“How was your trip?” asked the friend who picked me up at the airport. It’s a natural question when you’ve been out of the country for 12 days. I didn’t know how to answer her. So I told her I was too exhausted from the 28-hour return segment to think about it. “Let me process it for a few days and I’ll get back to you,” I half-heartedly promised her.
I went to Pomabamba to work with Southern Baptist missionaries Russ & Sherri Fleetwood, church planters among the Northern Conchucos Quechua. This indigenous Indian people group lives in the state of Ancash, Peru. The couple linked me with a group from Redmond, OR, that has been working with them for six years. We helped the Fleetwoods host a youth retreat at their home.
Getting to Pomabamba required a flight from Birmingham and an overnight stay in Houston, then another 12 hours of flying, making a connection in Panama and sitting around airports, then an overnight bus ride and eight-hour trip by truck.
The elevation in Pomabamba is more than 10,000 feet. While acetazolamide tablets fended off nausea and dizziness, they did nothing for my lung or leg capacity. I never could catch my breath, and despite walking my own hilly terrain for a couple of weeks to get into shape, my thighs never caught up, either.
During the first day of the retreat, I stumbled around in a haze of exhaustion, wondering what I was supposed to be doing. The group played a lot of volleyball, with balloons, beach balls and a real volleyball. The youth loved it, because it was a complete departure from their daily chores of tending sheep and smaller siblings. I never have liked volleyball. No matter what position I take, my hands never touch the ball. So when I wasn’t giving my Christian testimony or telling a Bible story, I felt lost. When our team leader noticed me taking lots of pictures, he appointed me official trip documenter. At least, I had a job.
I’ve been on many mission trips over the past 14 years, four of them to other parts of Peru. Normally, I am eager to tell folks about my experiences, and normally I’m armed with the type of information they want to hear. They don’t really want a travelogue, just to know that I had a great time and, in the case of missions, to hear the statistics. Like most North Americans, we Southern Baptists are results-oriented. Often we allow the statistics -- how many eye glasses we handed out, how many teeth we pulled, how many folks we won to Christ -- to tell our story.
This trip wasn’t about numbers, though. It was about relationships. We wanted to strengthen those already formed by the Fleetwoods, and to foster new ones. Did we accomplish that?I don’t know. Like an old computer whose hard drive is full, I’m still processing that.