A Giving Love

It’s February 14th. I wasn’t reminded by hearts and Valentines chocolate in the aisle of every store here in Pachacamac. They didn’t get the put-out-valentines-candy-the-day-after-Christmas-memo here. In fact yesterday my walk in the 30 degree sunshine to 4 different tiendas in search of anything red or pink to decorate sugar cookies…proved fruitless. ‘No, no tengo.’  So our Valentine cookie project at the Juniper Tree Children’s home turned into gingerbread, stars, and bells,  with blue sugar and grey candy to top them off. …and what did it matter that there wasn’t hint of pink? What a fun project to get to roll and squeeze and cut out your very own cookie shapes, maybe for the first time ever. No importa! that they weren’t hearts, that the dough was too sticky in the hot, humid air…there was love in that kitchen as little pairs of hands rolled and sprinkled and tried to wait their turn.

Little Micah* who had not too long ago been sleeping in a park, fending for himself, proudly held up his completed star and placed it on the cookie tray. He was carefully and patiently coached by his new ‘Mama P’ and this ‘gringo’ helper, how to share the rolling pin, to take turns with his brother, to not go too fast or add too much flour. Ooof so much patience needed for those little people.

After cookie making and a craft they headed out to play and I chatted with ‘Mama P” as s16736239_10158275550730584_1658252360_nhe supervised the playground. Asking her how she came to add 4 extra to her family of one, and how she manages it all. Hearing how she and her husband had the same heart in wanting to move from their jungle home to step into the gap for these children at the Children’s Home. Every few sentences we were interrupted with hot little arguments, a shoe being thrown, a tumble and bumped knee. Patiently she encouraged, corrected, mediated, and managed the conflicts. 

“Love is at its most necessary when we are weak, when we feel incomplete, and we must show love to one another at those points.”  a friend shared in a facebook post this morning.  It may not be the kind of love celebrated in store windows,   it may not be the kind of love that first comes to mind with the word ‘Valentine’.

But this is the kind of Love that shines the brightest and most beautifully.

A giving Love.

And it points us to the Source and Author of Love. The One who is there to meet us in our weakest, in our greatest need.

“This is Love…not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and gave His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John :10

In her Nobel Lecture in 1979  Mother Theresa said it so beautifully and challenges my heart with these words…

“…God loved the world so much that he gave his son – it was a giving – it is as much as if to say it hurt God to give, because he loved the world so much that he gave his son, and he gave him to  Mary, and what did she do with him?

As soon as he came in her life – immediately she went in haste to give that good news, and as she came into the house of her cousin, the child – the unborn child – the child in the womb of Elizabeth, leapt with joy. He was that little unborn child, was the first messenger of peace. He recognised the Prince of Peace, he recognised that Christ has come to bring the good news for you and for me. And as if that was not enough – it was not enough to become a man – he died on the cross to show that greater love, and he died for you and for me and for that leper and for that man dying of hunger and that naked person lying in the street not only of Calcutta, but of Africa, and New York, and London, and Oslo – and insisted that we love one another as he loves each one of us.

And we read that in the Gospel very clearly – love as I have loved you – as I love youas the Father has loved me, I love you – and the harder the Father loved him, he gave him to us, and how much we love one another, we, too, must give each other until it hurts. It is not enough for us to say: I love God, but I do not love my neighbour. St. John says you are a liar if you say you love God and you don’t love your neighbour. How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbour whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live.

And so this is very important for us to realise that love, to be true, has to hurt. It hurt Jesus to love us, it hurt him. And to make sure we remember his great love he made himself the bread of life to satisfy our hunger for his love. Our hunger for God, because we have been created for that love. We have been created in his image. We have been created to love and be loved, and then he has become man to make it possible for us to love as he loved us. He makes himself the hungry one – the naked one – the homeless one – the sick one – the one in prison – the lonely one – the unwanted one – and he says: You did it to me. Hungry for our love, and this is the hunger of our poor people. This is the hunger that you and I must find, it may be in our own home.”

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*Not his real name

Beauty in Manchay

28 times in the past 3 weeks I have bumped up and down the road through Manchay.  50 speed bumps for 50 minutes…(they’ve counted.) But I’m told the road used to be completely dirt and potholes, no guard rail to keep cars from heading down the cliff into the valley. So I’ll take the speed bumps…and be thankful they at least slow the speed of the colectivos, and busses narrowly missing us as they pass.

I’m also told that ‘Manchay’ is a Quechua word meaning ‘Fear’. ‘Horror’ and ‘Panic’ were  in the online definition.20170118_124305

Maybe it was a trepidatious traveler on the rocky cliff that gave Manchay it’s name. Maybe the refugees fleeing the militant ‘Shining Path’ in the 1980’s precipitated the name…or maybe it stems from the precarious ownership of land. There seems to be many reasons for fear to reign on these dusty hills.

Small shacks sprawl far up the mountain sides. The view has become the familiar
backdrop to our drives each day…but still  we wonder why. Why are the arid hills, so far from the road and the city a desirable place to live? The bumpy miles of dirt road, the hike when the road ends, the heavy loads that must be carried up daily.

But the Kids Alive staff have explained to us that the land is cheap or free for squatters coming from the outlying and jungle areas…looking for more opportunities in Lima, a better life.  And in some areas, if they stay on the land for 7 years…banding together as families to guard the land 24/7 and make it too much of a fuss  for the police to chase them off, it will become theirs.

7 years. For a few square feet of dusty ground, smaller than my bedroom and a small shack with no running water, and no electricity.

So much effort. Because there is Hope for new opportunities.

But is there opportunity? Or is it a mirage? These hill sides tell the story of so much fear…the kind of fear that invades a family broken by poverty, by alchohol, by abuse and neglect.

And that’s why the colourful mural announcing the Oasis School and Care Centre stands out on the road through Manchay. 20170124_114620The rainbow arch declares that there is Hope, and the scrolling letters at the top remind us that ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me’. 

This is a  place where real-Love-in-action is working to cast out Fear.

As we tour the grounds I see a swing set,  a covered volleyball and basketball court, and a big a wooden boat inviting imaginative little minds to sail right over those dusty hills into the blue of the Pacific ocean.

Bright pink geraniums against a sky blue backdrop stubbornly refuse to let the brown take over the color palette, and the room behind us is full of dedicated teachers taking a hot summer picsart_01-26-02-42-09morning to learn about the benefits of physical education.

The mission of Kids Alive and the Oasis Care Centre is to be present in this poverty, and to rescue children from abuse and neglect. Over time they’ve seen that the most long term benefits come from mentoring and supporting the student’s families . And so the ‘FE’ program exists, ‘Familias con Esperanza’  or ‘Hope’ to mentor, teach, support and counsel the families…and provide a way out of poverty and hopelessness.

The ripple effect is evident.

Last Wednesday we had the privilege of meeting Lina. * She took us up a winding road on the20170118_124918 hill behind the Oasis to visit her rented home, a temporary one till her own home becomes habitable. She led us even farther up the hill in the hot sun to her new house, only reachable by foot. She shared her dreams for the future, a new home where she, her husband and two children could live. They were waiting for the road to be built so a  water truck could drive up and deliver water for them.

Lina is one of the local Manchay moms who has been impacted by the Oasis school and Care Centre.  Her 5 year old girl came bounding out of the house with as much energy as the puppy she was squeezing tightly.  She is one of the students at the Oasis kindergarten program where she is fed, taught, and cared for.

Lina had been struggling to raise her children, when the Oasis came alongside her.  She learned about a God who offers Hope for this life…and beyond. She learned parenting skills,  and sewing skills , in a self sufficient program that makes uniforms and resources to sell to the community. She discovered a talent in working with the students at Oasis and now is studying to be a Speech Therapy Assistant. Even though she has to stay up till 3 am studying in her little 2 room shack  and go to school on Saturdays she is so thankful that so much in her life has changed.

And she gives the credit to her God, and to the Oasis Care Centre.

20170118_123613She asked if we would like to listen to her 11 year old sister play the violin.

There we stood, surrounded by desert and dust… in a humble, hot, kitchen-library-dining-living room and listened to the beautiful notes of a violin piece.  My eyes were drawn to a ‘picture gallery’ of proudly displayed school photos and artwork on the wall.

And a shiny heart with the words ‘Luz del Mundo’ ‘Light of the World’…caught my eye.

Way up on a hillside in Manchay a place called ‘Fear’, in this hot little house, the beauty of the music and the beauty of those words were not obscured by the surroundings.

They were even more beautiful because of them.

*Not her real name