Returning to Peru, Amid Signs of Change

Six years ago this month we flew from Peru back to the States, having finished our yearlong term as SST directors. In our final blog post, we wrote: “We return to Goshen with a deeper appreciation for the educational value of SST and for the gifts that Goshen College students have to offer the world. We will forever remember our Peruvian friends and experiences, and hope to return before long. Whatever we have given, we have received more.”

While we honestly hoped to return one day, we also knew that this would be a long shot. . .  and yet, here we are, grateful to be back among friends and familiar places in the city of Lima. In many ways, though, we feel less like veterans and more like students moving up to a new grade in school. Notebooks open, pencils at the ready.

We’re benefiting from a program that has evolved, adding new speakers, field trips, workshops, host families. In another striking change from our first time here, we’ve begun learning to know the deaf culture in Peru — and some basic signs (a hand pointing from ear to mouth means “deaf”). The fall group includes eight students who are majoring in ASL. They’ll be living with host families who have at least one deaf member; several of our speakers will be drawn from the deaf community, and we have some interesting field trips planned to engage with members of the deaf community.

We were fortunate to have two weeks of overlap with Richard Aguirre and Judy Weaver, the most generous, gracious and knowledgeable of transition guides; on their last night in Lima, they welcomed us to Casa Goshen, which for us is a new apartment.

We’ve been preparing for the fall group with the expert help of Celia Vasquez, our study coordinator in Lima, and Wilfredo “Willy” Villavicencio, our service coordinator. Through plates of Papa a la Huancaína and Causa, we’ve been reminded that Alicia Taipe Tello, who prepares meals for the students several times a week and provides some housekeeping assistance at Casa Goshen, is a cook of the highest order.

Our two daughters serve as a poignant marker of the passage of time. When we arrived in Lima seven years ago, we were all together. Our oldest daughter, Kate, was entering 10th grade; our youngest daughter, Emily, was starting sixth grade. Each morning we’d see them off, dressed in their blue school uniforms, with change in hand to pay for their ride on a city bus.

This time, we’ve been Skyping with both daughters. Kate is packing up in Goshen, having graduated from Goshen College in the spring, bound for a voluntary service position in Washington, D.C. Emily, who just graduated from Goshen High School, is also back in Peru, but striking out on her own. She’s living near Cusco and working as a teacher’s assistant at the Promesa school, a bilingual Christian school started by the Mennonite Church in Peru.

One week from now, hopefully well before midnight, our family will quadruple in size, when 16 students are scheduled to arrive at the Lima airport. We’re eager to welcome them and begin a journey of friendship and learning, ready to be transformed and ever alert to God’s presence along the way. We wish our students safe travels.