One body, one spirit, one big desert

Meanwhile, back on the road in Peru, we (Abe and Michael) took a day to be tourists in Trujillo. We swung by Chan Chan, once the largest adobe city in the Americas. At 100 000 people, the Chimu civilization was at the pinnacle of urban planning, organizing their city into nine walled palaces. Biking on the dirt road through the complex, most of which has yet to be excavated, gave a chance for us to appreciate the sheer size of this pre-Columbian civilization. What’s left of the Chimu are large walls and intricate, repetitive patterns of birds, fish, roosters and crabs.

On our way north, we took in the beaches of Huanchaco, where wetsuited surfers were trying the waves off the shore of this ciudad turistica.  For the second time on our trip, we got lost. While trying to head back to the Panamerican Highway, the roads turned into dirt and the houses quickly changed to shacks. A side of Huanchaco most tourists don’t see, this experience in the poorer barrios opened our eyes to the sometimes uneven development of tourism.

Heading north, our route took us to Paiján, rumored to be a dangerous area for cyclists.  Thankfully, we were able to sleep on the floor of a comisaría.  When we told them we were going to go out to eat, they insisted that we be accompanied by two officers.  Bearing bulletproof vests and fully automatic weapons, the officers sat down with us for Chinese food in a local restaurant.  Everyone stared at us, and we have never felt such a barrier between us and the surrounding people.  As pacifists coming from the Mennonite tradition, the situation challenged our beliefs.  We see ourselves as equal in the eyes of God with people living here; our lives are not worth a gunshot. Following Jesus’ example against violent retaliation, we plan to refuse gun protection in the future.

In Chiclayo we once again called up another friend of Jesús, the pastor we met in Pativilca. Our first conversation over the phone with Leví Irene in Chiclayo was a bit confusing. We tried to make the connection with Jesús, but asking, ‘Do you know Jesus?’ made Leví ask if the call was some kind of joke. Nevertheless, Leví eventually invited us over to his modest house where he lived with his wife and 2-year-old daughter near the church he pastored. We had just biked 159 km that day–our longest on the trip so far–and were just about ready for bed when Leví asked us to give a ‘reflection on the word of God’ in front of his church. The service was in 15 minutes. In the spirit of just saying, , we agreed and began frantically preparing. When the 8:00 rolled around, we stumbled through a reflection  on Ephesians 4 (‘one body, one spirit’) about church unity with a couple of stories from our trip. Even when others are worshiping in Spanish, which we struggle with, or Quechua, of which we know almost none, we know we are worshiping the same God. It’s so powerful when other Christians immediately show us hospitality and love. The church stomached our Spanish, sang us a song about loving those who come from afar, and even filed up to give us hugs and kisses.

Between us and the city of Piura, our next destination, was the Sechura Desert. We would be traveling 200 km through this desert; eating a wonderful fish breakfast with Leví’s breakfast and seeing a museum of a Mochica tomb made it impossible to traverse this expanse in a day. Luckily we stopped at restaurant whose owners immediately offered us a floor for the night. We met a frustrated Argentinian cyclist going the opposite way through the desert–against the strong tailwind that pushed us speedily along.

The Mennonite Brethren church in Piura has been an oasis of new friends and good company. The church restructured its leadership a few years ago and now has a thriving youth and young adult group. We were struck by how passionate these young members are about their faith and spreading the word of God. The young people meet 4 times a week at 6 am for prayer and breakfast and lead their own service on Saturday nights–all while studying at the university. The pastor, Otto Funk, a missionary who grew up in Paraguay, has high expectations for the youth (much higher than he would have for youth in the U.S., he says), and they take church very seriously.

Today we visited a kids’ program that the church runs on the outskirts of Catacaos, a smaller town near Piura. Playing soccer and helping with coloring was a blast. We are looking forward to the youth service tonight and church service tomorrow before heading out to another Mennonite Brethren church in Sullana.

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