter is, the Word of God is the Word of God, and any biblical teaching is good as long as it truly is biblical. I realize it is a little different here because at my church they don't listen to worldly music (not even Phil Wickham!), they don't dance, many women wear long skirts, etc. Their Christianity is simple. You follow Jesus or you don't. You dedicate your life to the Lord or you don't. The gray area doesn't exist. American Christians (as a huge generalization) are lukewarm. How many times have we gone out to party on a Saturday night and then rolled into church on Sunday like it was no big deal? How many times have we spoken badly about a brother or sister until they walk in the door and then suddenly they become one of our closest friends?

The Lord wants our hearts fully and He wants us to delight in Him without partaking of the things of this world. 1 John 2:15 says
"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them."
I haven't written this blog to call anyone out or even so say that I have all the answers now and am sure I won't fall into temptation. However, I have written it to help us realize that doing the bare minimum by confessing Jesus is the son of God and believing in our hearts that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9) is sufficient enough to get us into Heaven but that not changing our lives to reflect these views isn't holy and pleasing to God. Don't you want the One who gave you everything to be pleased and proud of you? We do that with our superiors here on the Earth, so why not for the One who created it all?

So where does it all start? I don't pretend to have all the answers. I know I don't because out of my pure laziness, I haven't studied the Bible like I should have in all the years I have been going to church. I've been able to slide by without it. But let me tell you friends, that's where the answers are. Take a look at 2 Timothy 3:9
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

There you have it, friends. Read the Word to fortify and edificar yourself, spread the Good News, and quit wasting time. The time is now!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Machu Picchu On My Mind

The time has finally come and passed!  My brother and I had an idea of a trip for months to Machu Picchu (one of the seven wonders of the world, people!), and he and I finally got to take that trip two weeks ago.

I was starting to get a little homesick, so his trip down here was perfect timing. Once again, thank you, Lord! We had a few days in Trujillo before taking off where we spent time with my family and exploring the city. His Spanish was actually quite impressive, and everyone loved him (of course).

After dinner with my families!

We had such a fun trip visiting Cusco and the outlying ruins on the first day after spending the night in the airport. Unfortunately the altitude affected us a lot. It was about 3300 meters above sea level. Thank goodness for coca tea!

View of Cusco from Sacsayhuaman ruins.

The second day, we headed out with only my backpack to visit The Sacred Valley and ruins along the way. This was our first real view of the mountains, and it was beautiful. Unfortunately, the height was affecting poor ole Robby, but we made it through the day and took the hour and a half train to Aguas Calientes (the city below Machu Picchu) in the evening.

First view of the Sacred Valley.

View of the Sacred Valley from the Pisaq ruins.

Ruins in Ollantaytambo. Awesome!

Finally, on Thanksgiving Day, we got to Machu Picchu! What a thing to be thankful for, am I right!? I never imagined that I would spend any Thanksgiving out of the country and much less on Machu Picchu! The ruins themselves truly weren't as interesting as the ruins in Ollantaytambo, but the view truly was breathtaking.

First look at Machu Picchu!

Machu Picchu from above on Huayna Picchu.

This trip wouldn't have happened without my big brother taking an adventurous leap and coming down here, so I'm very thankful for him! We were quite the pair maneuvering the country side, bartering with all the annoying vendors, and eating lots of weird food (from guinea pig to al paca)

Happy Thanksgiving!!

This is yet another bucket list item to be crossed off!

Thanks for an awesome vacation, Roberto!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October Reflections

October has brought on a whole new round of challenges, but challenges that have taught me a lot. First of all, at the very beginning I was so ready to be home after being robbed and being so sick. There was nothing worse than having to wait two weeks to see my family and friends. I finally arrived, and was completely blown away by America. It was so quiet, calm, and organized. And, not to mention, there was just so much hot water and so many toilet seats. Mind blown.

After a day filled with readjusting and napping, I felt very blessed to have arrived home just in time to celebrate the life of PawPaw Walsh with my dear family. He was a great man who I always loved seeing, and it was hard to see my family hurt as much as they did.

Aunt Pam singing Happy Birthday with Paw Paw.

From there, the wedding festivities began! I had a blast celebrating the first wedding (of many) that I will be in with my longest friend. It was a much needed girls' weekend in the mountains, and I felt so honored to see Ciara marry her best friend.

After the wedding, I was laying in bed and feeling incredibly panicked about having to go back to Peru. I was enjoying the commodities of America too much! You know, cars, toilet paper, carpet. Those kinds of things. But the Lord took those feelings away the next day.

On Sunday, my last full day in the States, I was able to go to church and to the college-aged ministry gathering. Being back was an incredibly odd feeling. Even though I was in such a familiar place, I felt out of place since everything has changed so much. I knew it would, but I must not have been ready for it like I thought I was. A number of tears were shed, but I know that the Lord is faithful. He showed me to really appreciate my Peruvian church family no matter if our views differ a little bit. I took that challenge to heart, and I have really enjoyed getting to know the brothers of my church better. I've taught the college-aged ministry a lot about how to be more active in activities outside of strict bible studies, and they've taught me to really dive into the Word. It's a good relationship we've got going. :-)

I have really been enjoying my time in Peru after that nice refresher in States and I am glad I still have two (only two!?!) months left.

This weekend took a big toll on me, though. Friday and Saturday were stressful as I had to participate in a professional development seminar and give various presentations. Once all was finally said and done, I barely had time to relax before I got two pieces of bad news. I was informed that one of the most influential people in my life over the last decade passed away on October 26. It was a horribly tragic loss not only for me, but also for anyone who had met him, especially those in the youth group. There are few people in the world who made me feel as special as Mr. Ken did. He forever changed our hearts by his love and kindness but has left us with so many questions and so much hurt. I am forever grateful for his years of service, and I know our church will never be the same without him. Thank you, Mr. Ken, for everything you have done for us. You will never be forgotten!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Galapagos Galore

I am marking August 27 in my calendar as the day I left Trujillo for the first solo trip of my life! After a day with little sleep and a lot of stress, I arrived to Lima at 11:30 pm and spent the night in the airport. Thankfully there was a Subway and a missionary family from Texas to keep me company!

I finally arrived in Quito on the 28th and got to spend time with my friend John's family that evening. This was yet another example of this culture's hospitality. I had never met these people, and they picked me up from my hotel, drove me around the entire city, bought me medicine and a hot drink for the bad cough I had acquired, and then treated me to dinner (at Burger King haha). Quito is the most beautiful city I have ever seen!

The view from my hotel room.

I arrived to the Galapgos on the 29th for the start of my tour in Puerto Ayora on the Santa Cruz island and was stunned by the simple beauty of the water and classy beach atmosphere.

After having a $6 sandwich and fries for lunch by the port, I gathered my things and headed out for a 2.5 hour boat ride to Isabela Island with 12 obnoxious Bulgarians, 2 perfectly posh Brits, and 4 hilariously sarcastic Germans. It was quite a ride as we headed straight into waves bigger than our boat.

When we arrived to Isabela, we went straight to the hotel to drop our things off and then to Flamingo Bay--a short 10 minute ride. The guide, Ricardo, told us that flamingos aren't native species to the islands but they are allowed to stay there because they aren't a threat to any of the natural species and there was no change to the ecosystem when they arrived. He also told us there were 200 flamingos on the island, and we got to see a whopping 4. Can you find them in the picture? Yeah, me either. Haha.

From there, I walked home with the German mom, Meike, and got to see a beautiful beach and a beautiful sunset.

After a delicious dinner in the hotel, we went to bed early that evening to be able to get up early the next morning and head to El Volcán Sierra Negra and El Volcán Chico. At 6:30 we loaded up in the truck--4 Germans, 2 Brits, and an Aussie.

From there, we had a full day of hiking! We hiked 14 kilometers and above the clouds to make it to the volcanoes...

We stopped at the volcano and got to see the clouds coming over the bank. It was enormous...

We picked some fruit called guayava off a tree and ate it (worms and all)...

And we continued on to El Volcán Chico and had a spectacular view of Elizabeth Bay.

After having lunch in the shade, we went back to the hotel to get ready for snorkeling at Concha de Perla. There were sea lions everywhere on the islands, and one even showed us the way. The water was freezing, but we got to see some really cool fish! I also almost got eaten by two sea lions playing in the water.

After snorkeling, Tania (the German teenager and I) quickly showered and went to play volleyball/slackline with some of the locals at a bar/volleyball court/bonfire site near the beach.

The next day I went out with all the Germans and our tour guide to realize one of my dreams. I got to see the Wall of Tears! It was incredible to actually see something I have studied for years. The Germans thought I was crazy, but it was an great moment for me!

We visited many other stops on the way back to the hotel, and they were all incredible. First we went to El Estero. Along the way, we saw the biggest trees on the islands, saw a great place to camp, stopped by Brazo de Mar, and met some sea lions.

El Estero

We took another stop at El Tunel del Estero (The Estuary Tunnel), which was basically a huge tunnel made of lava.

From there, we went to La Playa del Amor, and I found true love like our guide promised. I like to call him Gustavo. He's very calm, loves the outdoors, and enjoys rock climbing as well. Unfortunately, he likes to snot rocket salt water from his nose. I think that might be a deal breaker.


La Playa del Amor
Later, we went to a tortoise research center and got to see a lot of these guys. This one was actually missing a back foot because it was born during the time of a volcanic eruption. The tortoises only get fed Monday, Wednesday and Friday because there isn't enough financial support.

After a delicious lunch and some time to get some sun and walk around the island, we went snorkeling again and got to see a huge manta ray, a variety of fish, and a few sea turtles. It was great!

After snorkeling, we walked around Islote Tintorea (White-tipped Shark Island) and saw a lot of sharks, iguanas, and a few blue footed boobies and penguins.

As a part of our last night, we went out again with some of the locals to celebrate one of their birthdays. It was a great last night.

In the morning, we got up very early, picked some bananas off a tree for breakfast, and took another 2.5 hour boat ride back to Santa Cruz. I checked into my hotel before my guide picked me up and we went to The Charles Darwin Research Center and I got to realize another dream. I got to see Lonesome George's pen! He unfortunately died last year, but he is famous because he was the last of his species and died before he could reproduce. He was over 100 years old. My guide informed me that two days before, one of the females who had mated with him laid eggs and that they could be from him because the females can store sperm. I guess we will have to watch the news to see if anything ever comes from it. Thankfully one of the guides on the islands is my facebook friend so he can let me know :-)

I had the afternoon free, so I walked 2.5 kilometers to Tortuga Bay, the most beautiful beach I have ever seen! It was great. I was in the sun for 40 minutes and got horribly burnt, but it was so worth it! Out of everything I did, Tortuga Bay was my favorite by far.

After scarfing down a tasteless Ecuadorian ceviche (Peruvian ceviche is so much more scrumptious), Daniel, my guide, and I headed to go see the Twin Craters in the middle of the island. There are many theories about how it happened, but the basic idea is that many years ago the earth was unstable and collapsed. Since they are at a much higher elevation, it is frequently rainy and wet. Hence, the rain jacket.

Later, we went to go see the tortoises in their natural environment. It was very peaceful in this part of the island with so little hustle and bustle. I also saw the biggest tortoise I have ever seen!

And then, I was a tortoise...

After, I had the evening free and enjoyed some casual shopping and a great pizza dinner. One of my favorite parts of the islands was the sense of security, especially after having been in Trujillo for so long which is the second most dangerous city in Perú. Oh, what was that, Mom? I forgot to mention that to you? Sorry! It was nice to be able to walk alone at 11:00 pm and see many others doing the same.

The last morning, I woke up at 4:45 to take advantage of my last few hours. I walked to a dock close to the hotel and snapped the picture below of the sunrise. Thank you, Jesus, for your beautiful artwork!

Then, I went bag to Tortuga Bay and jogged the walk down there and back just to have 45 more minutes there. And boy was it worth it! It was even more beautiful in the morning when I was the third person to walk along the beach. I had a time of worship before heading back to shower so that my taxi could get me at 8:00. Then, I had one more day in Quito before I got back to Trujillo, but it was a wonderful trip overall, and I hope I get to make it back to the islands one day.