Before I even left for Peru, I vaguely understood that the churches of Peru that I would be working for would be much more socially and theologically conservative (in the sense that they interpret many of the Bible verses literally, so long as it fits their proper-living agenda) than I am used to. The way in which “evangelicals” (meaning Protestant here in Peru) live out their faith in this part of the world is intriguing to a progressive Mainline Protestant like myself.
I have not been able to enjoy or even discuss having a beer with another church person. This of course lies in contrast to studying at the local pub during seminary and discussing theology at a bar with church young adult groups. One of the young church leaders noticed my tattoo when we had a fellowship day at the park and could not understand how a pastor would have one when Leviticus clearly tells us this is forbidden. When I tried to explain the context of the chosen people being set apart by their specific regulations and rituals and how Jesus provided a way that made that not necessary, she just looked confused. She was even more stunned when I told her that many of my friends who were pastors had tattoos after they were “born again”. Not wanting to create a stumbling block, I decided to just be more careful next time and wear higher socks that would conceal my ankle. In many ways I have felt like I have had to stifle who I am, in order not to confuse or offend well-meaning Christians in Peru. This mentality is slowly fading as some younger pastors are coming along in the presbytery I work in, but the lasting effects of Puritan-type missionaries in the start of the church here in Peru can still be seen. For this same reason, I had to create another Facebook in order to not isolate myself from church goers who believe that Christians should not smoke, dance or drink alcohol among other prohibitions.
Having friends outside of the church has been important to balance who I am versus what they expect a pastor to be. I have to constantly remind myself that I am not here to change people and to not try to judge their culture too harshily so as to not throw the baby out with the bath water. Many protestants here take their faith very seriously. Lots of emphasis has traditionally been put on evangelizing or converting (mainly Catholics and atheists). One of the “hermanas” here is often quick to tell a moto taxi driver in the 5 min ride to church his need for salvation. This usually includes quoting scriptures and feels more like a verbal beating rather than a conversation. Though she does refer to the stranger often as dear-one (quierido). This woman is a pillar of the church and has a very storng faith. One of the things I have been impressed by is the faith of the believers here.
Sometimes, though, the amount of faith seems to be put to the test by rigorous faith practices. Church members are quick to demand a vigil or a fast and many participate. I find that these can be great practices in moderation and with the right motivation. Often I find that these are observed out of obligation for what a “good christian” is supposed to do. The reasoning behind some of these events are often hard to uncover or poorly communicated. I felt that at some of the vigils and fasts that I took part in were thrown together and had little thought or planning put into them. This also is a cultural bias of mine, even though I am normaly one who is okay with doing things on the fly.
This blog may seem to be a bit of a gripe (and well, that’s because it is), but it is also an effort to appreciate these things for what they are without trying to judge them too harshly. These people that I have been working with are very caring. This month has been tough because they have already begun talking about how much they will miss us. We have been walking and working with these communities for more than 10 months now. The two congregations I have been working with are filled with people I have grown very close too. I am excited about the things they have accomplished while I have been here and the dreams they have for the future. July will be a string of goodbyes and going away parties that will mark the end of this part of the journey.
During this experience I have come to understand and appreciate a certain kind of Christianity that is disticnt from what I am most familiar with in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I better understand why they put USA after Presbyterian because it is different in other parts of the world and of course there are other Presbyterian denominations. What would a Peruvian or Kenyan think of our particular varieties of Christianity? What might they have to offer us? What might they find strange or unnecessary about our faith practices? I think they might sense that most members are not at church enough, as it is normal for them to have prayer meetings and other gatherings at the church all week long. Churches in the United States of America definately have their growing edges. Hearing outside voices allows us to access where growth is happening.
I will miss the excitement and enthusiasm with which these church members live out their faith. I am not one that likes to say good bye and I hope I will be able to stay in touch with my new friends that have touched my life so proufoundly. I am also looking forward to being united with my family and friends before we set out for our next adventure. Hugs to all of you who have been journeying with us. Your prayers and support have been felt and are greatly appreciated.