Andean Life Outside Machu Picchu: My Growing Affection for Abancay, Peru

My husband and I recently spent about a week-and-a-half in in Abancay, Peru, visiting our son Brendan, daughter-in-law Erin and new grandson Oliver.  We travel to Peru about Peru July 2011 228once a year these days because Brendan and Erin live there as missionaries, high in the Andean town of Abancay.  (No, we have not seen Machu Picchu yet. That always seems to be the question we get asked when we come home from these trips.) Abancay is in a poor region populated by the indigenous Quechua people, and certainly when we travel to Abancay we are aware of being outside the “turistico” places with gringo amenities.   But we have grown fond of Abancay, in the way that you develop affection for places you associate with people you love–even if those places are a little dusty or hardscrabble.   Here’s what’s in Abancay:

Brendan, Erin and Oliver

Brendan, Erin and Oliver

  • A delightful new life, Oliver Miguel Connally.  His parents, Brendan and Erin, are already setting him an example of love, faith and joy in three languages, speaking to him in English, Spanish and Quechua.CIMG6870
  • The dry, rugged beauty of the Andes, where people live in very close connection to the earth: building their homes from its clay, planting crops wherever they can, letting their chickens and animals scratch and nibble among the scant grass and weeds.  In Abancay you see some donkeys and horses carrying loads and cows being led along next to the cars and trucks.  In front of their houses people might grow flowers, but they’re just as likely to grow long grass to feed their guinea pigs.  Which are raised for meat.


  • Bougainvillea, hibiscus and other flowering bushes and trees, right there among the clotheslines and the buildings with re-bar sticking out the top.  (Regarding the re-bar, see the top picture. We’ve heard that people there like to leave their buildings looking unfinished, because once you finish your building you pay taxes on it.)
  • The market, where local ladies will sell you fresh guinea pigPeru July 2011 243, called cuy in Peru, or vegetables they’ve grown, or anything else that their equatorial mountain climate can produce.  I’ve shopped at the Abancay market, making my requests in Spanish.  My son talks with the people in Quechua, and he has attained somewhat of an heroic stature for being a gringo who uses their language. The people are more accustomed to their language being looked down upon.  CIMG6904
  • Stray dogs running around or laying around in packs together, making themselves at home in the neighborhoods even though they don’t belong to anyone.  Often mangy and carrying fleas, they eat what they can find.March 2012 Peru Trip 176
  • Most of all, the Quechua people.  Brendan and Erin have many friends here in the Andes.  The people have been most welcoming toward Rory and me because they love Erin and Brendan–and now they love Oliver, too.  We were with Brendan and Erin on the first Sunday they took Oliver to their Quechua-speaking church.  Everyone was so happy about the arrival of this baby.  And so curious about him: the birth of a gringo baby among them was a big event!  The children gathered around, eager to see Oliver’s blue eyes.  He has been born into a loving circle of friends.  These people are his Peruvian family, and as his grandmother who can only be with him a few days of each year, I am very grateful for the love they’ve extended.
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Staging a Miracle at Tacoma First Presbyterian

I am an alto in the choir of my church, Tacoma First Presbyterian.  There are about twenty of us in the choir, and I like to think we sound good, although we are almost all amateur musicians and none of us had to audition for our spot. The choir sings every Sunday for 10 months out of the year, and although our hearts are in what we do, I won’t say that this weekly glory-to-God-in-the-highest never becomes routine–to us and to the congregation.

So in the very best way possible, it shook this alto up a bit last week to find myself in the midst of a choir that had doubled, surrounded by guitars, brass, handbells and organ.  Under the leadership of our new music director, Daniel Perrin, our church put on a concert in our sanctuary on July 22. Our own musicians were joined by many that Daniel knew from ourside our church, including 13-year-old Natalie Dungey, who has won a national trumpet competition two years in a row.  All of the music was glorious.

But I think what excited me most was the creative example that this was.  We were not limited by what was immediately available to us or by what we were used to.  Daniel has been with our chuch for about five months, and like our pastor Eric Jacobsen he believes that our beautiful old sanctuary is the perfect venue for creative new expressions of worship.  Daniel took what we already had, musically and architecturally, and added to it by writing new arrangements, recruiting outside musicians, positioning brass players in the balconies, and having to pull it together in such short order that in rehearsal we spoke of avoiding train wrecks.  (This was beginning to seem like triage . . .) But the musicians caught the vision, and the heavens opened–right there on the corner of Division  and Tacoma Ave.

Sometimes it’s instructive to see what happens when an artist sticks his neck out and offers much more than what has been asked for.  What would happen in our faith community if other artists in our midst began finding ways to offer their writing, their painting, their dramatic gifts?   Risky, but who knows?  Maybe the snowball effect would be miraculous.

So I want to say a heart-felt thank you to Daniel and the guest musicians for this wonderful example.  May the inspiration linger and spread.