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,
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.