2016.

Twice per year, both times within the span of one week, the entire city of Arequipa erupts in fireworks at midnight.    As a family –as a city– we usher in both Christmas Day and the New Year at midnight, sitting on our rooftops in our pajamas, bundled with blankets and a steaming cup of hot chocolate to watch as the skyline explodes.  It sounds picture perfect, and it kind of is.  There’s no way to explain it to someone who has never seen it, and there’s definitely no sleeping through it!  {Click here to see a video of the craziness. not our video, btw}  But I definitely love having such an amazing display as the bookends to each year, and it’s one of my favorite new traditions.  We love closing out the year that way.

But to be honest, 2016 did not end with all of us snuggled together on the rooftop like we did on Christmas Eve.  There was nothing picture perfect about it.  Rather, it ended with me leaning against the rooftop doorway in bare feet, having just stumbled out of bed at the sound of the first explosion, while the boys watched sleepily for a few minutes before trudging back to bed. “Its beautiful, but I’m just so tired, mama.”

Yep.  That about sums it up.  2016 wore us out.

I have this weird habit of naming our years in my head, and this one was “The Year of the Two HMA’s.”  Both our family and our teammates family each took 4-5 month HMA ministry trips this year while the other family managed ministry in Peru alone.  And I think I can safely say that we as a team have ZERO plans to ever repeat it.  It was a hard one.  But there was also abundant grace to be found in the midst of the weariness.    Our team grew stronger despite the distance. Our marriage grew closer.  Our hearts were forced to trust the Lord and his goodness in new ways.  Hopefully, we are wiser for it.

>>  2016 In A {not-so-tiny} Nutshell:

2016 began in the States during our very first HMA (Home Ministry Assignment).  We rang in the new year with Nate’s extended family in Hanover, Pennsylvania, then headed back down south to Mississippi to get to work on our Stateside missions responsibilities.

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The Bonham trio in Hanover, PA for New Years last year with Nate’s extended family.

From January until the end of April, we were traveling around the southeast to give missions reports and speak at missions conferences. We checked off lots of other work-related things from our list, such as medical visits, several surgeries, document updates, adoption/citizenship-related meetings for Luis, etc….all the things we can’t do while living in Peru.   We traveled a ton as a family, and Nate occasionally on his own.  He went to Germany with a group from our missions agency to assess some ministry ideas.  It was a crazy, stressful few months where we felt like we were completely out of a routine and weren’t in one place long enough to feel settled or relaxed, and we hauled the kids all over creation with us. But I won’t rehash all of that here…. Overall, it was difficult and exhausting and not at all what we had expected, but it was good.  We both are passionate about sharing our love for missions and ministry, and we were blessed by the opportunity to do it.  {Click here to read a bit more about our HMA.}

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^ a small sampling of our stops along the way.

Meanwhile, our teammates, the Gutierrezes (aka Goots), were here in Arequipa holding down the fort solo.  There were a lot of difficult situations that arose while we were away, which I won’t go into here, but it was a stressful season for the Goots to be on the ground alone and difficult for us to be so far away in the midst of it.   We did our best to support our teammates from afar and help out however we could through video calls, but it was hard on all of us to be on different continents for those few months.

On April 27, we landed in Arequipa to jump back into ministry on the ground.   We were SO READY to be back in Peru!! We’d been thinking for awhile that we wanted to look for a house more suitable for balancing both ministry and homeschooling, so we decided to hit the ground running with a house-hunt as soon as we got back.  Within a couple of weeks we had found a great house that would allow us to host ministry events and provide Nate with a decent office, while at the same time giving me a good homeschool room and green space out front for the boys to burn energy…. all for less than we’d been paying before.  Win-win!  And in less than a month’s time from when we’d landed back in Arequipa, we were all moved in.

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{Top left} Moving day!  //  {Top right} getting the living room set up  //  {Bottom} shared community green space out front!  In a city with so few yards, this was an awesome find!

We spent the next few months getting settled in the new house and enjoying the chance to use it for ministry events.  Nate hosted a guys’ night, we threw a big block-party to get to know our new neighbors, I started a weekly meeting with a couple of girls from the church, and we began hosting weekly dinners to get to know people from the church or in the community that we had met.

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{Top} Guys night watching a huge Peru soccer game…  Nate projected it on the wall in our backyard and invited all the guys from church to come.  //  {Bottom} We threw a neighborhood cookout in the green space in front of our new house.  Almost everyone on the street came!  It was a great way to start building community in the neighborhood.

We had a lot going on at the church over those months as well– a few new ministries that we decided to try out, growth in youth ministry and Sunday schools, and the opportunity to host a pastoral retreat for the pastors of our presbytery in southern Peru.

The twins turned 6, Luis turned 7, and Nate and I both turned 32 and celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary.   Nate traveled back to the States for General Assembly and a minor surgery.

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Birthday boys!  The twins turned 6 on June 3, and Luis turned 7 on July 28. 

On August 1st, we started a new homeschool year at Bonham Academy, with the twins entering first grade and Luis in Kindergarten.  Our mornings suddenly became a bit more structured, and we started finding our groove.  We began discovering that we all really kind of like this whole homeschool thing!

But we weren’t the only ones in school, because around the same time, Nate picked up a counseling class for the fall semester and started to carve out a bit of weekly time for lectures and assignments.

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August 1, 2016: First day of school at Bonham Academy AQP! 

Over the summer, we had also started getting ready for the Goots to take their HMA…  it was their turn to head back to the States for several months and our turn to hold down the ministry fort in Arequipa.  We hadn’t originally planned on both of our families having to do it in the same year, but it ended up being necessary.  The Goots left in early September, and we missed them every single one of their 142 days away !!  Seriously, without them, we… barely… survived….

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Sept. 8, 2016:  The Goots ripping our hearts out, about to get on a plane for 5 months.  

 

 

And so the fall months proved to be busy as well.  We celebrated our 4 year missioniversary on September 18th.  In the weeks/months following, Nate traveled to Lima to assist in a church planters’ evaluation and to Colombia for a leaders’ retreat with our missions agency, and we had full plates with discipleship opportunities and a revolving door here at home with so many people in and out for meetings and dinners.   It was a crazy stretch, made crazier by the addition of a young teenage boy who moved in with us for about a month and jumped into our daily homeschool…which suddenly moved from being in English to being bilingual.  But that’s a whole other story!

In November we also had a really fun visit from Nate’s mom and one of his little brothers, Ben.  They came for Thanksgiving and we had a great time celebrating and showing Ben around the city, since it was his first time to Peru.

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{Top Left}  Nate and Ben getting ready to zip-line over the canyon  //  {Bottom Left}  Visiting one of our favorite lookouts with Nate’s mom and brother  //  {Top Right}  Yummy Thanksgiving spread  // {Middle Right}  Mammaw having a lightsaber battle with her grandboys  //  {Bottom Right}  Photo op at a park with Uncle Ben

December was a tough month for many reasons, both on a personal side and a ministry side which made for a difficult and discouraging time.   For the sake of privacy for others, I won’t detail any of the specifics here, but it was definitely a raw and stretching season, probably the most intense we’ve had so far in our 4 years on the field.  But we clung to the promises we know are true and clung to one another; in many ways it proved for Nate and me to be a sweet time of being able to continually encourage and minister to each other’s hearts in the midst of it all.   And it made us REALLY ready for the Goots to hurry up and get back! Thankfully they were right there with us (via technology) every step of the way.

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Christmastime in Arequipa
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Christmas lights in the Plaza

On the ministry side of things, we were in Christmas and end-of-the-year-planning mode.  We hosted a big evangelistic/outreach-focused Christmas dinner for the neighborhood surrounding the church, and it went really well.  We had more than 80 people in attendance, with about 2/3 of them being new faces.

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Dec. 23, 2016: Christmas Outreach Dinner for the community surrounding La Roca

As I mentioned above, we rang in Christmas Day on the rooftop at midnight with hot chocolate and blankets as we watched the fireworks explode all over the city, and it was beautiful.  Later in the day, we celebrated with a few extras at our dinner table who needed a bit of extra care during the holiday season, and we were thankful for the chance to offer some love and community during a season that is difficult for so many.  The sanctuary at church was still decorated with twinkly lights from the Christmas Dinner a few days before, and it was beautiful to end the day with our evening service, celebrating and worshiping a God who loves us so much that he would come to us in the midst of our brokenness.

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Christmas Day 2016
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Christmas Day 2016 

The day after Christmas, we packed up and loaded the boys on a surprise last-minute trip to the beach.   It was just 3 nights away in a very humble hostel on the coast, but even with kind of rough accommodations and the fact that 2 of us got pretty sick, it was still really nice to get away just the 5 of us and sit on a beach.  We needed it.

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Dec. 26-29, 2016:  a few days away as a family on the Peruvian coast

And so, by the time New Years Eve rolled around, we decided that our need for an early bedtime trumped our desire to see fireworks on the roof.  I promised the kids I’d wake them up when the chaos started (as if they could sleep through them!), and I went to bed myself.   When the noise began at midnight, the boys and I stumbled up to the roof to watch for a couple of minutes, but we didn’t last long.  I don’t think any of us had the energy.

To be honest, I didn’t have any trouble saying goodbye to 2016.  The Year of the Two HMA’s moved on along to be a thing of the past.

It is yet to be seen what kind of name 2017 will end up with in my head.  But I’ll be sure to let you know (:

HMA 2016 {thank you}

On December 14, 2015, the Bonhams loaded up our suitcases and boarded a Mississippi-bound plane for our very first Home Ministry Assignment (HMA).

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^ Mississippi bound!

{In case you’re unfamiliar with the term,  HMA is a required part of our job as missionaries with MTW… As Long Term / Career missionaries, we return to the US for an extended period once per 4-year term to take care of our state-side missions responsibilities.  During this time, we visit our supporters and supporting churches in order to give missions reports and keep them up-to-date with ministry here on the ground.  We also work on fundraising to support our ministry here and recruiting new teammates, as well as take care of lots of administrative needs and medical issues before we return to the field to begin our next term.}

To be honest, I was really anxious about our HMA.  I was looking forward to seeing family and friends, and I always love opportunities to share about missions with churches and groups, but I still had a hard time getting on that plane.   We had finally gotten into a really good groove here in Peru, and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to our routine and the community we had been starting to build.  We finally had some momentum both at home and in ministry, and I knew that a 134-day detour in the middle of that would be difficult.

Plus, since it would be our very first HMA, Nate and I weren’t really sure what to expect.  But I can definitely say that we were optimists and idealists rather than realists.  We had a long list of things we had planned to take care of and we were completely convinced we’d have no trouble checking them off.  After all, we had 134 whole days right?

Wrong.  It turns out that HMA was a little more complicated than we’d predicted, and our travel/speaking schedule, to-do list, and unexpected pile-up of medical issues took us by surprise.   By the time our April 26 departure date finally rolled around, we felt like we were barely limping onto the plane.

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^ a small sampling of our stops along the way.

 

And while it was certainly an intense and exhausting stretch, it was also strangely energizing.  Maybe I can chalk it up to my verbal-processing tendencies, but standing in front of a group of people and sharing our passion for missions and ministry in Peru lights a fire under me.  There’s a part of me that genuinely loves the support-raising and reporting side of our job.  I love sharing my passions.   Every presentation and meeting filled me with a deep longing to get back to Arequipa.  Talking and reporting about ministry while having a little distance from the daily nitty-gritty only reconfirmed to my heart that this is exactly where we want to be.

 

Throughout all of the traveling and visits and presentations, I kept thinking back to an old blog post I wrote 4 years ago.  We were in the middle of support-raising for our initial departure to Colombia for training, and we were exhausted from the travel and schedule.  A lot of people asked me if it was worth it, or would comment that it was such a shame we had to do so much work to raise our money.    Back then, even though we were just in the very beginning steps of our missions journey, I could already see the start of something amazing.  I wrote,

Yes, it would be nice to have all of our monthly expenses magically covered by a big missions fund.  But it’s even nicer to have someone say to you, “I believe in what you’re doing.  I support the decision your family has made.  I want to literally invest my hard-earned money into the calling you’re so passionate about because I believe that God is building his kingdom through the spread of the Gospel.”

I look at our list of supporters and realize what they are.   Supporters.  They support us.  Financially.  Prayerfully.  Emotionally.   It’s a powerful thing.

Yes, I’m tired.    Yes, I’m sick of sitting in my minivan.   Yes, it’s hard work raising enough money to support us and our ministry.  But we’re not just raising support.  We’re raising supporters.  We’re raising prayer warriors.  We’re raising gospel partners.  In a few weeks, I’ll leave for Colombia  knowing I have a crowd of people back home supporting us.

So no, it’s not a shame.  It’s a blessing.

Every word of that still rings true, 4 years later.

We were thankful for the chance to spend time with family and friends.  We were so glad our boys had the chance to start building relationships with long-distance family members and experience a Mississippi Christmas.  We are so relieved to be able to take care of medical issues and surgeries in the US instead of Peru. All of those things were such wonderful blessings.

 

But most of all, I was thankful to get back on that Arequipa-bound plane on April 26, tired as we were, knowing that we were being supported by such an amazing crowd of family and friends who send us on our way with their love and encouragement and prayers and financial gifts.   They love us well from afar, and they are such a huge part in our ability to do our work well.   We are equipped and encouraged to go because they do such a great job of sending us.

So, thank you.  Thank you for sending us and serving us so well during our first term. Thanks for giving us the opportunities to share and tell stories about our lives here in Peru… for feeding us and loving us and entertaining our kids while we passed through your town and your congregation.  Thank you for signing on to another stretch of investment in the work going on here in Arequipa, for asking when you can visit and how you can pray.

But most of all, thanks for sending us back again.  We’re so thankful to be here.

*****

hma family collage

{I’m not going to do a full re-cap of all of our stops and visits and meetings and things, mostly because its hard to get all of that into one post.  But if you would like to see lots of pictures from HMA 2016, please feel free to scroll through my instagram account!

 

Bonham Academy: Kindergarten

This is what my mornings look like these days:

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It’s a big change for us.

This time last year, I mentioned that Nate and I had decided on a new venture that was sure to make us crazy.  (Well, mainly me crazy.)  But nonetheless, last year we decided that, given our current options, it seems that homeschooling is the best choice for our family right now.   So I spent the last year researching, talking to some veteran homeschooling mamas, and doing some “practice days” here and there with the kids to see what they thought.  (Munchkin Consensus: YES PLEASE!)

This summer, however, the twins turned 5 and Luís turned 6…which means it’s time for REAL kindergarten, not just some fun practice days here and there.  So “the playroom” transformed itself into “the schoolroom” as we hauled out the toys and hauled in the curriculum, books, and art supplies.  We put a big star on the calendar for September 14 and declared it “The First Day of School.”    A late start, but we had to get our Colca Canyon and Sacred Valley trips out of the way first.  And here in Peru, the first day of school is usually in March (the school year runs from March to December), so our calendar is completely out-of-whack as far as they are concerned.

^ Obligatory "First Day of School" photo. Those are some excited boys!
^ Obligatory “First Day of School” photo. Those are some excited boys!  September 14, 2015

Now we are about a month in, and things are going better than I expected.  It didn’t take us long to get into a good rhythm, and I think we are all benefiting from having a solid morning routine for the first time.

And while we are off to a good start, I’m a little nervous about the rest of the year.  With our impending HMA (Home Ministry Assignment) coming up–more on that later– I have no doubt that our routine and schedule is going to get bumped around a bit.  And by “bumped around,” I mean demolished completely.  Somehow I am going to have to figure out what homeschooling will look like with an insane travel schedule while we continent-hop.  My goal at this point is just to finish a curriculum year within an actual year, however that ends up working out.

And as I mentioned, the Peruvian school calendar is different from the US calendar, so there’s always the question of which calendar we should stick to.  Or maybe we should just have year-round school with short breaks whenever we need them?  Who knows.

And there’s the ongoing issue of making sure I’m far enough ahead in my planning and preparations that I can order the supplies we need and have them brought down in plenty of time before we need them, which means that I’m already having to start researching and making decisions on first grade materials.  (…and also experiencing deep denial that my children are old enough for me to consider looking at first grade materials.)

All that to say….  we have one month down, and I’m pretty proud of that.  I have no idea what the rest of this year will look like, or what new complications or considerations will arise.  But for now, we have jumped in head-first, and we are loving it!

***

 

Here are a few more pictures of our first few weeks…  Hover for captions, and click for larger view or slideshow view.  

Exploring Peru: The Sacred Valley.

Just 2 short weeks after our little trip to Colca Canyon with my parents, our team set off on a trip to Cusco, Peru, and the Sacred Valley which surrounds it.    There are several families with our missions agency who live and serve in Cusco, and Nate and Nathaniel had been there several times in the last couple of years for meetings, but they had always just flown there for the day.  There had never been a good time for all of us to take the kids along, so Alicia and I had never had the chance to see that part of the country.

When an opportunity came up that would require a longer trip to Cusco, it seemed like the perfect time for the whole team to go along.   The new director of our missions agency was coming to visit Peru in September, and they were hoping to get as many of the Peru missionaries together as possible to meet him and attend some seminars he would be leading.  Some of our fellow missionaries were also having their first official service for the new church plant they had been serving in, and they had invited us to attend.  In addition, our teammate Nathaniel needed to finish up some of his meetings and exams for the ordination process and would need to do it in Cusco.    Since all of those things happened to fall within a few days of one another, we decided it would be a great time for all of us to drive out together.

^ can't beat the views on the drive
^ can’t beat the views on the drive.

We rented a house in Urubamba, which is in the Sacred Valley and about an hour from Cusco.  The trip was going to end up being about 10 days long, so we knew we wanted to stay somewhere where the children could run and play without worry, and where Alicia and I could cook meals to save money instead of eating out.    We ended up getting an amazing deal on an incredible house that both of our families could share, and the owner gave us a rate that was better than any of the hotels nearby.  Plus it had a HUGE fenced in yard, perfect for 6 crazy children.    And even though it was a bit of a drive for Nate and Nathaniel whenever they had to drive into Cusco for meetings, it meant that Alicia and I could stay with the kids, prepare our own food, let them play, and not have to worry about being cooped up in a hotel for hours at a time.   It ended up being the perfect set-up.

^ So much green space to run!! That's hard to find in Arequipa.
^ So much green space to run!! That’s hard to find in Arequipa.

We headed out early on a Monday morning, expecting the drive to take us 9 hours or so.   It ended up being 11, because once again, we had to cross over areas of very high altitude, and this time we didn’t fare so well.  We stopped every 20 minutes or so for kids to throw up on the side of the road… and occasionally in the car when we didn’t stop in time.  It was a lovely 11 hours, you can imagine.   Thankfully, the views were incredible, and being surrounded by such beauty made a rough trip into an enjoyable one, all things considered.

^ this view makes a drive full of sick kids a little more peaceful.
^ this view makes a drive full of sick kids a little more peaceful.

We stayed one night in Cusco for Nathaniel to have his meetings and exams, then headed to the house in Urubamba the next day.  The place ended up being perfect!  The kids were still not feeling all that well, so Alicia and I stayed put for several days.  We certainly didn’t want to put them back in the car on those winding roads after all of that!  But since we had such a beautiful place to stay, we didn’t mind a bit.  The kids had plenty of room to play, and Alicia and I sat on the patio enjoying the views of the valley while Nate and Nathaniel attended all of their meetings.

^view from our hotel room in Cusco... then on to Urubamba the next day!
^view from our hotel room in Cusco… then on to Urubamba the next day!

Over the course of the 10 days, we explored the little town of Urubamba as we had time, as well as a bit of Cusco on the days that we had to drive there for various things.  And while it was fairly laid-back trip for the mamas and kiddos, that wasn’t quite the case for Nate and Nathaniel.  They were certainly busy and had a full schedule, but we were all really thankful to get to spend time with some of the other missionaries serving in various parts of Peru with our agency,  with the new agency director, and with our regional director.  Alicia and I were able to go with the guys to a few events, and it was wonderful to catch up with our coworkers here in Peru.  The kids were thankful to get to play with their missionary-kid buddies that they hadn’t seen in awhile, and we were glad to have the chance to go to the very first service of one of our new sister churches here in Peru.

^ the guys enjoying dinner with the new agency director (Far left: Lloyd Kim) and our regional director (Far right: Bill Yarborough)
^ the guys enjoying dinner and discussing ministry with the new agency director (Far left: Lloyd Kim) and our regional director (Far right: Bill Yarborough)
^ dinner and a meeting with the Peru missionaries and some of the people involved in the churches in Cusco
^ dinner and a meeting with the Peru missionaries and some of the people involved in the churches in Cusco
^ we had the privilege to attend the very first worship service of our sister church in Cusco, La Fuente de Gracia.
^ we had the privilege to attend the very first worship service of our sister church in Cusco, La Fuente de Gracia.

At the end of the trip, we had a couple of days for our two families as a team to spend some uninterrupted time working through planning, vision, and goals for the future of our ministry in Arequipa.  (Unless you count interruptions by the kids, in which case we were interrupted about 270 times.)  It nice to dream about future ideas, work through logistics of ministries that we hope to start soon, and spend focused time discussing the vision for our team.  The evenings were spent chatting by the fire, playing a little Catan, and being reminded of how thankful we are for our teammates.

^ preparing a pachamanca... a delicious peruvian meal cooked in a hole in the ground! YUM!
^ preparing a pachamanca… a delicious peruvian meal cooked in a hole in the ground! YUM!

Finally it was time to fill the kids up with anti-nausea medicine and hit the road again.  Thankfully we did a little better on the return trip, but we were all ready to be out of the car when we arrived in Arequipa again.     And even though it was a long drive, it was completely worth it.  The boys are already asking for another trip back to “the Big House!”

^ The sun setting over the sacred valley, as seen from the backyard of The Big House. We can't wait to go back!
^ The sun just starting to set over the sacred valley, as seen from the backyard of The Big House. We can’t wait to go back!

***

Check out a few more picture from our trip.  Hover over the photo for captions, and click for larger view or slideshow viewing.  Enjoy! 

Exploring Peru: Colca Canyon.

In the year and a half that we have lived in Peru, I havn’t had much opportunity to really explore the country.   I have heard how beautiful it is, and I have seen some photos, but I havn’t had the chance to see much of it for myself.  Other than quick trips to Lima (the capital) here and there for visa issues or filing government documents, I haven’t really left our little corner of southern Peru.   All I knew was Arequipa, which is breathtakingly beautiful in its own right, but I was dying to see more.

In August, I finally had the chance.  Twice.  And though I still didn’t really leave southern Peru, I was finally able see a little more than just our little city.

In the middle of the month, my parents came down for a visit, and we decided to take the opportunity to take a couple of days off to visit with them and explore.     We decided to head out to Colca Canyon, which is one of the deepest canyons in the world (over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!), and only a 3 hour drive from the city of Arequipa.     We weren’t really sure what to expect or if the kids would enjoy it, but we booked 2 nights at a kid-friendly hotel and headed out.

On the drive there, we had to cross over some areas of pretty high altitude.  We actually hit the 16,000ft mark at one point (which leaves you feeling a little woozy if you’re wondering).

^ The screenshot from Nate's app that was tracking our altitude. 16,000ft is definitely high!
^ The screenshot from Nate’s app that was tracking our altitude. 16,000ft is definitely high!
^ stunning views on the drive
^ stunning views on the drive
^ tunnels through the mountains
^ tunnels through the mountains

We made a stop at a volcano lookout, where 7 volcanos could be seen from one spot, and the kids flipped out over seeing snow.  (They threw a few snowballs at each other, then jumped back in the car because they aren’t really used to anything below about 50 or 60 degrees.)   And of course, there were lots of stops to let the alpacas, vicuñas, sheep, or burros run across the road in front of the car.   At one point it was pigs.  You just never know.

^ please move.
^ please move.

 

^ the kids on "shoo" duty
^ the kids on “shoo” duty… which includes running, jumping, shouting in the road without getting too close.  That last part is important.
^ delayed bc there's a bull fight in the middle of the road. Just another day in Peru.
^ delayed bc there’s a bull fight in the middle of the road. Just another day in Peru.

After coming through the mountains, we descended into the valley and spotted the grounds of our little hotel, which turned out to be an amazing place to stay with kids.  {Comfy beds + hot water with good water pressure + rooms large enough for a family of 5 + a yummy restaurant on-site + kid-friendly staff + GRASS TO RUN IN = a major hit with the Bonhams.}

^ view of our hotel as we were descending into the valley
^ view of our hotel as we were descending into the valley
^ we loved staying here! A great place for the kids to let loose and run.
^ we absolutely cannot wait to go back here again!

They explored the whole place, hiked up to the top of the nearby hills (which they called their “superhero adventure”), and had plenty of space to run.   We headed out the next day to explore the nearby towns and find some natural volcanic hot springs.  We weren’t disappointed!  We found a great spot down inside the valley where we could sit inside the steaming pools with the walls of the canyon rising up around us.

^ the view from the natural volcanic hot springs
^ the view from the natural volcanic hot springs

Our last morning, we drove to the “Cruz del Condor,” where we were able to stand at a lookout at the edge of the canyon and watch the condors soaring overhead.   Andean Condors are the largest flying bird in the world, with wing spans around 10 feet, and they are incredible to watch.

^ condors soaring above the canyon
^ condors soaring above the canyon
^ these birds are amazing!
^ these birds are amazing!

After a couple of fun days exploring the area, we loaded up and headed back to Arequipa.  The trip was short and sweet, and we are hoping that we will get back to Colca again before long!   And now I have my first check on my list of “Peruvian Places to Explore.”

***

Check out a few more picture from our trip.  Hover over the photo for captions, and click for larger view or slideshow viewing.  Enjoy!  And don’t forget to come visit (:

Year 3.

Today is our missioniversary.   At least that’s what Alicia calls it, and I love that.   She calls Luís’ family day (July 25) our “Luísiversary,”  and December 11, when we finally touched down in Peru, is our Peruversary. And so today, September 18, is the 3 year anniversary of the day we boarded a southbound plane and moved to another continent as missionaries. Our missioniversary.  3 years ago today we landed in Bogotá, Colombia, with 12 pieces of luggage, 2 kids, and not a word of Spanish.

When I think back on Year One, I mostly remember culture shock, Spanish, and waiting… waiting for anything at all to start to feel normal, waiting to figure out where we would be long term, and mostly, waiting for Luís, whom we finally brought home 10 months into our first year.  I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t communicate, exhausted from studying spanish, and really lonely.   But I also remember loving Colombia, embracing our new lifestyle, and thinking, “YES. This feels right.”

I remember Year Two as “The Year We Plowed Through.”   We moved to Peru right at the beginning of Luís’ transition to our family, and it was a whirlwind.  Juggling adoption, continued language deficiencies, illnesses, and adjusting to a new country (again) felt a little like I was under water and fighting to swim upward so that I could finally come up for air.  I was pushing through as hard as I could to get to a place where I could breathe.  I remember the prayer journals filled while sitting on the floor of the boys’ bedroom while they slept; I remember Nate’s late-night spanish study sessions and early-morning prayer times;  I remember wondering how long it would be before I finally made friends again in this new place.  But I also remember the numerous tiny glimpses of the amazing work God was doing in each of us as we adjusted to being a family of 5; and I remember falling in love with the beauty of living in a desert; and I remember rejoicing at each new person who slowly opened up to the idea of a friendship with a clueless gringa.  It was hard, but it was good, and God was faithful.

And Year Three.  What would I call this last year?  I’m not sure, to be honest.  It’s been a weird one.   With the first two years, I knew what I was walking into ahead of time, more or less.  Even though there was no way to truly be emotionally prepared for the reality of culture shock or adoption transition or learning a language, and even though it’s been exponentially more intense than I had imagined, there was still a sense in which I walked into it knowing what I had signed up for.  Intellectually speaking, I knew what was ahead.

But Year Three showed up with some unexpected turns.  The only way I know to describe this year is heavy.  All of it.  It’s been an emotionally difficult year.   We’ve had significant changes in our team, we have taken on new unexpected roles in ministry that have stretched us thin, and we are pouring into a church and community in which every single person has been affected deeply by abuse, poverty, and pain.     None of it has been the way we had imagined, and most of it has felt too difficult and draining to write down.

And yet, there’s still somehow a deep, sweet undercurrent of joy.  I have never felt more incompetent or ill-equipped for something in my life than I do right now, and yet I also have never felt more sure of our calling to missions and to Arequipa.  God has so lovingly and gently reaffirmed this to my heart over and over again.   I love these people.  I love this church.  I love serving them and crying with them and praying for them.   And sometimes that terrifies me because I have no clue what I am doing.  I absolutely cannot do this…which means I am reminded every moment that it doesn’t depend on me, and that my insufficiencies point all the more to Christ’s strength.

This year has been heavy, and I am thankful for that, because once again, God has tenderly shown me that difficult or heavy doesn’t necessarily equal bad.  Ultimately, it has reminded me that carrying burdens isn’t a part of my job description.  Casting them off is.  I lay them down before the cross, and then I walk with others and show them this amazing Jesus who calms our hearts and carries our burdens and loves us fiercely, and I pray that they too will experience the sweet joy found in casting their burdens on Him and resting in the One who holds the universe.

I don’t know what Year Four holds in store, and this time I am walking into it KNOWING that I don’t know.  It might be an even heavier one for that matter, but that’s okay, because I’m not the one carrying the weight.   I’m the one being carried.

Happy missioniversary to us, and here’s to many, many more.

Community and Open doors.

Six or eight months ago, if you had told me what life would look like in February of 2015 here in Arequipa, I wouldn’t have believed you.    When we were back in Mississippi last June for a few weeks, several people asked me how they could pray for me, for our family, for our ministry.   And my response was always twofold:  1.)  I was lonely and was praying for friends, specifically Peruvian friends. A community.  And 2.) I was praying that the Lord would give us some clear open doors for ministry and growth, and that I could be patient in the meantime while we prayed for his guidance.  I was ready to get things going, and waiting was hard.  But that was my prayer…  Community. Open doors.

That was June.  Fast forward to the first Sunday in January, and this is what was going on:

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^ Nate and Nathaniel with Pastor Emilio

For several different reasons, the pastor of the tiny church we were partnering with made the difficult decision to step down from his role as pastor.  After the pastor’s announcement, the congregation met and unanimously decided to invite Nate and Nathaniel to serve as their co-pastors during this season, with hopes of growth and revitalization of their members and ministries.

The original intent for our team had never been to pastor, but rather to assist in the training and discipling of future pastors, so this invitation was unexpected.  However, Nate and Nathaniel knew that they would be better equipped to disciple and train future pastors in this context if they had first served in a pastoral role here themselves.  Also weighing heavily was the fact that without support and leadership, this small congregation would continue to struggle.   Nate and Nathaniel spent some time praying and seeking counsel from some other missionaries and pastors, and they ultimately decided to accept the invitation to serve this little church in a new role to help them through this difficult season.

The first Sunday in January, the pastor and the congregation symbolically “handed over the keys.” The congregation we had been spending so much time with for the past 6 months embraced us, figuratively and literally, with warm smiles and open arms.

Community. Open doors.

Of course, when we look back, we can see all the ways the Lord was laying each stone of the pathway, even though it was unknown to us at the time.  Relationships being formed, trust being developed, foundations being laid.

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And now, 8 short months after I asked several people to pray specifically for community and ministry opportunities, we find ourselves with more ideas and options for ministry than we can pursue at one time, as well as steadily deepening friendships with women, men, and families whom we are coming to love dearly.  We are burrowing down and investing whole-heartedly in this little community the Lord has called us to, and it is so incredibly exhausting and yet so deeply satisfying all at the same time.

Of course, the new roles came with new responsibilities as well.   Nate and Nathaniel are now preaching, leading prayer meetings, teaching sunday school, discipling, leading music classes, doing leadership training, and counseling (all in spanish!) every single week.   Alicia and I are teaching the women’s bible study and children’s sunday school. We’ve had a few special events on the calendar, and we’ll be starting some english classes in the community soon.  It occasionally feels like we were tossed into the deep end, but it’s definitely good for our spanish and our cultural understanding, even though it brought the language-fatigue back with a vengeance!  But thankfully, this is the perfect group for us to learn with because they are so incredibly patient, kind, and welcoming.

^ Nate helping teach music to the youth
^ music lessons and jam sessions

So in this new season, which has brought forth new challenges, new hardships, and certainly new joys, my prayer has changed from community and open doors to wisdom and growth.  Wisdom as we lead and minister in new ways, even as we’re still in a steep phase of language and cultural learning.  Wisdom to see our sin, recognize our cultural crutches, and be sensitive to differences.  Wisdom to pinpoint needs and wisely choose a course of action in order to respond.   And growth.  Growth in numbers for our church as we begin reaching out into its surrounding community.  Growth in the hearts of the members as they begin to thirst more and more for a true relationship with their savior.  Growth in the bond and connection the members have with one another and with us.  And our own personal growth as we learn more and more what it means to love and serve Jesus well cross-culturally.

Thanks for praying for us and with us, friends.  You’re a bigger part of our ministry than you’ll ever know.

{If you want to read a bit more about what our team is up to, please check out our February 2015 Newsletter}