Having a bad day? Wait - do you have clean water to drink? A floor in your home? Fresh food in the fridge? How ‘bout air conditioning?
If you answered yes to those last four — you’re not having a bad day. Not really.
That’s a perspective Anna athletic director and head football coach Jason Heath and his daughter Hannah experienced first-hand on their just-completed church mission trip to Peru, a journey that began July 6 and ended July 17.
“I gave me a different appreciation of what we have here, from roads to the food to the living arrangements,” Heath said at Anna High School one day after getting back. “Most of these people [we visited] have to farm. They’re very resourceful. They don’t have a whole lot of things — things that we think we’ve got to have … You don’t see kids walking around with a cell phone in their hand or having TVs in every room. They have dirt floors and are probably lucky to have a working shower. They don’t have heated showers. We take a lot of things for granted.”
Heath and his family are members of First Baptist Church in Sherman and this trip was part of that congregation’s missions program. Hannah could’ve gone alone as she was 18, but Heath decided to make the journey too. “I guess I felt convicted that I should go as well,” he said. “Sending your daughter off to a foreign country is not an easy thing to do. And I thought, ‘I hadn’t done anything like that.’”
Into the mountains
After the seven-hour flight from DFW Airport to Lima, Peru, the Heaths met their interpreter and First Baptist Sherman’s on-site mission director before hopping into a van for a seven-hour drive inland to Yauyos, a small town perched at 10,500 feet in the Andes Mountains.
The last portion of that drive featured an unpaved, one-lane road with no guard rails. And, occasionally, some extra room had to be made for traffic coming down. “It’s not uncommon for people to go off the side,” Heath said. “It was pretty nerve-wracking going up that.”
In Yauyos, they joined up with a team of four college students who had been there for about four weeks. Soon Heath and Hannah came face-to-face with some new realities in one of the poorest regions of Peru.
Hannah, a 2018 Anna graduate, said by phone after her return that she’d never been that far away from home. “I didn’t know what to expect. It was very poor. It was a lot different than America, housing-wise. It really made me take a step back and be grateful for everything that I have.”
The town was hundreds of years old, Heath said, and only about four streets wide. Most homes were adobe-like and tin-roofed with only concrete-covered mud mortar between bricks. Many homes’ floors were simply dirt. Only bottled or filtered water was safe to drink.
The Heaths stayed atop a little three-story building with an open-air kitchen above them. The second floor housed battered women and a small store occupied the first floor. For breakfast, Heath said they’d sometimes make pancakes or have fresh-baked bread or a protein bar. For other meals, they often dined out. Restaurants, he noted, didn’t serve the drinks till after a meal, and then it was hot tea. Rice, noodles, chicken and bread were staples. The Heaths chose to avoid other meats as they hung in the open air and were often covered with flies. Cheeses were displayed similarly.
On a sweets note, Hannah learned from a family how to make picarones, or Peruvian donuts.
Temperatures were mild, with highs in the 60s and lows in the upper 30s. Being just south of the equator, the area experiences little in the way of seasonal changes.
Sleep a challenge
Heath said he and Hannah felt safe enough during their stay, especially the longer they were there. “At first I was a little concerned, just because I was an outsider. But the police station was a couple of blocks away. … And there was no violence that I know of that really goes on there.”
Getting a good night’s sleep, though, was sometimes tough. This was due to a van service that made rounds through town starting at about 3 a.m., honking its horn for people who’d requested it for work, maybe 2 to 4 hours away. “Instead of pulling up to a spot and waiting on that person,” Heath said, “they just honk their horn. And they keep honking until the people come out and get on the van.”
One of the group’s main ministries was meeting and working with school children. Heath, through his interpreter, had an opportunity to speak to some of the kids about goal-setting and making good choices. “I tried to apply it to them and their culture,” he said. Hannah, a veteran Lady Coyote athlete, spent plenty of time playing soccer with the kids — on the school’s concrete ‘field.’ “I was sliding everywhere,” she said. “The kids are really good at soccer. They pretty much schooled me in everything. But it was fun to get to play with them and interact.”
“They were very loving and excited to see them,” Heath said of the kids’ reactions to Hannah and the others. … We’d just walk the streets sometimes and those kids would come up to her and ask how they were doing.”
Heath also got to teach them a little about American football, though with a soccer ball. “They had no idea what it was,” he said. “Soccer is their main sport. … We just lined them up, offensively and defensively, and talked about positions. Then we ran some plays. The ball would hit the ground and they would start kicking it like a soccer ball.”
Asked to not tackle, being on concrete, the kids also soon began knocking each other down and piling-on after plays. After a few dog-piles, Heath said, “OK, we need to stop.” The interpreter assured, “No, they’re fine.” The next pile was particularly massive and Heath thought the bottom kid was surely injured - but he got up laughing. “It’s what they do,” Heath said.
Later, in a classroom, Heath showed videos of Anna Coyote football and described various game situations.
Volleyball was the town’s other big sport and the Heaths played it in the evenings with the kids and school staff. “They loved playing,” Heath said. “You don’t have kids there not wanting to participate. They want to be involved in it.”
The clinic there was one of the town’s nicer buildings. “Hannah actually started getting sick at one point,” Heath said. “We took her to the clinic to get some antibiotics and to see a doctor — a real doctor. For the appointment and the drugs, you know how much it cost? Three dollars. That blew me away because you’re looking at a third-world country that can provide health care for anybody at a cost like that. They don’t have to pay any co-pays or premiums and those things. Here in the U.S. that would’ve been a $150 visit, easy.”
Mission Board assists
Mike Lawson, the senior pastor of First Baptist Sherman, explained by phone how the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board assists groups seeking to serve and minister to others around the world. The Board has missionaries positioned internationally who are able to assess local needs and make them known to interested parties.
“We somehow were made aware of a need in Yauyos,” Lawson said. “We worked through the Lima, Peru, representative for the International Mission Board to get organized to go there. For five years, we’ve had some people, off and on, who’ve been a part of that. We’ve made at least one trip a year for all of those years and usually more.”
Lawson noted some of the changes he’s observed in those who’ve traveled to serve others in faraway places. “Not just in Peru,” he said, “but in any international exposure, number one, there’s a real appreciation that people gain for their own homeland. But also, I think they gain a real sense of how fortunate we are to have the exposure to the Christian worldview that’s not prevalent in many places around the world. They have an awareness of the benefit that we have as American citizens, but also as American Christians to have so much opportunity to be exposed to the things of God.”
“It was definitely a good experience,” Heath said, “and something I wouldn’t mind doing again.”
Said Hannah, “I feel more open in just building relationships with people that I may not know and getting out of my comfort zone more — just loving on people. That’s what God calls us to do, is love on people, despite their life, their past or how they live.”