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 (:

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.