It takes time to process.
I’ve been back in the UK for a week shy of two months now & I’m still processing. But that’s a good thing. I’ve kept myself busy this summer, with camps + holidays + seeing family and friends, all of which have been beautiful, but now it’s time to write again. To get what all this thinking has brought to light down on the page.
Please humour me, below is a lot of self-reflection.
Coming home was surprisingly easy. Things that seemed odd to begin with – putting loo roll down the toilet, driving on the left side of the road, no rice, hot showers – soon became normal again. I wasn’t sure how I felt about how quickly I readjusted to English life. I had braced myself for a big culture shock, but I never really felt one. I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed for some reason. My experiences seemed to fade in my memory so fast; within days Peru felt like a lifetime ago. I felt like a fraud. My experiences should have changed me! I should be reeling at the shock of returning to England! I should be missing my team and the kids and our Peruvian family to the point of pain! Why was I not really feeling anything?! It’s taken me most of this summer to work it all through and be at peace with the fact that nothing was how I thought it should have been, but just how it was, and that actually, that’s okay.
Rewind: 1st February 2015. I was excited (overwhelmingly so), a little nervous and ready to go. Ready for my Peruvian adventure that would change my life and make me into the super-faithful-super-holy-God-lover I thought I should be. (Note another should.) I said that I was going into Peru with “no expectations” and that’s true in the sense that I didn’t know exactly what to expect. But I definitely did have expectations. I had grand expectations.
Before you go on a missions or volunteering placement you have all these expectations of feeding starving children, sharing the gospel with people and them being saved on the spot, mind-blowing miraculous events and coming home as this super-Christian. Okay, maybe that’s a little exaggerated and probably not everyone has those expectations, but this was pretty much my unconscious idea of what I’d be doing, especially the coming home as this super-Christian bit. I was off on an adventure to make a difference + change the world!
When I was much younger, I read these brilliant little books called the 10 Girls Who… series. There were 10 Girls Who Made A Difference, 10 Girls Who Changed the World and other ones that I now can’t remember. They were short stories about the lives of women throughout history who had done something amazing with their lives and truly lived out the christian faith. Women like Mary Slessor, Corrie ten Boom, Elizabeth Fry. Now, I loved those books. And I still think they’re great, and such good stories for young girls to be reading and being inspired by.
But perhaps the one issue I have with the books (and this is probably simply because of my own weakness of reading about something/someone inspiring and then trying to copy exactly what they did into my own life), is that I ended up with this view that mission was this thing people did in a far away, unknown country. You had to go to Africa or to China or somewhere far away to be a missionary. Plus, missionaries were super strong in their faith (or if they weren’t to begin with, they soon were) and because of that God loved them more. So, not unsurprisingly I suppose, I wanted to be a missionary too.
(Since I was about 9 years old I’ve wanted to go on a missions trip. That’s 10 years of thoughts on mission. I don’t know what I was saying before I went when I said I had no expectations!)
However, through all those years growing up since first reading the 10 Girls stories, I didn’t really mature in my thinking about mission. It was living in Peru, ‘on mission’ as I thought it was supposed to be for six months, that has begun to reveal to me what true mission is.
It’s all about the mission of God. To extend His hands of grace, crazy love and radical forgiveness to the world. To love and to serve every. single. person. And those people are in the house you’re sat in now. They’re living next door to you. They’re the lady you walk past on the high street selling the Big Issue. They’re the check out assistant at Sainsburys. They’re your work colleagues, your doctor, the person who makes your latte in Costa.
I realised; you don’t have to go to Peru to be a missionary.
God works through our normal, everyday lives. He works through us being consistent and just keeping on showing up when we’ve said we will. The Kingdom of God is all about relationships and community, showing His love for people by simply listening to and accepting people for who they are. There’s no charity trip, gap year or training required, our mission field is wherever we are right now.
This hit me in the face when I acknowledged how useless we felt in many situations working with Warmis, particularly in the weekly women’s groups. We had no experience of Andean village life, limited Spanish, no knitting or poncho making skills (somehow our presence was still appreciated!), so the Warmis staff were just so much more qualified in running those groups, simply by being Peruvian. We have the understanding of our own culture built into us simply by growing up and living in it. Why then do we so often look at mission only as something people go and do in other cultures? We’re all qualified and commissioned by Jesus as missionaries to our own neighbourhoods.
Of course, none of this means that missionaries to foreign lands aren’t needed or called there, I absolutely think that they are and they do incredible things for the Kingdom of God across the world. But when they are there, God still uses their everyday, mundane things to pour out His love into people’s lives. The getting-up-going-to-work, daily routine of their lives we don’t hear about so much when stories are told back home.
We are called to living our lives boldly, with intent. To being God’s hands and feet, wherever you find yourself living.
So, my conclusion? God did change me through my time in Peru. It wasn’t a loud, obvious-at-first-glance change, but a much quieter, more humbling one than I was expecting. A change that has me inspired and expectant for my life at home, not pining away for my Peruvian life (though I do miss it). A way that I now see is infinitely better than the way I thought it should be. God’s way.