A Part of My Heart is in the Mountains of Peru

This is the text of an article I wrote for Tacoma’s News Tribune, published on July 27, 2015.

Six years ago my son Brendan and his wife Erin moved to Andean Peru as missionaries, beginning a relationship with the Quechua people.  Making this kind of commitment is a little like getting married: in ways you can hardly fathom, you are suddenly connected to a new family.   My husband Rory and I, like in-laws at an international wedding, now find ourselves deeply connected to a country not our own.

Brendan, Erin and Oliver sharing a Spanish-language book

Brendan, Erin and Oliver sharing a Spanish-language book

In these six years, Rory and I have visited Peru five times.  We have grown uncomfortably familiar with the long trip, which includes a sleepless night in the Lima airport, then a dusty bus ride along dizzying cliffs, and finally an exhausted arrival in the small mountain city of Abancay.  This is a journey of the heart.  We are coming to know this rugged, workaday part of Peru in a way that tourists can’t.

Abancay, with a population of about 70,000, is the concentrated center in a region of subsistence farming.  Brendan and Erin work in the city and its surroundings, Erin as a dentist and Brendan as a linguist, Bible teacher, and advisor for Peruvian churches. Brendan is known among the locals as “the gringo who speaks Quechua.” Their son Oliver attracts instant attention as Abancay’s only blond child.  Just under two years old, he eats cuy (guinea pig), loves his black-haired playmates, and speaks words in Spanish, English and Quechua. He is a Peruvian native.

But I am not, and my friendship with this country took time to grow.  On my first trip I was an observer, noticing the things every newcomer sees: the terrifying drivers, the restrooms without toilet paper (when you can find any restrooms at all), and above everything, the stark power of the mountains.

bougainvillea in AbancayWith later trips I saw more: bougainvillea growing over adobe walls.  Cattle on the roads.  Donkeys transporting long grasses grown for animal feed.   Crowded old mini-buses called combis tearing around town.   Quechua women cooking over outdoor fires, or carrying their babies in colorful q’epis (woven blankets) on their backs.  Teens playing volleyball in the street in front of Brendan’s house, moving the net for cars to pass.  I saw that although Andean life was hard, it had its own strength and beauty.

With each trip back to Peru, I have grown a little less timid.  I have become used to waking each morning to the blasting of both roosters and radios.  I have taken Oliver on walks through the streets of Abancay, and the packs of stray dogs don’t bother us.  With my limited Spanish, I have bought pancitos (little breads) from the tiny store up the street, tried to comfort the neighbors’ crying toddler, talked with farm wives selling vegetables and listened to shopkeepers joking with Brendan.

There is more.  I have heard the joyful, nasal singing in Quechua churches, seen the reverent way believers carry Bibles they can barely read.  I have met some of Erin’s nervous, hurting dental patients and seen their gratitude for her help. Rory and I have spent time among Brendan’s Peruvian colleagues; they like to see us when we visit Abancay.  It is humbling to realize they esteem us because we are the family of Hermano (Brother) Bernardo, as they call Brendan, and Hermana (Sister) Erin.

Abancay's surroundings

Abancay’s surroundings

These people have welcomed us into their community; but much more importantly, they have welcomed Brendan, Erin and Oliver into their lives.  They are the Peru that Rory and I are coming to love. As I try to make conversation with them, there is so much I want them to understand, though I can hardly express it in my own language, let alone theirs:  When our loved ones settled among you, they found a good home.  Thank you for receiving them.  Thank you for being their Peruvian family.

 

 

Welcome to the World, Jude Luke Connally!

Jude Luke Connally at 3 days old

Jude Luke Connally at 3 days old

A little more than five years ago, my husband and I became grandparents for the first time.  Since then, a grandchild a year has joined our family, and Rory and I have welcomed each with joy, and with humble astonishment as well.  It is amazing to accumulate such blessings.

Last week on July 8, our sixth grandchild was born.  He is Jude Luke Connally, born to our son Patrick and his wife Kim.  Jude is the third child in the family, the little brother of Aydan and Drake. He is healthy and making an excellent start in life.  Jude was born in Walla Walla, where Patrick and his family are staying temporarily, but in September the whole family will move to Geneva, Switzerland, where Patrick will be working with the U.S. Foreign Service.

Jude and his family live a very international life, as Patrick’s work has taken them to Cameroon, the Philippines and now Switzerland. I miss Patrick, Kim and the children very

Jude with his sister Aydan

Jude with his sister Aydan

much when they are gone, which is most of the time.  Jude’s cousin Oliver also lives far away, because his parents are missionaries in Peru.  I meditate often on what it means to love and let go, and I am sustained by the knowledge that my sons are doing the work they were called to do.  In a deeper way than I can explain, the world needs the love and wisdom of my sons and their wives and children.

So once again I am in awe over the beginning of a precious new life, and I am grateful for the joy that little Jude is already bringing to our family.

Jude with his brother Drake.  (If this photo seems just a little chaotic, well, that's life with a new baby!)

Jude with his brother Drake. (If this photo seems just a little chaotic, well, that’s life with a new baby!)

Oh, and for anyone who would like a quick review of the Connally family’s expansion:

Aydan Grace Connally, daughter of Patrick and Kim, born March 31, 2010

Edythe Irene Connally (Edie), daughter of Kevin and Adele, April 27, 2011

James Drake Connally, son of Patrick and Kim, July 12, 2012

Oliver Miguel Connally, son of Brendan and Erin, August 30, 2013

Rory Evans Connally, son of Kevin and Adele, November 30, 2014

Jude Luke Connally, son of Patrick and Kim, July 8, 2015