I sat down to write this report multiple times over the last week, but I was interrupted every time. So, now it’s something different than what it was because I just scrapped the other attempts.
More than a week ago, Esmeralda bought a heifer with all the money she had in savings, a grand total of S/780 ($205). That completely emptied her resources. She hopes to raise it up to sell in about a year to make back maybe double. Yearly wage for a day-laborer here might be around S/10,000 ($2,500-$3,000). Many women make less, much less.
You can imagine her distress to discover that the heifer was missing Saturday evening. The older children, Leonela, and I went out searching in the dark with her. We went all over. I called neighbors. We talked to a few people. No sign of the heifer.
Imagine losing the last of your money as well as all your assets, everything you owned. I was somewhat surprised to see Esmeralda stayed calm. “I’m sure someone has stolen it by now,” she accepted the fact but stayed unruffled.
We certainly didn’t know where it was. We had gathered to pray while searching. I told God that we knew that He knew where the heifer was, and we knew that He knew what a financial blow it was to Esmeralda, but we also knew He would take care of her because she was putting her trust in Him. I asked that He please show us where it was or to at least make the neighbors honest enough to tell us the next day.
We gave up for the night and went down to our place. Steph and I had already planned to meet with Esmeralda to talk to her about the upcoming baptism and where she felt she was with the Lord. The three of us met alone in our living room, and I opened up the conversation, told her I was sorry about the cow, and asked her to share her heart.
She immediately began crying. She said, “Things have been hard. Sometimes I worry about the future, and I’m sad about not having anything to provide for my children, and I’ve been afraid that I maybe made the wrong choice because of not having an income.” She then went on to say that a few weeks ago, I had shared a sermon about gratitude and how worry was disobedience; she said it really hit her and shook her. “Am I truly a Christian if I have worry? Was my conversion real?” she asked.
Steph moved close and put her arms around her, handing her a fresh hankie while we laughed with her. How often have we asked that same question of ourselves! We talked a bit about that. I grabbed a Bible and read from the Sermon on the Mount about trusting God to care for us, seeing He cares for the birds and the flowers.
“I’ve given up everything!” Esmeralda said through choked sobs. “I’ve not looked back. Several Sundays ago, the community of my mother met for assembly on Sunday. I didn’t go because I knew I should be in church. They decided since I wasn’t there, they would take my land that I inherited from my mother and give it to another. I lost 2,000 square meters—the only land I ever owned—and now I’ve lost my only cow! But I will lose it all to follow Jesus! I will never turn back, no matter how bad it gets. But it will be hard to see my children suffer.”
*The land given to the Quechua people after the revolution is all Community land. A person of Quechua descent, like Esmeralda, can “own” it so long as the Community is happy. If you don’t meet the Community guidelines, they are free to seize your property. They are always looking for ways to get more land for themselves, so it is quite common for the Community leaders to seize land for themselves at every opportunity.
She then told us how Annel and Octavio, her two oldest, are struggling with life because Fernando makes no effort. They provide for him, really; he is completely impoverished (which he blames on me now for “brainwashing Esmeralda”). Fernando tried to sue his brother who lives next door, which naturally made that brother angry, so now the uncle is working against Octavio, making it impossible for Octavio to make cheese, essentially. He has no income there, so he’s working in another community nearby for another farmer, which is a great blow to their Spanish pride taught to them by Fernando.
I thought of Peter asking Jesus, “Master, what about us? We’ve given up everything, houses, families—everything to follow you? What will we gain for everything we’ve given up for You?”
Esmeralda was somewhat asking those same questions. So many of us who are reading this report have said we’ve given up everything to follow the Lord, and we mean it, but this dear lady actually has done it. And she’s still going on with Jesus! What a testimony.
We talked some more about the baptism and the requirements, and she said, “I am not ashamed of the Lord. I am not afraid. Changes are hard, but I am not ashamed. I am ready to wear the veil now.”
I asked God in my heart if this is why He’d allowed her cow to disappear. Was He pushing her to have this moment of total surrender? Did He allow these difficulties to pass to take her faith through the fire in order to bring it out as gold? He has worked all things together for good.
Steph went with Esmeralda right then and helped her with her veil. She truly looked radiant. She had told us in the conversation that she knows we’ve seen her sadness and discouragement the past few weeks as she put off this final thing, but it was clear to see that the joy of the Lord was her strength again.
She has not been without her veil since. She is still getting used to others seeing her with it, but she has talked with neighbors, and she has invited her children over for supper, and she maintains her appearance without any embarrassment. She’s thrown in her lot with the Lord. She says with the suffering Job, “Though you slay me, yet will I trust you!”
The next day after church, we had just prayed for lunch when a lady shouted from the neighboring field. I don’t recall ever meeting her, but she said, “Good afternoon, Juan de Dios. We’ve found a cow several fields over. A man has it tied up there. I think it belongs to the señora who lost a cow last night.”
What rejoicing we had! Esmeralda and Leonela went with the lady across many fields to meet the kind, older gentleman who said that the heifer had wandered into his cow lot about 10:00 the night before. I went and checked my photos. Is it any coincidence that was nearly exactly the time that that Esmeralda made her declaration of faith? I think not.
How the heifer made it all the way over the many fields with deep ditches to that man’s farm, we don’t know. Leonela thought she was about to die by the time they got the heifer back. It didn’t want to cross the ditches, so they had a tough time making it return. It’s a real mystery how God led the heifer just as He did, but we trust in Him.
Our instruction class was more joyful that afternoon than it had been in a while. It was such an encouragement to hear Esmeralda laughing freely again. She had first rediscovered her joy in the Lord, then He went a step beyond and gave her the cow back. She was overflowing with happiness. Continue to pray for her. She has set her face like a flint to follow Jesus, but the enemy will keep after her, as every faithful believer knows.
In other news, my parents plan to travel to Peru—today! They have made numerous false starts and true attempts over the past three years, and finally they are actually at the airport in Miami, ready to head to Lima. They will be going through check-in in only a few minutes; they were the very first in line, even before the attendants!
Mom had to become very brave to do this trip. She has lived all her long life with a fearful dread of flight. She has always said, “Jesus said, ‘Low I am with you always!’ If He wanted me to fly, He’d have given me wings!” Well, she’s earning her wings today, I suppose.
Dad is also rather brave to do this trip—you’d have to had traveled with my Mom to understand. They are supporting each other through this very first international trip for either of them. I’m proud of them.
We almost met with disaster when I went over their itinerary with them and discovered they were flying out a full day before they thought they were! That made for some scrambling on their end that Mom was sure was going to do her in. I can just hear her muttering, “This is not good for my anxiety!” But everything is in order now. Caleb, China, and I did a joint video call with Dad to help him fill in the final forms, which were in Spanish. We didn’t all need to be there, but it was truly hilarious to hear him pronouncing Spanish for us.
Please keep them in prayer. Mom is especially concerned about having to fly over the ocean “because she’s not a great swimmer.” That seems to be of minor concern, given that in the need for swimming, she would have other things on her mind. Dad tried to explain to her that it would be much better to crash into the ocean than into the side of the mountain—CRASH! BANG! SPLAT!
It didn’t really calm Mom down.