To Iquitos, with love

As the mid-morning hit, my phone started to buzz like crazy. I was spending quiet time praying, so I ignored it. The phone calls increased in frequency. Then the messages started to come in. I would not compromise this quiet time, so I put my phone on silent. After I was done, I got ready to head to work. The rest of the day was going to be busy, and in many ways, I was already tired but oh well. As I left my house, I remembered the missed calls and messages. Let me get to those.

First message: “Call me ASAP”

Second message: “This is very important and a decision needs to be made”

Email one: “About the mission trip tomorrow”

Email two: “The team leader and other team member have decided not to go”

Third message: “We are making a decision and need to let you know how we are moving forward”

I stopped reading. Sigh. I did not expect to step out of my time with God into chaos. I thrive under pressure, but I hate it simultaneously. I checked the calls instead. Same number, multiple times. 

As I got into the car, I dialed back.

Me: “Hi, You have been trying to get a hold of me.”

Program Coordinator: “Yes, glad you called back, hold on for the director.”

Pleasantries exchanged. 

Director: “I have some bad news. By the looks of it, and with the travel advisory given, we are going to pull the plug on the mission trip at this time. We will reschedule it for later in the year”.

(In my head: Sigh. This cannot be happening. I literally just worked this out with God. I didn’t even want to go, but God brought me to a place where I was able to surrender my feelings. This is confusing. God, if You knew I wasn’t going to have to go, why all the nudging?)

Me: “Later in the year does not work for me. I have planned out my year, and this is my only available time” (In my head: What the heck did I just say out loud? This was my way out).

Director: “Oh really? We were hoping to postpone the trip to August when there is more free time and the pandemic may have died down”.

Me: “August does not work for me, there is a big shift happening in August that is already in the works” (In my head: Why am I not taking the easy way out? This is my easy exit!).

Director: “What about December?”

Me: “I have planned my year, and this is the optimal time for me to go on this mission trip. Honestly, I do not care what anyone else is saying. Left to me, I will be on that plane tomorrow” (In my head: Seriously? This was a free excuse out! Why won’t I take it?).

Director: “Iyanuoluwa, I see what you are saying. Let me talk things over with the office team, talk to some people, and get back to you”.

Me: “Sounds good. I will be at work, but I will give you a call after I finish” (In my head: What the heck just happened?!).

I was upset. I vented. “What is going on God? I was not fully committed to going. I was battling this for months. I always battle before a mission trip because going is not easy. To be able to come alongside others, to open one’s self up to be a support, to be able to identify with others, to carry their burdens for the short time there and forever while home, to go not to “fix them”, but to live like Galatians 6:2 encourages us to live, to let You (God) work through all of us. All of that is hard. It is hard because working through me often requires that You first break me. Break me, so that I do not break myself. Break me so that I do not become a stumbling block to others. The breaking is the hardest part. The part that takes time for I am already fragile. The part that needs a slower processing speed. The part that goes counter-intuitive to how I have conditioned myself to live. I know I said yes to going, but I was not fully committed to going. Then you nudged, we talked, I argued, You were patient, I surrendered. And now, the plug is being pulled on the whole thing? I can’t even. I’ll just focus on work and everything else that needs accomplishing this afternoon and evening. You know where to find me if you need me. You also know that I meant what I said, “wherever You lead, I will follow”.” 

I was upset. I vented. Then I delved into work and appointments for the rest of the afternoon. Later that evening, I got a call from the director; “Hey,  so I talked to the team. You and your brother have the green light to go to Iquitos tomorrow if you choose. Because it will just be the two of you, the program will be modified, please be adaptable, and know that each day may be different from the last”.

Me: “Great. I look forward to flying out tomorrow. If there are any other details we need to know or prepare before leaving, please let us know”. This time, I truly meant it. 

The following day came. Heart racing, partially from all the running around that needed to be completed before the evening flight, and partially because we were running towards what everyone else was running from. Palms sweaty, partially from the overheating of the body from driving between appointments and tasks with only 10 minute rest periods, but also because besides the MVC team on Canadian soil, no one else knew that we had the option NOT TO GO. Head swimming, so many unanswerable questions; was this the right decision? was this the right direction? Why was there so much peace in the midst of all of the chaos? All of it didn’t matter. We were at the airport, we were on our way. One thing was for sure, since the airport was so empty, express security clearance for the win! Oh well, Iquitos here we come.

14 hours later, we landed in Iquitos.  A half-hour after that (14.5), we were in the home of our host family (Rodo & Saraid). Shortly after that (15 hours), we were eating breakfast and learning Spanish. 4 hours later (19 hours), we were on the streets of Belen – one of the poorest areas in Iquitos, teaching and playing with the children. Sharing the love of Christ, and beverages, with all the children who lived there. Also, we were checking on people in the drug houses. 2 hours after that (21 hours), a young man by the name of Lenny was sitting in front of our host home with us, freshly showered, after throwing his pipe to the floor and deciding to stop doing drugs. He began to open up about his story; why he did drugs, what led him to where he was, why he had tried repeatedly to end his own life (he even showed me the scars). A half-hour after (21.5 hours), Lenny was cleaning up the barbershop at the front of the house, hoping to get work alongside other youths who work at the shop. Three hours after that (25.5 hours), we settled in for the night. My head was spinning. So. Much. To. Process.

The next day was Sunday, and I always choose a slower pace on this day. We attended church service in Spanish, and I even faced my fear of pools, by entering into a swimming pool in the afternoon. Later that night, we preached words of encouragement to a congregation of all Spanish speakers, especially as news of the pandemic ramping up started to spread. We went home that night and chose to rest. Then Monday morning happened. We woke up to the news that Iquitos was on total lock-down. Airports, seaways, and roads were all shut down. We were not allowed to leave. No one could get in. No one could go out. We watched as all flights got canceled domestically and internationally. We were stuck, and no one knew for how long. All I could do was smile, for I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be. 

Peace. That is an interesting word when storms are raging. Peace. Funny enough, I had unpacked my suitcase on Sunday night after we got back from church. If you ever travel with me, you will know that I never unpack. I take living out of a suitcase very literally, no matter how long or short I am staying, no matter how big or small the space I am in is. But on this trip, for the very first time, I unpacked everything, as though I knew that I was going to be staying a while.

What God wants to do, does not always make sense to us. If I am being honest, I still do not know the extent of what God did through our presence in Iquitos during the time we were there. I do not know why God asked my brother and me to go to Iquitos, I just know that He wanted us there. I could delve into stories, stories of how we prepared food and supply packages and delivered them to impoverished families and people who were on the street. I could talk about the people we prayed for fervently, conversations we had with others to encourage them, individuals who we connected with as an extension of God’s family on earth, or how we were able to praise, worship, and pray every single day while we were there. I could regale you with stories of taking care of the community, but, those were parts of the purpose, not all of His plan.

Going to Iquitos in the midst of a global pandemic, going when the entire world was telling us to stay, seeing our fears, our doubts, our challenges, our inadequacies; then living right in the midst of them all, outside of our comfort zone, was a place so foreign and isolated than what we were used to. This trip was a trust exercise. When God asks you to go, He is simply asking if you trust Him. Do you trust Him outside of your norms, among people you do not know, surrounded by a language you do not speak? Do you trust Him outside of your daily benefits, in a culture so different from your own? Do you trust His intentions for you even when you are instructed to live in the midst of chaos? Do you trust Him enough to say like Stephen said, “To work or to die, I am ready for either”? 

I am honored to have had the privilege to meet Rodolfo, Saraid, and the rest of their family and community in Iquitos, Peru. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to learn from them and to be of service to them in my time there. I am grateful for the time they took to teach, care for, and encourage my brother and me while we were under their roof. The fire for God, the heart for their community, and the humility found in obedience is a ‘light set on a hilltop that provides light for all those around them to see’. 

Obeying the directive of God, trusting MVC, and allowing myself to embark on the journey into the unknown, changed my life for the better. I also know, that though I may not know it, there are lives both here at home and in Iquitos that have been transformed through this as well. I am committed to walking alongside these new friends as they pursue the dream of making Hogor Genesis (Children’s shelter) a reality. I encourage you to come alongside them on this journey as well. Who knows, your own adventure might just await you in doing this.

About Hogor Genesis:

“With a population estimated and 1/2 million people, Iquitos is the largest city in the world inaccessible by road. Due to its isolation and remoteness, Iquitos is an area overcome with prostitution, drug addiction, crime, and poverty. For years Rodolfo and Saraid have built relationships with drug addicts, prostitutes, and parents in the hopes of bringing the light of the gospel to many of the dark places that exist. A children’s home is being built to love and care for 10 to 12 children who have been abandoned, neglected, or rescued from the perils of the region. This home’s mission is to provide a family-oriented home, education, and counseling service to the children who walk through its doors. The goal is to restore the families together, but if this is not possible, there will be opportunities for adoption. This project is 100% conceived by nationals and led by nationals! Weekly, Rodolfo and his team host kids clubs, as well as cater to inmates in prison, check in on individuals in drug holes and families in crisis.” 

To learn more about this work click here

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