I am a college student and I have the opportunity to spend six weeks on the mission field in Bella Union, Peru this summer. From your experience, how would you advise me to prepare for my time on the field, specifically in Peru?
Congratulations, Matt. What a privilege! I don’t know where Bella Unión is, but we lived a year in Perú and travelled about quite a bit.
• Expectations: Why are you going? What do you expect to do, to receive, to learn, to give? Spend some time thinking about these things. Write them in your journal.
• Prayer: Pray that the Lord would enable you to get to know at least one person rather well, and then when you get there, begin to look around for this person. Pray that the Lord would give you love for people, even the difficult ones.
• Language: I don’t know how much Spanish you know, but do whatever you can to learn as much as possible. The more you know the more meaningful your experience will be.
• History: Look up Peru on the internet and/or an encyclopedia, and learn as much as you can about the history of the country, the pre-Spanish Inca culture, the Spanish Conquest, and then the struggles over the last 200 years to establish itself as a democratic republic. The Shining Path rebellion killed a lot of people and is still alive in the memory of a lot of people.
• Geography: The country has three general regions (plus sub regions): coastal, mountain, and jungle. Familiarize yourself with the geographic descriptions as well as the major cities.
• Peoples: Perú has a large indigenous population. Learn as much as you can about their world view, the difficulties they have had in finding their place in modern society, etc.
• Archeology: Perú is a magnet for tourists, especially visiting impressive ruins like Machu Picchu and Chan Chan (on the coast). You will be amazed at the impressive ability of those native masons.
• The Church: Operation World has five pages on Perú, and will give you statistics and descriptions of what the Lord has done and is doing there. Do a bit of reading on Roman Catholicism in Latin America in general, and Perú in particular, to understand the traditional cultural foundation of the country.
• Diary: Plan to write a diary during those 6 weeks, even if it’s only 15 minutes a day. You will find your impressions change as you get to know people, feel more at home in the context, and relate your experiences.
• Spiritual Disciplines: I don’t know what your spiritual disciplines are, but I would encourage you to begin each day in the Lord’s presence, listening for His voice and asking Him to prepare you for the events of the day. End each day reviewing what you did, what you learned, and where you saw the Lord at work – either in your life or the lives of others.
• Culture Shock: Be prepared for culture shock – it hits us all, regardless of how much homework we do! You will probably pass from excitement over the new and exotic; to awareness of frustration over things that don’t work, people who don’t come on time, and strange illnesses; then on to coming to terms with the new and unexpected as you get to know people, begin to be able to communicate, and feel more and more at ease and maybe even at “home”.
• Reverse Culture Shock: Be prepared to have another experience of culture shock when you return. You will not be the same person you were when you left. Others at home have moved on, too. They have not had your experience and you can’t expect them to be as enthusiastic about what you have seen and learned as you will be. They will be more interested in what has happened to them during these 6 weeks!
• Thanking: Make sure you thank personally every individual who helped you make this trip, whether financially, or by encouraging you and perhaps praying for you.
I trust something in the above will be helpful to you, Matt.
Blessings on you.