In January I will be going back to work with one of my mentors in Iquitos Peru. Paul and Sandi Opp are true examples of heros in my book, after selling his logging business in Idaho 8 years ago he moved to Iquitos adopted two street children, started a home for abused and abandoned girls, a free medical clinic and just completed a free dental clinic. His wife Sandi has remained in the US earning money to support their mission in Iquitos and raise their two daughters in Idaho, they come together as a complete family several times a year. If there ever was a place to invest hard earned money during the Christmas season and know that it would go straight to the source People of Peru is the place. I will be going down to work with Paul for three months, during that time I will be blogging my whole trip. Please take the time to read the story below about one of the beautiful children of Iquitos.
Paul Opp –
I remember the night I met her begging on the sidewalk. She seemed so out of place in front the five star hotel. Behind her, the indoor fountain and glass elevator kept time with the rich tourists who came and went. The lobby window that she leaned against, though only a quarter inch thick put miles of distance between those inside and those who lived their life on the sidewalk.
Her two front teeth were missing and the thin blouse and polyester skirt, devoid of color, were transparent in places and you couldn’t help but notice the soccer-ball-size protrusion stretching the failing threads to the end of their elasticity. A baby, another mouth to feed, would make life more difficult on so many levels.
As we poured out of the bus, she stood up and stepped away from the window. The waterfall of people soon engulfed her and the excitement of the volunteers, laughter of friends and shopping strategies drowned the soft pleas for assistance. The final instructions were shouted above the chatter of the group, return-to-the-bus times repeated and the crowd evaporated into the plaza. I watched Clara stand alone with her out-stretched arm, empty hand and unborn child. It was that moment a friendship began.
Eight years later……The rain was pounding, which is typical for this time of year. It was later than we would usually eat in town but the evening was busy and the departure from home was delayed. My friends from the US had been here a couple days and the pizza place where we had eaten the night of their arrival, got the winning vote. Something about that thin crust, crisp from the wood fired oven, just the right combination of toppings and the toasted bread with creams and salsa for appetizers….chase that with ice cold, fresh, fruit juice from the jungle and a winning vote is justified.
The drive into the town square was faster than usual. With the torrential down pour the streets were empty and when we did pass a three wheeled motorcar taxi or drenched motor cyclist, our truck shot a lethal spray of water that could dismount an unsuspecting driver. Parking was easy as the curbs were bare, but the cascading water from the rooftops made the final stopping place critical. Finally, there was a twenty foot section of curb without a geyser. Stop. Lock the doors and sprint to the safety of the awning. Others had gathered to stay dry creating a gauntlet from the truck to the door of the eatery. I was crossing the threshold when a little voice pierced the noise of the pounding rain.
“Teo Paul, teo Paul.” I turned to see who was calling me “uncle” and there she was, the little girl who stole my heart nearly eight years ago. She literally jumped into my arms as I asked where her mother was. She pointed down the sidewalk, close to the open kitchen windows. Clara stood huddled between the decorative flower pots, her five year old, Sonia, clinging to her neck. The smell of oven baked pizza was overpowering even as the storm pounded the street only a few yards away.
All three were soaked to the skin. The wind was blowing the rain horizontally, and when I touched Clara’s arm I was shocked at how cold she was. She grinned at me when I commented about her condition but her remaining teeth were noticeably chattering when she tried to explain how she got caught in the rain, twenty minutes from home, late at night, with both her girls.
We talked for a minute and Adriana just hung on to my waist and looked up. When the conversation slowed I hugged and kissed her and told her how much I had missed her while I was in the States. She just smiled and her huge dimples took their customary position, and then her eyes got shy.
” I am so hungry,” she said. We haven’t eaten since this morning. When I asked her where she would like to eat she pointed to the restaurant where my friends were already seated. Clara protested saying that it was much too expensive compared to eating on the street but frankly my concern was the wind and rain and not the price of the meal. Clara would have been satisfied to wait outside for our leftovers but tonight would be special. We would eat as friends… as a family.
I gave a silent nod and Adriana was three steps ahead of me. Clara waited until I insisted we go in, and then the stares began. Local people with money were surprised to see the “street people” occupy our table. Tourists, though curious, understood.
I have known this little family since before the girls were born. Clara, once a beggar on the street, using her children as props, now sells fruit. Adriana, has thrived on education. Sonia will start school next year and our organization will make sure she also has the uniforms, books, backpack and documents that are necessary for a free education.
When Adriana was burning up with fever, they came to us. When she got separated from her mom during a massive holiday event, where did they find each other? People of Peru Project Headquarters. When a drunken taxi driver crashed into Clara’s vending cart, who did she turn for advice and assistance? When Sonia was dehydrated from days of vomiting and diarrhea and the government’s free medical help wasn’t available. Who was there? When Clara needed some place to leave her sick baby so she could continue to work, our home was her infirmary?
For eight years we have been here for this little family and hundreds more like them. With a simple nod of the head, Adriana’s child-like faith was rewarded. She was confident that she would never be left hungry in the wind and the rain. This family’s interaction with visiting doctors and nurses, dentists and teachers, pastors and social workers has built a trust in the way God works through his people. When Adriana is at our house watching animated bible stories, she finishes the plot before the DVD ends. Her life is profoundly different because of the opportunities created by your support.
As we finished our meal in a warm café our spirits soared as we reviewed the myriad of special moments that make us feel like family. These are moments sustained by supporters like you. Don’t ever think that a gift is too small or a random act of kindness goes unnoticed. We are here because of you. When Sonia and Adriana pushed away from the table their hugs and kisses were all I needed, to know what a difference you have made.
As we end this year, we would like to thank you for your generous support. This is simply one story that goes far beyond good pizza on a rainy night. This is a story of a relationship that has changed lives. This is a story that has been duplicated hundreds of times by volunteers using the sacrificial gifts from supporters like you.
Economic times are difficult in the US right now but this could serve to remind us of how blessed we are in a world where millions have never had anything to lose. I promise you, that as long as there is life in this organization we will continue to serve the impoverished who cannot help themselves and as the years go by, there will be more and more lives that are radically different because of you.
Check the web site www.PeopleofPeru.org for more stories and details. Email me at U4Peru@aol.com with questions about how you can be involved.