I have been busy with the tourist business lately (mostly promotion work), including getting my car registration taken care of among other things, and haven’t been able to go with the brothers here on any missions trips. Alberto and I have wanted to go back to Cushpa, a small village up canyon above Cotahuasi, which is at 14,500 feet. Because most of the people live up to a couple of hours from the village, the only time they are all together is for the monthly village meeting. We had agreed to go to Cushpa on the 15th of this month, the day of their meeting, to minister there. However I got some last minute business last week, a very welcome four-day trip with a family of tourists from France, driving them to Arequipa by way of Colca Canyon. On the way we found out that there was going to be a transportation strike in Arequipa, so we had to cut out an extra fifth day that we had planned to go climb a 18,619-foot active volcano, in order to get them back to Arequipa before the strike began. Then the planned two-day strike turned into an indefinite one and I wasn’t sure I would be able to leave Arequipa to get back to Cotahuasi in time for the mission trip.
God worked it all out, and we able to leave for Cotahuasi on Friday as planned. Maribel, a friend from Arequipa, went back with me, to teach the children in Cushpa. We had quite a bit of trouble getting out of Arequipa, as many of the roads were blocked due to the strike, but finally made it. We thought all was clear, until we got to La Joya, about an hour out of the city. There the Pan American Highway was blocked and we had strikers threatening to bust out the car windows. We tried to talk them into letting us through but it was getting too tense, so we beat a hasty retreat. There was a gravel street just a block off the highway, and we were able to use that to get around them and continue on our way.
We arrived in Cotahuasi without any further problems, expecting to leave on Saturday for Cushpa. However, because the church was having a leadership-training seminar on Friday and Saturday, we couldn’t leave for Cushpa until Sunday morning. My old car only held five people, where my new one has room for seven, so we left for Cushpa on Sunday morning with a full load of gear and seven people; Isedoro and Alberto, my regular ministry partners, along with Alberto’s wife, and Fredy and his wife. We got to Suni, where Isedoro lives, and he asked if we could stop for a few minutes so he could get his things and say hi to his wife. As usual there are no quick stops here, his wife invited us for breakfast as well. Then Isedoro asked if his wife could join us, so they squeezed four people into the back seat.
We stopped in Machuancca, the next village, because the teachers there had asked us to hold a meeting there as well. We wanted to make plans for being there Monday evening, but the teachers were not there because of the strike. We continued on the rough road, arriving at the Cushpa River at about 12:15, where we found out that the bridge wasn’t finished yet, and the river was too deep to drive through. We had all kinds of food, gear, and equipment, including a gas generator (no electricity in Cushpa) to show a Bible film. As we were trying to figure out how to get it all across the river, the bulldozer operator offered to take us across on his Cat. Then we had to make multiple trips from there up the hill to get all the stuff to Cushpa, which was about a mile away. We finally sent Isedoro on ahead and he got two men and two kids to come help us.
We had a good time of ministry there, with the local people as well as with the two teachers, who were not participating in the strike. After showing the film, we went down to the small community room, where they let us spend the night. I had made chicken noodle vegetable soup for dinner, but Fredy and his wife Bertha weren’t there. Someone said they were visiting with one of the teachers, who was an old acquaintance of Fredy’s, and thought they had been invited for dinner as well. We had just finished eating, when they returned. They had been visiting but had not eaten dinner. There was about a half of a bowl of soup left, so I was just ready to make some more, when someone appeared with a large pot of alpaca stew!
On Monday morning, we had oatmeal and bread, along with left over alpaca stew, for breakfast. We had not stopped to think about getting water the night before, and when I went out to get water, the faucet was frozen. We had a little water left, so I heated that and poured it on the faucet, but the pipes were still frozen. Thankfully the teachers had enough water to share with us, so we didn’t have to wait for two hours until the sun came over the mountain and thawed out the pipes. After breakfast, while I went with Isedoro, Alberto, and their wives to visit a family of fairly new believers, about two hours walk away; Maribel taught a Bible story to about 30 kids at the school. We arrived at the families home, and of course were invited in for mate de manzana (apple flavored tea) One of them had wanted to be baptized but wasn’t feeling well, so we weren’t able to do that – in the ice-cold Cushpa river.
According to our plan, Fredy was to find help to carry the stuff back to the car, and after Maribel finished teaching the kids, they would transport all the stuff and we would meet them there at the car. I was hiking faster than the rest and got back to the river about 30 minutes ahead of them. As I came down the hill to the river, I was hoping to see them with some burros or mules, unloading all the cargo. Instead, I got there just in time to see Maribel and Fredy bringing the last of the stuff to the river. Two young boys had taken turns carrying the generator on their backs, but Fredy and Maribel had to make many trips to get all of the rest of the stuff. After seeing Bertha, who was pregnant, carrying a large load the day before, I had nicely but firmly told her not to carry anything more.
The Cat was nowhere in sight, so I ended up making a half dozen or more trips across the ice cold river to bring all of the gear across, except for the generator, which had already been taken across, so I was the only one who had to get my shoes wet. I almost fell in a couple of times carrying a large box of electronic gear on my back, with no trekking poles to balance me. The river was only knee deep but rocky and had a fairly strong current. Finally the other two couples showed up, Alberto was wearing rubber sandals, so I borrowed them and took them over to Fredy for him to use. I then carried Maribel on my back while Fredy walked along to steady me. Then we went back to get his wife, who I thought was about seven months or so pregnant, and he carried her while I helped him.
We got everything loaded into the car and took off, on the four and a half hour drive back to Cotahuasi, when a few minutes later Fredy’s wife started having labor pains! It turned out that she was in the last week of her pregnancy! We got to Churca, about an hour away, and stopped to see the obstetrician there. She checked Bertha and said there was nothing to worry about; it was just the rough car ride. She said Bertha wouldn’t deliver the baby for at least 8-10 hours, and we could easily make the trip back to Cotahuasi. We asked her to go with us but she said there was no reason to, so we took off. Fifteen minutes later Bertha started to cry out, and soon the pains were coming every four to five minutes. We decided to try to get to Puica, about an hour and a half away, as that was the nearest village with a medical clinic (except for going back to Churca).
I was trying to drive carefully to avoid bouncing too much on the very rough mountain road, as well as because of all the switchbacks. We got to Suni, about 20 minutes from Puica, and the pains were about two minutes apart, and Bertha was screaming. We were all ‘praying without ceasing’, and Fredy said to forget about the bumps and get to Puica as fast as possible. Fortunately that stretch of the road was fairly level, just lots of curves and animals on the road, cows, sheep, burros and llamas. By this time the labor pains were almost continuous, and then Bertha said that her water had broken. I was driving as fast as I dared, horn blaring to clear the way, and we came flying into Puica and pulled up in front of the clinic. People had come out to see what the noise was all about so I yelled that we needed a doctor right away.
They helped Fredy carry Bertha into the clinic (no wheelchairs there) and less than 15 minutes later, baby Abigail was born! Praise God that we made it safely and in time, and mother and baby are both healthy and doing fine. We left them, along with Fredy, at the clinic that night and went back to Suni to spend the night with Isedoro and his family, who live there – we hadn’t even taken time to drop them off on the way through. Tuesday morning we went back to Puica and waited about an hour until they released Bertha and Abigail. We had a much quieter finish to our drive and got safely back to Cotahuasi just before noon. It was one of the most adventure filled mission trips I have been on!
The adventure didn’t end when we returned to Arequipa on Thursday evening. I needed to take my car to the parking lot where I keep it while here, and Maribel needed to go to her class at a university near there, so I offered to give her a ride and stop for a roast chicken dinner on the way. We had just been in the restaurant a few minutes when a woman came in and said someone was robbing stuff out of my car. I went running out but they were already gone, and had taken my backpack and Maribel’s wallet out of her book bag, which we had foolishly left in the car. My backpack had my passport and cell phone in it, because I was planning on leaving on a trip to Chile right after that.
Maribel’s father called my cell phone and the thief answered. He agreed to meet Lucho and return the passport and other documents for a “reward”. He was supposed to call tonight to arrange a meeting time and place but he hasn’t done it yet, and hasn’t answered the cell phone today. Hopefully he will return the documents tomorrow, so that I don’t have to replace my passport, and Maribel her DNI (National identity card that every Peruvian has to carry). If I don’t get it back by Sunday, I will have to go to Lima to get a replacement passport.