I just returned from Christmas in Peru. We spent a week delivering gifts to fatherless children and wrapping arms around those who rarely receive embraces.
High in the clouds in the mountains of Peru, oxygen was scarce, clean water couldn't be found for miles, and evidences of modern technology were slim. Yet there was so much life. Vibrant hats and shawls bobbed through the fields chasing after little ones. Hands spun new threads, laughter echoed in the valley, animals stirred in the pasture and the bright sun never ceased shining down in its strength.
Our group never stopped moving. Two locations a day, eight days in a row. It was a whirlwind, and to be honest it was exhausting. But every morning and afternoon when we pulled into a new orphanage or transition home, I heard words that shook me and awakened me to the significance of this group of strangers far from home visiting children, just to show them a little piece of love over Christmas.
Even if just for an hour, we got to show them that they are not forgotten, that they are loved, that they have a name.
I watched intently as a young man in a home for those with special needs slowly opened the backpack he had been given. One by one, he took out each item and carefully inspected his new gifts – a T-shirt, a hat that fit just right and some really cool shades. The delight on his face was a look I will store away and treasure deep in my heart. Such a small gift – so simple, yet so appreciated and enjoyed by this young man who has little in this world to call his own.
Each child's name was called one at a time, and each came up to receive his or her gift. Some skipped in excitement, some charged forward in eagerness and zeal, some quietly walked with their heads hung low. Gratitude and thankfulness were always expressed with the uniqueness of each child's personality.
A home full of teenage moms. Exploitation, absent fathers, so much hurt. The beautiful girls received their gifts with humility and excitement. After an afternoon of nail-painting, crafts and Bible stories, a bubbly, new friend whispered to me as we were leaving: "I always like when your group comes, not just because of the gifts, but because it shows that you remember us and know we are still here."
In the dismal circumstances permeating the country of Peru, there were moments of promise, reminders of the work God is accomplishing among people he created, small glimpses of light.
After growing up in an orphanage, one young woman set out to start life on her own. With rent bills piling up and costs for college tuition looming, she sought another job but things fell through. When she felt hopeless and was about to give up, she received an invitation to join a Buckner transition home. It was hundreds of miles from her rural hometown, but in her desperation she decided with only a moment's notice to start fresh in a new city. As she stood in her new room recounting her story to me, tears filled her eyes and she explained with much emotion and gratitude, "Buckner was like a bright light in my life when I needed it most. It has given me a second chance."
In the midst of my exhaustion and fatigue, I saw the light of hope filling a country of despairing hearts. For some, children were given mothers, friends became sisters and the family that each child deserves and yearns for was established. Still, there are so many in need of love, care, attention and the smallest of gifts.
But even in the depths of the valleys and the desolate corners of the cities, the hot Peruvian sun still shines bright.
"In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:4-5 (ESV)
Sarah Hetrick is a missions coordinator for Buckner who loves to see the world and have adventures. She recently returned from leading the annual Christmas in Peru Buckner mission trip.
Spread the light and hope of Christ with us on our 2015 Christmas in Peru mission trip, or on any of our other open mission trips in the coming year. Click here to view the trip calendar.
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