The Story of How My Life Was Saved in Guatemala – A Story of Spirit Hovering

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27

“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27:1

July 23, 2014, Panajachel, Guatemala

I was still smiling as I hopped into the boat that would take me over to Panajachel for a quick doctor’s appointment. The morning I spent reuniting with the elders here in Santiago was a homecoming as sweet as the strawberry cake we ate together in celebration of my 29th birthday. I could still hear Concepcion’s voice echoing back to me along with the other elders as we sang the songs I had translated into Tz’utujil. A quick trip across the lake and I’d be back the next day to visit some of the elders in their homes.

The pain below my right hip that I had experienced for about a week had become almost excruciating. Each bounce in the boat over Lake Atitlan’s waves reminded me why I had scheduled an appointment for what I was sure was just an uncomfortable cyst. About fifteen minutes into my doctor’s appointment, the ultrasound results and physical exam confirmed a hernia near the femoral artery. Dra. De Paz, a surgeon who just happened to be returning to her office next door to collect a few forgotten items, was summoned to examen me and look at the ultrasound results. As she pushed below my hip, I yelped in pain and tears filled my eyes. She looked at me and said that this was an urgent case due to the hernia being so close to the femoral artery and that one of the organs being suffocated by the hernia could be the appendix.

“We must operate on you now,” she said, my doctor nodding in agreement behind her. “It is a simple procedure, only lasts about a half hour, but we need to do it now to save whatever organ is being suffocated – we can see something is stuck in there on the ultrasound.”

“Are you sure it is not just a cyst?” I said in disbelief at the quick turn of events.

“No,” she said, “It is definitely not a cyst…this is a femoral hernia and you need to be operated on now. I can drive you to the hospital myself and bring you back tomorrow afternoon.”

Still shocked that surgery was needed, I went to the Sharing the Dream hostel in Panajachel to call my parents in the United States…

“Dad? Um…You know how I had a doctor’s appointment today? Well, it isn’t a cyst…it is a hernia and they tell me it is serious, that I need to be operated on now because there is an organ stuck in the hernia and something about an artery and they want to make sure they can save whatever is being suffocated and they say it is urgent, that they would have to sign a waver for me to leave their office without being operated on so that if anything happens to me they are not legally or medically responsible…I have the number of the doctor here, so write it down…I can’t believe this, I mean, I’ve never had surgery before, let alone in a foreign country…and I’m supposed to fly home to y’all Sunday and then to Taize next week…I’m scared, dad.” I began to cry.

“You sound panicked,” my dad said, in the deep, soothing voice that cut through my fear. “There are a lot of voices in this, but what is God saying to you when you quiet down and listen?”

I sat in silence with the phone receiver on my ear, tears slowly coming down my cheeks.

Suddenly, a wave of comfort and peace swept over me. It was the feeling of home – the comfort I had felt many times over this year when I had sat on the shore of Lake Atitlan, when I listened to Quichua women singing the Psalms in the Andes, when I was in the hospital in Bolivia, when I heard a Guarani woman tell me the freedom from fear she found in Christ, when I gazed up at the new stars I had never seen before blinking in the Brazilian night sky, when I had felt at home being invited into the stories of the people I had met along this journey.

It was the sense of home I feel every time I partake of the eucharist. I knew that it was not my own calm, but that of the Spirit who had hovered over the waters at the beginning of time and has been hovering over me since birth and Who had led me back to this place.

I moved the phone closer to my mouth. “I feel God say…that this needs to happen, that somehow this is supposed to happen, that I should trust the people here and do the surgery now. That is what I feel God saying.” My muscles were relaxed and I heard the tone of my voice change. “I feel the Holy Spirit in this, dad. She is here in this.”

“I have no bad feelings about this, Rachel,” my dad replied, “You are going to be fine. I love you.”

I phoned mom quickly and updated her. “We hear the peace of the Lord in your voice, Rachel,” she and my bonus-dad said to me. From within the depths of my voice, I replied, “The Lord is my Light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?” It was that Spirit’s hovering that drew this promise to my lips as I said good-bye and headed out the door.

My surgeon, Dra. De Paz, drove me to the hospital and friends of mine awaited me in the lobby. Within an hour I was being prepped for surgery in the tiny private hospital, which in the dark of the evening looked more like a small backpacker’s guesthouse than anything in a medical magazine. As the anesthesia kicked in I remember saying, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?” It was the song I had sung earlier with the Tz’utujil elders in Santiago…

I remember waking up in the middle of surgery.

The anesthesia from the mask had worn off, but the spinal anesthesia injection that numbed me from the ribcage down was still working. A curtain separated me from seeing what was going on, but I could feel a tugging sensation on my organs. I looked to my left and saw the anesthesiologist sitting there with concerned eyes.

“Que esta pasando?” (“What is going on?”), I asked him in Spanish.

“The surgery is lasting longer than we thought…it is more complicated,” he said back to me.


“Am I alright?” I asked.

“They are working hard,” he responded…the answer contained no hope or assurance.

I looked at him and in desperation asked, “Can you please recite me a Psalm?”

His head dropped and he looked back at me with an apologetic gaze, “I am so sorry. I am a Christian, but I don’t know any Psalms by heart…” His gaze shifted around and then fixed back on me. “Please forgive me,” he whispered.

“Of course, I forgive you,” I whispered back as I closed my eyes again. “The Lord is my Light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?” I said under my breath.

I awoke with Dra. De Paz speaking over me.

It turns out the surgery was much more complicated than expected and lasted two and a half hours. When Dra. De Paz opened me up, she discovered that intestinal lining was being pushed through the hernia and was tangled around the femoral artery. This meant that extra precaution taken so that the femoral artery would not be cut while she removed the intestinal lining that was tangled around it.

One wrong cut and I would bleed out on the operating table.
Leaving the artery alone would mean the artery would suffocate, cutting off blood to the heart and I would die of cardiac arrest…

“I don’t know how much longer you would have lived had we not discovered this during surgery,” Dra. De Paz said to me as I was wheeled to the recovery room.

“Thank you…You saved my life,” I wept to her as my mind tried to comprehend all she had said.

“No, I was just an instrument,” she replied.  “To God be the glory.”

The next day as Dra. De Paz drove me back to my friends’ house in Panajachel she asked me, “What church do you belong to?”

“Well, I’m Lutheran,” I replied.

She squinted her brown eyes at me. “Do you remember that you were singing during the surgery?” she asked intently.

“No!” I responded in surprise. “I was singing?”

“Yes!” she said to me, “You were singing a hymn. I told you that you have a beautiful voice, but the anesthesiologist said that you were already asleep. You just kept singing throughout the surgery. You sang about God’s love. The other surgeon looked at me from across the table and said to me, ‘We are operating on a servant of God.’ And I knew that it was true and that you were going to make it.”

Tears filled my eyes as her car turned a corner and I saw the blue waters of Lake Atitlan.  I felt a familiar peace – the hovering of the Spirit – the Peace that calms chaos, the One who speaks life over the waters.

Looking back at a week ago, I know that it was NOT my own strength that carried me through the many decisions and circumstances enveloped in an evening that could have turned out much differently.  I cannot do anything but praise God for placing me in the hands of these incredible people that saved my life from something that would have killed me had they not discovered it during the surgery.  I raise my hands in awe and bow my head in adoration for the loving-kindness that God has shown me through this whole miracle – through the surgeons, my host family in Panajachel, my friends from Santiago across the lake, and the prayers from hundreds around the globe.

As I spend the next four weeks here in Guatemala recovering from surgery, I will continue to write and reflect on the incredible moments this storycatching journey has held.  So stay tuned for more blog posts and stories over the next month! Although this August will look quite different than originally planned, I am assured that the Holy Spirit has led me back here for “such a time as this.”

Thank you for your prayers and constant support on this wonderful and unexpected journey.  I cannot express enough how honored I am to be the GPF recipient this year and continue to look forward to all that God has in store for the next month.

In Awe of the Spirit’s Hovering,

Rachel Ringlaben

#onestorycatcher

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Re-framing Story: Part II

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Journal Entry, La Paz, Bolivia                                        June 29, 2014

 

“Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.  See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.’”
 – Jeremiah 1:9-10

Along this storycatching journey I have continually asked myself – “What are the stories we tell ourselves? Out of what narratives are we living? What are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and about the world in which we live? From what stories are we drawing our own life’s narrative? Is it the Story of God and who we are as God’s creation? Or is it a narrative of distrust, despair, and anxiety? What does it look like to reclaim the story of the Gospel as our communal identity?”

During my stay in Bolivia, I have spent time with Quechua and Aymara church leaders who are passionate about the mission of building loving Christian community that seeks to embrace all with a Story of hope and redemption.  I have listened in wonder as Aymara women speak of their desire to continue uprooting and tearing down destructive narratives of domestic violence & sexual abuse that so often dictate communal life.  I have sat with Quechua men who are driven to inspire a generation of youth by sharing their own experiences of overcoming alcohol dependency.  They all have taught me the transforming power of re-framing stories in light of the Gospel.

Yet, re-framing our stories means that we need an audience – a community to tell us the truth about ourselves when everything around us tells us half-truths, almost-truths, or even full-out lies.  This is why Christian community is so vital here in Bolivia – the leaders I have spent time with understand the power and freedom that comes from sharing one’s story within a trusting/trustworthy community.  Through the stories and sermons I have heard among indigenous populations (Quechua and Aymara) I have been challenged to re-frame how we the church in the United States encourage parishioners to share their experiences with God, their God-experiences with others, and how we listen to the stories of the community that surrounds us in order to communicate the Gospel in a tangible way to our neighbors. 

What I have seen over and over again is that in indigenous communities, they value a person’s message of the Gospel much more if they have witnessed that person living life alongside them – farming in their fields, opening a store in their community, providing tutoring for their children, praying for their sick.  As Christian leaders hear the concerns, experiences, and stories of the community, they are able to aid the community in imagining how God is at work within their own stories and to what God might be calling them in the future as a community of faith. With their actions and words, the Christian leaders I have met with here are saying to their indigenous community members:  “Share your story and let the Gospel inspire the narrative you are telling about yourself – for you are loved, you are beautiful, you are broken, you are needed in this place.”  The people of Bolivia have taught me the importance of identifying the narrative that is destroying life so that by retelling their story in light of what the Gospel says about who they are they can in turn change the world around them. 

This lesson of re-framing story came in a very fragile part of my Storycatching tour.  At the beginning of June, I was hospitalized here in La Paz for having an extremely dangerous type of parasites in my system that attack vital organs and the blood stream.  I have been on bed rest until very recently.  Being on bed rest, missing the travels I had planned to take, and being far from family and friends during this time was very hard on me.  And in the darkness of this experience, I began to hear those half-truths and lies creep up behind me to say that I failed, that all I had seen was in vain, that I would die in that hospital bed.  And the thing is that these frames – these voices – that seek to dominate the narrative of our experience – they sound just close enough to the truth.  That’s why we trust them.  But theirs is a frame, a lens, a half-truth that does not set us free.  The frame of our story that sets us free is the Truth of the Gospel that unbinds us from destructive narratives.

And then, the Beloved community began telling me the truth – as I sat in the hospital and as I sat in bed, the Spirit sent voices to aid in re-framing this story.  A dear friend of mine wrote to me, “Rachel, parasites only mean you have embraced each adventure and have shared daily life with those around you.  Jesus is proud.”  That was the Truth that set me free – a re-framing of the story I was in.  I experienced the Global Church reaching out to encourage this Storycatcher through visits, phone calls, messages, medical care, delivering meals and sending me songs.  I had an excellent team of medical professionals and an amazing host-family taking care of me.

Re-framing our stories in light of the Gospel is hard work.  It takes practice.  It takes patience.  It takes a community around us to remind us of the beautiful truth we often forget – the truth that we are loved, we are God’s, and we are made new daily to change the world around us with the Love and Truth that sets us free.

#onestorycatcher
Rachel Ringlaben

**CHECK BACK SOON FOR AN UPDATE ONCE I REACH PARAGUAY!**

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H
ermana Laura and I pose for a photo in the middle of the potluck after worship.  “Aptapi” is the Aymara word used for potluck!

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IELB (Iglesia Evangelica Luterana Boliviana) national leadership retreat in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

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W
ith the youth of Cochabamba’s ILEB congregation, EL REDENTOR.

 

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Leading worship with Pastor Juan Fernandez (WMPL) at his cell group in La Paz.

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At Gabriela’s FROZEN themed birthday party.  I am so thankful for Juan and Ann and their family for being an incredible host family during my time in La Paz.

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Although my travels in the southwest were cancelled due to me being in the hospital, my time in Bolivia has been absolutely amazing and I am honored to have bore witness to the incredible things God’s Spirit is doing here.

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Re-framing Story: Part 1

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Journal entry from Lake Titicaca, Isla del Sol                                     May 30, 2014

The noonday sun was beating down on the Island as I climbed back into the private boat I rented for the day to explore the northern side of Isla del Sol.  As the waves from Lake Titicaca lapped against the boat, my driver, his assistant, and I traded stories throughout the day.  We enjoyed explaining cultural differences between Aymara life on the island and my life in the United States.  Our conversation weaved in and out of Aymara legend, Catholic traditions, and Lutheran theology. 

As we were hiking the bluffs earlier in the morning and my profession as a minister came up in the conversation, my driver-turned-tour-guide began asking for my opinions on the things that he had very clear views on – the after-life, women’s rights in Bolivia, violence in the campo, education for women in Latin America, forgiving one’s enemies, etc.  Between me catching breaths to share my views, he would insert commentary on the scenery around us and the Incan ruins that littered the Lake’s shore.  “I pray for my children, because I know that life is harder these days for them than it was for me in many ways,” he said to me as we made our descent back toward the boat.  “Especially for my daughters because I know that machismo is a reality they must fight against every single day.”  He continued telling me more about his life, his faith, and his hopes for his children.

Now we were back in the boat, making the long trip back to Copacabana.  I shut my eyes to take a quick nap.

About thirty minutes into the ride I hear his voice behind me ask, “Raquel, can I ask you something?”

I open my eyes and I turn to face him.  “Sure, ask me anything.”

 

He adjusts his baseball cap over his forehead.  “I divorced my wife a number of years ago and remarried…I am happy in my new marriage and know it is better this way, but I feel like a bad father and I feel guilty for divorcing my wife.  I don’t want my children to grow up and be mad at me.”

“Sometimes when we feel guilty about something we’ve done, it is a sign we need to ask for forgiveness.  Have you asked for forgiveness?”

“Yes, everyday, I ask God to forgive me for my mistake, for being a bad father.”

“How long ago did this happen?” I ask.

“Seven years ago,” he replies.

“Wow, that is a long time to believe that God hasn’t forgiven you and that you are a bad father,” I say as I move closer to his perch in the back of the boat.  “From what I heard you say to me while we were hiking, your love for your children motivates most of the decisions you make.”

“Yes, of course.  I love them and I love spending time with them,” he says, removing his baseball cap.

“Sounds like you are loved by your children and that they think you are a good father,” I say to him.  “You know, the first time you asked for forgiveness seven years ago, God forgave you, dear brother.  God forgives you.  God loves you.  But maybe it would be beneficial to share these feelings with your kids – let them know how you have felt guilty and ask them for their forgiveness.  Perhaps that is the missing piece of your healing.  I know that in my own experience, having a forgiving conversation with each of my parents after their divorce really aided in us moving forward in our relationships.”

His eyes squint at me, “Wait, God forgives me the first time I ask?”

“Yes, that’s called grace.  God forgives you and you get a new start.  Just like that.”

His eyes grow lighter as if they have tossed off the weight they have been carrying for seven years.

“God forgives me…just like that,” he whispers as his eyes fill with tears.  He looks over his shoulder at the Lake.  “Thank you, I feel at peace for the first time…I think you’re right, I should talk to my kids and let them know that I am sorry if I have hurt them and let them know that I love them.”

“I’ll be praying for you as you have those conversations and I will pray that tomorrow morning when you wake up, you can remember the forgiveness that God offers you every day.”

“Gracias, Raquel,” he says to me as we approach Copacabana’s shore, “I feel at peace.”

“That’s grace,” I say as I smile at him and stand to hop out onto the dock.

“Grace…” he repeats as he hugs me and waves good-bye. 

An integral part of telling and living one’s story is to discover the narratives we were never meant to carry – the lies we believe about ourselves and out of which we operate and relate to others.  In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

We are beckoned to release he lies and narratives of destruction so that we may fully embrace a new story – the True Story of who we are – beloved and treasured creatures destined for abundant life alongside God and one another.  Being here in La Paz is teaching me to fix my eyes on the Author of our story, my story, this day and every day so that we are able to become free from those destructive narratives that bind us.  We were made to be strong, bold, courageous, free. 

The True Story about us, what the Gospel ways, is Love.  And this Love God has for us, can be recognized when we are Unbound from the narratives of destruction.  The fingerprints of the Gospel are the words and experiences that unshackle us, unbind us from what holds us bound and constricted.  We were made to run in the spacious spaces within our hearts, our healed scars, and the in the world around us.  As the Psalmist wrote, “God brought me out to a spacious place; he delivered me, for in me God takes delight.” (Psalm 18:19).  We are made free by the Love, the delight, God has in us.  We become unshackeled by a boundless delight, a limitless enamoring, a borderless Story that runs alongside us as we learn to walk, to stumble, to dance, to love, and to run unbound.

 

Learning to Run Unbound,

Rachel Ringlaben
#onestorycatcher 

 

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The Story that Should Never Be

I am in Bolivia.  

I am not in Nigeria. 
But my thoughts and fears and prayers are there.

It has been about three weeks since a terrorist group, Boko Haram, entered into a school in Chibok, Nigeria and kidnapped over 250 school girls at gunpoint. 

Over 250 girls.

This entry could address a myriad of topics – the stacked dominoes of issues as to why this happened:  patriarchy, violence against women, misogyny, rape culture, negating education for women, religious extremism, terrorism, sex trafficking, child marriages, machismo, sexism, corruption, injustice…

But this entry is not about issues.

This is about her.

I do not know her, but she is my sister.

In the blink of an eye she goes
from solving physics problems,
from laughing with classmates,
from dreaming of her future,
to being

stolen
sold
broken
raped
repeatedly.

She is thrown into a story she was never meant to be a part of.

This is a story that is my worst fear come to life…and she is living it.

This is a story that makes my skin crawl and my blood boil
and my heart break in the deepest places of who I am as a human and as a woman.

This is a story that makes God vomit and weep when She hears it.

This is a story that should never be…

And I am powerless to save her from this nightmare
of men negotiating price over her life,
of foreign hands groping and prying her legs open,
of mothers collapsing in anguish,
of fathers weary with indignation,
of countries’ complacency.

All I have are tears of anger.
All I have are supplications of grief.
All I have are sighs and groans too deep for words to express…

for this is a story that should never be.

For God’s sake,
#BringBackOurGirls

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Rachel Ringlaben
#onestorycatcher

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Huch´uy Runa – Ancient Ruins & Stories of Hope

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March 18, 2014     Huch´uy Runa School & Orphanage       Cusco, Perú

¨Cuzco is not a city to visit for this or that painting.  Rather, it´s the whole of the city together which creates the impression of the peaceful, if sometimes disquieting, center of a civilization that has long since passed…The semi-indigenous features of the curator, his eyes shining with enthusiasm and his faith in the future, constituted one more treasure of the museum, but a living museum, proof of a race still fighting for its identity.¨ — Che Guevara, ¨The Motorcycle Diaries¨

¨Buenos días Señorita Raquel,¨ the children at Huch´uy Runa say in unison as I walk through the door of each classroom and workshop.  They carefully explain the details of their work…

Lucia takes me by the hand.  Her tiny eyes, magnified by her glasses, twinkle as she shows me her ceramics work station.  ¨Así, Señorita,¨ she says as she shows me how to ball up the clay into tiny pieces to make the walls of her tiny ceramic adobe home.  Honorio, 8, sits next to me with a runny nose that he continues to wipe with his sleeve.  I hand him a tissue and he heartedly grabs it to blow his nose.  ¨Gracias, Señorita!¨  His voice is so tiny and bright.

The professors teach each child to take pride in their craft and in their history as Quechua – descendants of the Inca.  The walls of each classroom and workshop are adorned with pictures of the Christ as well as paintings of Incan warriors and moral sayings of the Incan Andean cross:  Allinta Munay, Allinta Yachay, Allinta Ruway (Love well, learn well, do well). 

A fusion of faith where pride in their culture is cultivated with the love of God shown to them by the professors and staff.  The presence of God is tangible as I walk into Huch´uy Runa – almost bringing me to tears.  As I spend time with the kids I am reminded of Christ´s words that the kingdom of heaven belongs to little ones such as these.  And that is what Huch´uy Runa is – the kingdom of heaven breaking open over each child and each narrative she or he brings with them as children of the Cusco streets.

¨Most of the children here come from broken homes, homes of violence and dysfunction, ¨ Professor Edwin tells me, ¨but when they come here, we tell them that today is a new day for them to succeed and become better than their circumstances.  They hold the future in their hands and we tell them they have the capacity to create a positive future for themselves.¨

Professor Edgar adds, ¨The family unit is very important in our Quechua Andean culture.  Therefore we meet with the families in their homes every semester.  Only children who have no other housing options stay here with us during the week because we do not want to break the family and community bond created in the campo

¨Yet we also want them to know that we are a family here at Huch´uy Runa – we take care of each other.¨ Clara, the director and founder of Huch´uy Runa, smiles as she continues.  ¨When we work with them we want to cultivate hope.  Although many of them will leave here after sixth grade to work jobs while they are in colegio, we are equipping them with skills in their workshops so that they will not be exploited.  These children are our future – and that fills me with hope.¨

Che Guevara, in this travel diary throughout Peru, wrote that there are three Cuscos one can experience while visiting here.  The first is the Cusco of the Incas – Qosqo, walls of stone and strength and sadness that linger from the conquest.  The second is the Cusco of the Spanish conquest – Cusco of ornate cathedrals and plazas built on the backs of the Incas.  The third is a Cusco of the hesitant tourist – a Cusco one passes over superficially while relaxing in the winter of the Andes.

But I believe that if one squints one´s eyes over the Cusco horizon, the cobble roofs and cascading Andes, one might spot a fourth Cusco – the Cusco of Huch´uy Runa – the Cusco of audacious hope that sings and plays and learns and laughs with the supernatural joy of the Holy Spirit in the face of obstacles.

¨Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.¨ – Isaiah 58:12

Just as Nehemiah and the Israelites labored to rebuild the ancient walls left in ruins, the staff at Huch´uy Runa labor to rebuild ancient ruins as they teach just down the hill from Saqsahuamán´s fallen fortress.  They are rebuilding the ancient walls of each child´s story – reconstructing an environment where each Quechua child hears the radical truth that they are loved by God.  As we begin our day at breakfast, the staff and children sing in Quechua and then pray a prayer of thanksgiving.  They walk to class together, smiling, awaiting another day where the fourth Cusco appears to affirm that each child is a miracle and has a voice, has a purpose, and has a part in the Story.

Witness of the Fourth Cusco,

Rachel
#onestorycatcher

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Lucia shows me how ceramics are done.

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Clara (far right), director of Huch´uy Runa, shows off the break-making workshop.

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Jimmy heads down the Street to sell the scrumptous bread his class just finished making.

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I sit in on the weaving workshop.

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P.E.

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Music time with the traditional Andean bombo drum.

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Canchacuta, Peru – Where the Story has found a Haven

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Quechua Village of Canchacuta (“Haven of Shepherd Animals”), Peru                            13,120 feet above sea level, population 300

There is a gift waiting here as the evening winds move the clouds that bring the rain over the village.  It is a gift of silence, of longing, of peace.  The snow-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains that cascade in front of my writer’s perch become engulfed in thick cumulus clouds.

A donkey brays.  A sheep baas.  A rooster crows.

The only constant sound is the chilling, howling wind that tinges one’s skin.

I gaze down on the city of Huaraz below as the sun sinks behind rain clouds and a gigantic shadow is cast along the fertile valley.  The green patchwork of crops and fields climb up to where I sit – writing in silence.

Well – almost silence.

A child laughs.  A wheelbarrow trudges past me carrying cement.  A pup barks.

I look to my right and gaze at an enormous, glorious rock formation that reaches up toward heaven.  Strong, elegant, longing – its reach is one familiar to me.

The barking pup draws closer to my feet and the sun peaks from behind rain clouds that will soon break open over fertile ground.  The clouds stop to rest on the snowy tops of the mountain range – as if holding hands in prayer with a dear friend.  Its grasp is one familiar to me…

Susana calls to me to help mix the grain that is laid out to dry on the mud yard in front of her adobe home.  I sit and mix the grain with my hands.  Like jewels they glimmer in the sun.  Carmen laughs as a rooster sneaks its way beside me to steal a snack.  I quickly shoo him away.

“Afuera, afuera!” Susana shouts as she shoos her hens outside the tin door.

I squat down on a log to begin peeling potatoes.  The Quechua women stare at me.  Feeling their gaze, I look up.  Elvia takes the knife and potato from my hand and says, “No, no, like this!” as she seamlessly peels circularly.  “Don’t you cook in the United States?”, she asks me.  I respond to her partially tickled and partially offended, “Yes, I love to cook, but I am used to using peelers and cutting boards instead of just a knife.”  We laugh as she hands the knife and potato back to me.  “It is as if you learn to tie your shoe one way and then all of a sudden you have to tie it a different way…same task accomplished differently.”  Elvia chuckles and I seek her guidance as I peel the potatoes for lunch.

Elvia’s two daughters play in the mud.  Melinda, about 6, grabs a knife and peels discarded carrots that are for the pigs.  Her older sister, Yenina, about 9, finds a glimmering metallic handbag in the pile of garments to be given away to the community.  She squeals with delight as she places the handbag on top of her head.  She prances around in her new “hat” and chases the hens out of the adobe kitchen.

We gather around the table for lunch and say grace.  We slurp down our soup and the women joke about me cautiously nibbling the chicken foot floating in my soup.  “I’m getting used to having toenails in my soup!” I say as I nibble on the foot.  They all laugh.

As night falls, leaving only Susana and me to tidy up, she tells me of how God called her to be a missionary to this community of Canchacuta.  With a nursing background and hearing Quechua spoken all her life by her grandmother, her skills in health and language are invaluable here in the village where Quechua is the language of the people, not Spanish.

She lights candles to illuminate the room where we sip on hot apple cider as we trade testimonies.

“This community did not know the Gospel before I came here six years ago,” she says.  “I brought Bibles translated into Quechua and the people here thought I was trying to sell them something that I wrote!”  She pauses to put more sugar in her cider.  “But then I started teaching Bible studies in Quechua and little by little people have come to trust me and know I am here to love them and help them know the God who loves them.”

The respect and love the village has for her is palpable as we drive up the hill in a taxi and children hop down from their perches yelling, “¡La hermana!”  They run behind the taxi and cheerfully help unload the boxes and boxes of produce that Susana has brought from Huaraz to sell to the villagers.

As the candle light begins to fade, Susana tells me that because the people of Canchacuta have seen her sacrifice moving from Huaraz to their village, they have been more open to hearing the Gospel.  Her love, compassion, and desire to help holistically (medical care & selling food at low cost) have opened doors for God’s story to envelop those who live in Canchacuta.

Susana lights more candles as women and children fill her small home in order to hear more about this Jesus – this God made flesh.  We sing in Spanish and Quechua in the candlelight and open our hearts to hear the Story that embraces us all.

Resting in the Story’s Haven,

Rachel
#onestorycatcher

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Mixing the grain with Carmen, Elvia, and her two daughters, Yenina, and Melinda.

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My neighbors and I play with the ducks in the nearest puddle!

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Susana runs a grocery store out of her home, bringing produce, meat, medicine, and other necessities from the city in the valley, Huaraz, so that villagers do not have to make the trip down to the valley to buy their groceries.  Hers is the only store in Canchacuta.

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Two of my neighbors came grocery shopping at Susana’s store.  I told them how much I loved their hats and Susana snapped this picture of us.

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Susana leads a Bible study in her home by candlelight, using Quechua hymns and translated Quechua Bible stories.

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Turning Cheeks, Breaking Chains, Lifting Voices

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February 23, 2014              Trujillo, Peru                   Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

As I was in Trujillo, I was able to visit congregations in the ILEP (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Peru) and meet with community and church leaders who are passionate about holistic ministry of spiritual, emotional, and physical health.  Their understanding of the gospel is one that pushes them to act against the injustices that face Trujillo on a daily bases – Tuberculosis, AIDS, domestic violence, gang violence, rape, and political corruption.  I was honored when Hermano Jorge asked me to preach at San Andres congregation during my visit.  The gospel text for that Sunday were Christ’s words of love and non-violence found in Matthew 5:38-48.  During a week of news filled with violence in Venezuela, Ukraine, the United States, Egypt, Syria, Kenya, Peru, and elsewhere, it was a sobering text to speak on in the midst of a community that seeks to combat violence and corruption with the love of Christ.  Below is the sermon I delivered in Spanish.  The English translation is found just below it.  Texts for the sermon were from Matthew 5:38-48, Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23.

Rompiendo Cadenas, Levantando Voces, Sueño Hecho Carne

Oremos.  Ven a nosotros, oh Espíritu Santo.  Y restáuranos para amar a nuestros enemigos a través del poder de Cristo que mora en nosotros, para que podamos romper las cadenas de la injustica y cambiar nuestro mundo por amor.  Amén.

Estaba viajando en el bus en Trujillo leyendo el periódico.  Leí sobre Venezuela, el presidente Maduro, las protestas, los 6 estudiantes que han sido asesinados por el gobierno, y vi a una foto de las cartas Leonardo López ha mandado desde su sitio en la cárcel.  Leí sobre Ucrania, las protestas y los más de 75 ciudadanos que han muerto en la lucha.  Leí sobre la violencia en los EEUU donde la violencia con armas está permitida bajo la ley en el estado de Florida y por esa ley dos jóvenes inocentes han sido víctimas del temor y racismo de sus vecinos.   Leí sobre Perú donde jóvenes están convertidos en cadáveres por el querer de robar teléfonos celulares y donde la violencia doméstica es una realidad ineludible.  Leí que una de cada tres mujeres en el planeta va a ser golpeada o violada en su vida…un billón de mujeres, hijas, madres, abuelas, hermanas, amigas.

Sentí algo creciendo dentro de mí.  Era un sentimiento que conocí bien.  Era odio.  Era temor, era el conocimiento que yo también tengo la capacitad de hacer actos de violencia.  Era un cáncer que me comía porque no vi a ni un lado evidencia de esperanza.  Mi indignación a la injusticia me quitó las fuerzas y el odio me rodeaba ocultándome de la luz del día.  Me quedé dormida y soñaba.

Abrí mis ojos y El Ladrón me saludó.  Tenía una cara muy amable y una voz que me consolaba.  <<Conozco bien tu sentimiento>> me dijo.  Y me presentó con las herramientas de resolver todos mis problemas…fueron armas y cuchillos, palabras de odio y rencor.  Me miró el ladrón y me dijo <<¿Tienes problemas con el gobierno?  Mata al político.  ¿El gobierno tiene problemas con sus ciudadanos? Mata a los que protestan.  ¿Tienes problemas con tu esposa?  Golpéala.  ¿Tienes problemas con tu hijo?  Golpéalo.  ¿Tu vecino está escuchando a música y haciendo mucha bulla?  Dispárale.>> 

Me estremecía mientras que mi agarro se apretó sobre las herramientas que el ladrón me había dado. 

Soñé que estuvieron ustedes ahí conmigo.  Fuimos por Venezuela, por Ucrania, por Egipto, por Kenia, por los EEUU, por las calles de Trujillo, por los hogares donde nuestros vecinos quedaron con contusiones y vergüenza.  Juntos mirábamos al mundo en que habitamos donde las fuerzas nos fallan, donde el poder nos corrupta, donde el querer de sobrevivir y mantener el poder nos quedan con cadáveres a nuestro rededor.

Nuestras lágrimas cayeron sobre el suelo que florecía frutos podridos de violencia y odio.  Desesperados, nuestro llanto fue recibido por el Espíritu de Dios.  La mano de Dios actuando en nuestro mundo.  El Defensor nuestro que ve a nuestras heridas y clama por justicia.

Soñé que estuvimos entre la multitud escuchando a las palabras de Jesús.  Él nos miró con la multitud: gente sin poder, gente débil, gente golpeada por la vida, por el gobierno, por los sistemas injustos y relaciones abusivas, y también gente que practican violencia y abuso por el intento vano de deshacerse de sus circunstancias que les hacen sentir inútiles. 

<<Fueron creados por algo mejor.>>  Su voz dijo.  <<Fueron creados por justicia, por vida, por amor.  Amen a sus prójimos, amen a sus enemigos y oren por quienes los persiguen.  Así ustedes demuestran al mundo que son hijas e hijos de Dios.>>

Soñé que estuvimos en el monte de Calvario y las heridas de Cristo abrieron anchas para tragar todas las armas, cuchillos, violaciones, atrocidades, abusos.  Y aun abrieron sus heridas para tragar al ladrón y la muerte, quitando el poder que tenían sobre nosotros.

Vimos que él fue traspasado a causa de nuestra rebeldía,
fue atormentado a causa de nuestras maldades;
el castigo que sufrió nos trajo la paz,
por sus heridas alcanzamos la salud.

Vimos que la sangre derramada por nosotros nos llevó al vientre de la tumba vacía y las cicatrices de la violencia fueron lavados en un reino que viene del Dios humillado en la cruz, él que no tuvo miedo de mostrar misericordia a sus enemigos, él que demostró indignación cuando le enfrontó a la injusticia, corrupción y violencia no con armas y odio pero con amor y convicción, él que allanaba el camino para que la vida abundante florezca…

Escuché la voz de Cristo, <<El ladrón viene solamente para robar, matar y destruir; pero yo he venido para que tengan vida, y para que la tengan en abundancia.>>

Sus palabras me chocaron y desperté de mi sueño.

Al mirar por la ventana del bus, vi que la sabiduría de este mundo que nos dice que la violencia es más fácil que el diálogo fue convertida en tontería por el Cristo que se humilló en la cruz y se levantó de poder de la tumba vacía. 

Bajé del bus y estuvieron ustedes ahí a mi lado.  Vimos la cara de Jesús en nuestros prójimos, en la gente que nos pasaba.  Reconocimos que somos el templo de Dios donde mora paz y amor y el poder de deshacer la cadena de violencia e injusticia.  

Y al recordar eso, dejamos caer en suelo las herramientas del ladrón y agarramos al amor que nos hizo renacer por la vida en abundancia. 

El espíritu nos tomó de la mano y caminábamos al ritmo de la kena y zampoña, listos por el trabajo de romper las cadenas de injusticia y anunciar que somos creados por algo mejor. 

<<Somos creados para la vida abundante>> la voz del espíritu nos dijo <<y ese sueño ha hecho carne por el Cristo de amor.>>

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Turning Cheeks, Breaking Chains, Dreams Made Flesh

Let us pray:  Come to us, Holy Spirit, and restore us to love our enemies by the power of Christ at work within us so that we may break chains of injustice and change the world around us by love.  Amen.

I was traveling on a bus in Trujillo, reading the newspaper.  I read about Venezuela, President Maduro, the protests, the six students who have been killed by police forces, and I saw pictures of Leonardo Lopez’ letters from prison.  I read about Ukraine, the protests and the more than 75 citizens who have died in the last month.  I read about the United States, about the “Stand Your Ground Laws” that have made it possible to use lethal force against perceived threats, I read about youths being killed due to the fear and racism of their neighbors.  I read about Peru where teenagers are converted into cadavers for their cell phones and where domestic violence is treated as an inevitable reality.  I read that one in every three women in the world will be beaten or raped in her lifetime…one billion women, daughters, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, friends.

I felt something growing inside of me.  It was a feeling I knew well.  It was hate.  It was fear.  It was the knowledge that I, too, have the capacity to participate in heinous acts of violence.  It was a cancer that ate me up because I did not see hope anywhere around me.  My indignation at injustice stole my strength and the hate I felt surrounded me, shutting out the light of day.  Exhausted, I fell asleep and dreamed.

I opened my eyes and the Thief greeted me.  He had a very friendly face and a voice that consoled me.

“I know your feeling well,” he said to me.  And he presented me with tools to resolve all of my problems…guns, knives, words of hate and bitterness.  I looked at the Thief and he said to me, “You have problems with your government?  Kill a politician.  The government has problems with its citizens?  Kill the protestors.  You have problems with your wife?  Punch her.  You have problems with your kid?  Hit him.  Your neighbor is listening to music too loud and making noise?  Shoot him.”

I became overwhelmed as my grip tightened over the tools that the Thief had given me…

I dreamed you all were there with me.  We went to Venezuela, to Ukraine, to Egypt, to Kenya, to the United States, to the streets of Trujillo, to the homes were our neighbors are marked by bruises and shame.  Together we gazed upon the world in which we live where strength fails us, where power corrupts us, where the desire to dominate at all costs has left us with corpses all around us.

Our tears fell upon the ground that was flowered with putrid fruit of violence and hatred.  In despair, our cry was received by the Spirit of God, the hand of God acting in our world, our Advocate that sees our scars and cries out for justice.

I dreamed that we were part of the multitude that heard the words of Jesus.  He looked upon us in the crowd:  people without power, people who have been humbled, people who have been beaten up by life, by the government, by injustice systems and abusive relationships.  Yet he also gazed upon us – the people who practice violence and abuse as a vain attempt to dissolve circumstances that make us feel useless.

“You were created for so much more,” his voice said. “You were created for justice, for life, for love.  Love your neighbors, love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you.  That is how you show the world you are daughters and sons of God.”

I dreamed that we were at Calvary and that the wounds of Christ opened wide to swallow all the weapons, rapes, atrocities, abuses.  They even opened wider to swallow the Thief and Death, ending the power they had over us.

Together, we saw that “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”1

Together, we saw that the blood poured out for us led us inside the womb of the empty grave where all the scars from our violence were washed in a kingdom that comes to us in a humbled God on a cross, the God who did not have fear to show mercy towards enemies, the God who demonstrated indignation when confronted with injustice, corruption, and violence – not with weapons and hate, but with love and conviction, the God who prepared the way for abundant life to flourish…

I heard the voice of Christ, “The Thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; but I have come so that you may have life and have life abundantly.”

His words startled me and I awoke from my dream.

As I looked outside the bus window, I saw that the wisdom of this world that says that violence is easier than dialog was converted into foolishness by the Christ who humbled himself to death on a cross and rose from the grave.

I stepped off the bus and you all were there with me, by my side.  We saw the face of Christ in our neighbors, in the people that past by us.  We recognized that we are the temple of God, the dwelling space where peace and love and the power to break the chains of violence and injustice live.

As we remembered this, we loosened our grip on the Thief’s tools, letting them fall upon the flowered ground.  And instead, we took hold of the Love that made us alive once again to live in life abundant.

The Spirit took us by the hand and we walked to the rhythm of the kena and the zampoña, ready for the work ahead of us of breaking chains of injustice and announcing that we were created for so much more.

“We were created for abundant life,” the voice of the Spirit sang to us, “and that dream has been birthed in you by the Christ of love.”

1Isaiah 53:5, Isaías 53:5

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With Hermano Jorge and the young adults of San Andres congregation.

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With a parishioner of San Andres Evangelical Lutheran Church.

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Storycatching in Peru: Sechura Desert, Andes Mountains, Amazon Jungle

 

 

 

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Hola from Peru!  I arrived in Piura, Peru by bus via Ecuador about three weeks ago and it has already been a whirlwind of getting to know multiple ministries, hearing the stories of Peruvian people, visiting cultural sites, listening to regional music and trying local dishes.  While in Peru, I will be focusing on how the reading, listening, and preaching of Scripture (the Story of God) leads Christian communities to participate in not only ecclesial service but also in everyday civic society.  For many Christians in Peru, the Gospel story has become a voice for denouncing economic, political, and ecological injustices as they seek to remind Peru’s society and government of the stories of the forgotten ones in their midst.  I will observe how Truth and Reconciliation Commissions as well as local congregations have used the biblical narrative in their community’s storytelling traditions to expand on how the Story gives voice to the marginalized of society through peace and justice.

Here´s a breakdown of the last few weeks:

Piura – I visited with WMPL missionaries and locals who are beginning the process of church planting and discipleship in the desert of Northern Peru.  

Chiclayo – Peruvian Lutherans in the Iglesia Luterana Evangélica de Chiclayo (ILECH) took me on a tour of their congregations and efforts to bring the good news of Christ to their neighborhoods through vacation Bible school, music ministries, and health campaigns.

Trujillo, La Magdalena, Chocofán – Peruvian Lutherans in the Iglesia Luterana Evangélica de Perú (ILEP) have taught me the importance of holistic ministry, empowered by the Story of God at work in the world.  Being the top country in Latin America with cases of Tuberculosis, local parishioners in Trujillo are inspired by the Gospel of Christ to attend to the whole of the person (mind, body, soul) and are involved with campaigns to bring relief to those who suffer from sickness and violence in the community.

This evening I will be heading to Huaráz and then onto Huanuco.  I will be spending time with Bible Translators as well as local Quechua Christians who are embracing the Gospel Story as their own as they live in community.

I thank you for your prayers and your accompaniment along this journey with me.

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Storycatching Tour Peru Edition!  Tumbes—Piura—Chiclaylo—Trujillo—La Magdalena—Chocofan—Huaráz—Huanuco—✈Lima✈Cusco—Arequipa—Cusco—Ollantaytambo—Machu Picchu—Sacred Valley✈Iquitos—Amazon River✈Lima✈Juliaca—Puno—Lake Titicaca

Peace from Peru,

Rachel
#onestorycatcher

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Participated with local Peruvians and members of the ILECH in the One Billion Rising demonstration in Chiclayo (Un Billón De Pie).

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Youth group from San Antonio, Chiclayo are so passionate about sharing the story of Christ with their neighbors.  Many of these youth travel hours away to read scripture with the people and preach in surrounding towns.

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At the Museo de Cao in La Magdalena off the coast of the Pacific. This Moche temple was constructed over 500 years before the Incan empire.

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Cañan (lizard) is a delicacy of San Pedro.  I was invited to try Ceviche de Cañan with Hermano Jorge, who pastors four congregations in Trujillo and the surrounding towns.  

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Tastes like chicken! … Only a bit more chewy…

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Learning some new tunes and sharing some of my own with San Andres Lutheran congregation in Trujillo.  The Andean music of this region is simply beautiful.

 

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Jericho Song of the Andes

January 24, 2014 Alausí, Ecuador

Pastor Felipe walks up the steep slope to his parents house in the highlands of Cañar to pick me up for a day of visiting indigenous Quichua congregations in the Andes Mountains. Dressed in a black poncho, his long raven black hair falls from the white Cañari hat he wears. His deep voice echoes as he talks about how he became a pastor in the Indigenous Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ecuador (IELIE) and about his work with Pastor Lauro and the Lutheran Bible Institute of Ecuador (IBLE). Along with Pastor Lauro, a Lutheran pastor from the coast of Ecuador, Felipe works towards creating biblical literacy among Lutheran Quichua communities in the Andes by offering Bible studies and Lutheran theology classes.

Pastor Lauro, Pastor Felipe, and I hop into the minivan and drive. We pass rich, green farmland filled with crops and sheep that graze on the hills. My stomach begins to knot and I begin to feel lightheaded as we ascend closer to the peak where Iglesia Nueva Jerusalén rests at 10, 498 feet above sea level.

We are greeted by Pastor Taita Alberto. Pastor Lauro introduces me, saying that I have studied to be a pastor in the Lutheran church in the United States. “Although this is something we don’t understand here, it is her reality in the United States,” Pastor Lauro says to Pastor Alberto, referencing the Ecuadorian Lutheran church body’s prohibition of women’s ordination. Pastor Alberto shakes my hand, “Welcome, sister,” he says to me.

Prior to coming to the village, I was told that in the Quichua villages there has been a lot of prejudice against Lutheran Quichuas. Others in the community call them “medio cristianos” (half-Christians) because they received baptism as infants and not as adults which is the custom for most non-Lutheran evangelical congregations in Ecuador.

Pastor Lauro asks me to share my story. So I do.

I was baptized the day I was born by a nurse – a rebel nun – stationed at the NICU at St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, PA. As I was on the brink of death, she poured water over my head and uttered Words of redemption over my small frame. As the water seeped into my pores, God’s promises of love and adoption claimed me as a child forever grateful for the good work that God would continue to nurture in me until completion. The doctors who delivered me told my parents that as a premature baby with underdeveloped lungs, I would not live much longer and if by some small chance I did survive, I would not be able to talk or sing or dance or walk or function well without assistance. Yet, by the grace of God, the baptismal promises spoken over me birthed resurrection in my mouth and lungs and hands and feet as I have grown up flitting between Sunday school, choir concerts, dance recitals, playground monkey bars, the great Pyramids of Egypt, the pulpit, the birth place of Christ in Palestine, praise band platforms, the slopes of the Andes Mountains, and the communion rail where the “for you” promise resounds from the echoes of that rebel nurse’s words the day I was born.

As I share my story in Spanish, Pastor Felipe translates for me in Quichua. We read scripture together as a community about God’s work within us as a work of grace that comes to us without merit. We rejoice in the gift that is to be called children of God.

As I sit down from sharing my story, Pastor Alberto thanks me. He asks the women present to sing for me as to share their story in their way. The women seated on benches, wrapped in shawls, grin sheepishly and slowly make their way to the front of the sanctuary. I hand Pastor Antonio my guitar and he sits to accompany the women in their song. He begins strumming and the women start to sway with such purpose.

And then…
they sing.

My heart trembles at the sheer volume and intensity in their sound together.
Amidst the slopes of the Andes, the women sing Psalm 121.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Their voice is the sound that brought down the walls of Jericho.

Their song reminds me that we are embraced and held by the Maker of heaven and earth – the One who promises to watch over our lives, to watch our coming and going now and forevermore.

It is a song I am familiar with as one who has been rescued from the grave.
It is the song that filled my lungs with life 28 years ago.
It is the song that continues to be the cadence by which I move on this earth.

It is the song the Quichua of Alausi have heard as their own and labor to proclaim to their neighbors.

It is the song we strain our ears a little harder to hear as ones who need to be reminded that the dividing wall of hostility has crumbled down* leaving only room for redemption, for reconciliation, for new life to burst forth like Jericho songs echoing off of the Andean slopes.

Rachel Ringlaben
#onestorycatcher

Click here for another video of the women asking me to join in their next song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwcYWftLDn4

*(Eph. 2:14).

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Juan Carlos’ Story – Juan Carlos Jesusta crishcamunda

Juan Carlos, a young Christian of Salasaca, shares his testimony in the Salasacan dialect of Quichua. The translation into English is below:

”When I came to know the Heavenly Father, I didn´t come to know Him here in Salasaca, I met Him in another town which is Altobalo. There, I met Him in a very distinct and special way. It was a special manner in which I met the Lord and after I came to Salasaca, the brothers and sisters of this church in Salasaca helped me a lot. They taught me and discipiled in me in how to act as a new believer, how one guards their walk inside and outside the church.

But it was also very difficult because my parents are not Christians. This makes things difficult because my father, who is not a Christian, drinks alcohol a lot, which makes me feel bad. But the people in the church have helped me feel better in how to communicate with my parents in a better way. Now I am able to express myself in a good way with my parents because we get along. What I would like to say is that we all should follow the Father because when you follow the Father and you are with Him, you discover an inner peace that you cannot discover anywhere else or when you are far away from Him. For example, before, I consumed a lot of alcohol and I did bad things, well, in my opinion they were bad. But later, when I met God, I realized that I was on the wrong path.

My friends and companions from the church have helped me a lot. I know that God is with me, I can do anything because He is a great support for me, although no one else supports me, He is always with me. The only thing more I can say is that living with God is the best and we all should do it because it is the only way to find inner peace within ourselves because without that peace we will never be happy. He is our happiness.

That is my story and I have wanted to follow Him and praise Him in a way that is actualized in my life. Now [in Salasaca] most of the teenagers and young adults do not follow God and it is very distinct. My great hope is that all of them come to know God and follow Him. Follow God because it is the only thing that will bring us peace. May God bless you all!”

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