Coming back to the US after being in Perú for two years was, to say the least, difficult. When President Nolan, our Stake President, asked me how we felt, I blurted out, “Horrible.” He looked a little astounded and concerned. Actually, so was I. I didn’t mean to bare my feelings quite so strongly. But it was how I felt. What are we doing here when the saints in Perú have so many needs we could help with? Then there is the self-serving part. In Perú we didn’t have to worry about pulling weeds or watering trees and bushes or car insurance or for that matter anything about cars or all the other inane, mundane tasks that fill our lives. We came back and wonder why we have spent so much time and energy accruing what we thought we were going to need to be comfortable in our 60s and beyond. Remember the story Jesus told in Matthew about the young man? Matt 19:16, 18-22.
16 ¶And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
I always thought how foolish the young man was. I thought how simple it would have been to follow what Jesus asked of him. Matt:29
29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
How did I miss what was being said to me too? The mission gave us a feeling that is marvelous and liberating, to be free from everything in life but doing good. It was pretty cool to be with my bride 24/7 too. Well most of the time.
We learned patience, the hard way. We speak of Mormon standard time, they speak of ‘hora peruana.' Generally, temple sessions would start within ten minutes of the appointed times. Sometimes early too. Time is fluid in Perú. Activities would rarely begin within an hour of the starting time. Linda would regularly schedule two or three piano students at the same time knowing one would be ten minutes late, one would be 45 minutes late and one wouldn’t make it at all. One of the last district priesthood meetings I attended, where I had the assignment of the first talk, the district president said, “Elder Whitney, when you finish leading and singing the opening song, you can give the opening prayer before you give your remarks.” Just he, I and the mission president were there, and he was conducting, and the mission president was presiding. That just left me to fulfill the assignments until others would arrive. Speaking of patience, another time a young sister asked Linda to sew her a dress for her high school graduation. Marisol wanted the color ‘melon.' We went to Trujillo with her to shop for material. I didn’t know there are probably a hundred different shades that are almost melon. We saw them all and rejected them. With patience, we finally found some satiny cloth that everyone agreed was Marisol’s idea of melon. Patience comes as you begin to see people as they are, as children of God, and no longer try to mold them to your ideals or fill your expectations.
We had fun. We were involved in a myriad of activities. Our calling was member leader support, which included anything needed for the church in Virú to progress. In the middle of our time there, an elder convinced the district president the youth needed a trek experience. Just before he came on his mission he had participated on a trek in Texas and had seen the spiritual growth that follows. The district president bought into the idea and said, “Let’s do it.” About then the elder was transferred. Oh well, the president then said, "Hey, Elder Whitney, what do you know about treks?" "Nothing . . . yet." Over the next six months we found a blacksmith to form and forge the wheels. And then from Brigham Young’s drawings and specifications we designed and built five hand carts. The lack of attendance at the training sessions, worried us. We were afraid there would be few participants. Linda kept busy the last weeks before the trek making and teaching how to make bonnets, full skirts, caps and suspenders. The day of the trek we were pleasantly amazed to find over 100 youth dressed generally in pioneer garb excitedly waiting to go on a trek. We walked 17 kilometers out along the Virú River to the foothills of the Andes, camped and walked back past the pre-Incaica ruins at Tomaval Castle the next day. The testimony meeting at the conclusion let us know they understood.
At 18 months, we were burned out. We kept trying to think of excuses to come back home. We had just spent another Christmas in a foreign land, celebrating in a foreign way. We were far from our children and our comfortable homes. Summer was starting, the sun burned hot in the sky, and the temperature didn’t change day to night. It was always hot. No A/C, no swimming pools, just sweat and BO. You’d leave sacrament meeting dripping wet and go into the classrooms to boil or bake. We felt old and exhausted.
One of our daughters suggested that she come to Perú for a visit. She and one of our sons would come down for a week if we could find time. All of a sudden we had purpose again. I’m not sure we ever told them how much that meant to us. By the time we finally went, with almost all of our children and their spouses visiting us, and our beloved Perú, we had the trip of a lifetime.
Before we left, we spent years telling ourselves we will be going on a mission soon. As soon as we sell the house in NV, or as soon as we finish the house in AZ, or as soon as finish off some other excuse. We were really just scared or maybe just too nervous. How can we leave our family..., toys…, or life as we know it? If you find yourselves in that same place, with excuses or fear, here's the straight skinny. It’s not that bad, in fact it is great.
So in January, at 18 months, we felt we were done, ready to go home. But at the end, when the time had come, the walrus said, to speak of many things, of ships and string and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings. I mean, when the time had come to depart Perú, we felt we were leaving too soon.
Another thing that happen at the 1st of the year was our involvement in the “capillas abiertas” or open house program. They were designed as mini visitor centers. We had displays that told of Christ, prophets, the Book of Mormon, families and temples. The idea was to have an open house in each chapel in the mission. We began in the Andes Mountains, which was great because it was cool at 10,000 feet. Hard to breathe but cool. We were able to miss much of February on the coast where the summer heat is intense. We would have a presentation 3rd hour on Sunday, explain the purpose and our part, and what we would like to see from the members. The next Saturday we would set up our banners or displays, help the members get situated with theirs and open up the chapels for a couple of hours. The members put together some amazing displays. As they spoke of their different auxiliaries or programs the words would come straight from the heart. You could feel the power and spirit in their words. Most of the members are 1st generation converts and have seen and felt the difference the gospel makes in lives first hand. That happiness and joy of their new lives comes out as they speak of the gospel. We would generally have between 100 to 120 visitors at the open houses. Once in Huaraz, in the rain, we had 500. There were also occasions when visitors asked to join the church right now. We learned that spiritual experiences have less to do with what is going on around us and more to do with what is seen with our hearts.
We saw and felt many examples of Christ-like love. The obvious time was after the floods. We tend to be parsimonious with our worldly goods here in the US. Members in Perú are poor beyond our comprehension, yet were generous and loving. With the poverty came a humility that we don’t normally see here. Everyone and anyone was welcomed with open arms and friendship regardless of how they dressed or looked. It was not unusual to see all manner of dress in meetings. Pets would occasionally follow their families to the meetings. You should have seen Linda jump when the neighborhood dog, Bonnie, licked her ankles during the sacrament.
We had a mission norm or guide to not eat with members or investigators. Not only for health reasons, but for regardless of their economic condition, you would be served the best of their best. Often leaving a family with nothing for the rest of the week. Despite their humble circumstance, their generosity taught us what John spoke of when he wrote Jesus’ words in John 15 verses 12 and 17.
“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. And These things I command you, that ye love one another.”
This was the greatest lesson we learned in Perú. Our feelings and actions towards others, rather than what wealth we pile up, measure our success.