Under Quarantine In Peru

by | Mar 16, 2023 | 0 comments

On Saturday February 22, I left San Francisco International Airport, and I arrived in Cajamarca, Peru on the afternoon of February 23. I had planned to be there until March 9, which would have been 24 days away from home. Instead, my trip turned into a 45 day adventure.

My first week went as planned for the most part. I was scheduled to teach the book of Revelation to 17 students, ages 17-30. They were mostly Peruvians, with three from Mexico and two from the United States. When I arrived, I was informed that there was a Christian school from the capital city of Lima, and that they were visiting the Bible College, and that those students would also be sitting in on my class. They were kids ages 10-17, and most of them were from very troubled homes in Lima. They had been victims of all sorts of abuse, and they were on an extended retreat at the Bible Institute in Cajamarca.

I quickly realized that I had the challenge of teaching daily a three hour Revelation class to young adults (no problem) , but also to children as young as ten (this would be challenging). Fortunately, the young kids were very Biblically literate, and they followed the teaching quite well.

I added the incentive of handing out chocolate for class participation, so that helped make things fun for all of us. I like to have fun in class. The Spanish word for “saint” is “santo”, so I nicknamed the young kids “Los Santitos”, or, “The Little Saints”. It was exciting to see them understand the truths of God’s word from the book of Revelation.

The first week passed with no problems, and on my first weekend in Peru I traveled with some of the older students to an archeological site named “Cumbemayo”. It is located at over 10,000 ft. elevation in the Andes, and was an ancient place of worship and sacrifice for a Pre-Incan civilization.

My second week started off fine, and the Santitos left us that Thursday. The staff at the Bible College gave them a going away ceremony, complete with certificates of merit and accomplishment. The kids had attended classes and had served in various ways during their visit. They received those certificates with pride and with tears. They had obviously been very touched by their time at the Institute, and they were very blessed to have been acknowledged that way. I am guessing that many of them never received that kind of affirmation at home.

As my second week ended, I came down with the worst case of Montezuma’s Revenge that I have ever had, which included intense abdominal cramping. I have been going on missions trips for over thirty years, and I have been sick more than a few times, but I had never been sick like this. As it turned out, I finally had to be hospitalized with a severe intestinal viral infection. I lost twelve pounds in about six days, and we had to cancel two classes during my third week. Fortunately, I received very good medical attention in the hospital, and was able to be released after about 36 hours.

I was scheduled to fly home on Sunday March 16, but I was still nervous about my ability to travel, since the symptoms had not yet totally disappeared. I decided to stay a few days longer to allow my body to recover, and to finish teaching the classes that I had missed. I rebooked my ticket for the following Friday, March 20. I hated the thought of extending my trip, but I didn’t want to travel in poor health. I also wanted to finish teaching my class. Little did I know that I would indeed be staying much longer than I anticipated.

On Monday afternoon, March 17, I was informed that the President of Peru would be closing all of Peru’s borders because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that all non-citizens had until midnight the next day to leave the country. I must admit that I went into a bit of a panic. It was such a sudden announcement. The idea of being quarantined in Peru was troublesome to me, because my Peruvian friends told me that the quarantine could realistically be extended indefinitely. Like many non citizens, I began searching frantically for a ticket home before the borders were closed. I tried to exchange my ticket for an earlier departure, but soon realized that a simple exchange was not going to happen. I began searching multiple airlines for any ticket out of Peru, and I discovered that the airlines were gouging their customers. A $600 one way ticket was now selling for $3,000-$4,000. I had friends in the States also searching all night for a ticket for me. As I Facetimed with Debbie, and as we discussed the matter, we realized that it was unlikely that I would be coming home soon.

Even before the deadline arrived, Debbie and I surrendered to the fact that I would be staying in Peru at least two weeks more, and possibly longer. I knew that the quarantine could be extended indefinitely. But as my wife encouraged me, we both came to a wonderful place of surrender. She reminded me that we were both in a safe place, and that we were surrounded by people that loved us. Her calming words gave me a release to not have to try to anxiously get home. She would be ok, and so would I.

It is a strangely wonderful thing to be forced into a situation that you cannot change, but then have the ability by God’s grace to surrender that situation to God. It felt very good to not be in charge, and to have to depend on the Peruvian government (to some degree) and God’s sovereignty (ultimately) to change things. I felt a peace and a freedom that I had never felt, and to a degree that I had never felt. I was initially in a panic, but then I was wonderfully reminded that I am not in control of my life. A close friend of mine defines “surrender” as “joining the winning side”. Surrendering to God is always good.

I cannot claim that I walked in that supernatural peace 100% of the time during the quarantine, but I can honestly say that I enjoyed that Heavenly peace about 90% of my remaining time there. I was shocked at the peace that came over my heart as we both surrendered to what had been “forced” upon us.

Surrendering a situation to God means that you don’t have to fight or worry about it any longer. You can turn your efforts and emotions to productive things that you do have control over. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, other pastors that were scheduled to teach at the Bible College had to cancel, and I was able to step in and teach another class. As I released my preoccupation with trying to get home, I began to more deeply enjoy the Christian communal life at the Institute. Everyone is there because they want to be. Everyone is there to seek God, study His word, and to grow in faith. We ate three meals together every day. We talked in between classes. We played music together, and worshipped together, and prayed and attended services on campus. We even had a towel fight in the kitchen. I can still cause damage with a wet towel! Unfortunately, the students are equipped in this manner of warfare also. There were no winners or losers, but we had fun!

The quarantine immersed me into a Christian communal setting that I had never experienced, and I soaked it up. It was a marvelous experience, unlike anything I’ve ever had. I was actually grateful to be under quarantine.

I wasn’t passive about trying to get home. I was checking airlines and reading on Facebook about groups where hundreds were desperate to get home, and felt that they were “stuck in Peru”. My heart went out to them, because many were indeed stranded, having to pay more hotel fees, and more food costs. Some had medical issues that needed attention, etc. I realized how greatly blessed I was being part of the Body of Christ, and having such a tremendous support system to catch my fall. I certainly did not feel “stuck in Peru”.

I realize that if I had had less of a support system, I indeed may have felt “stuck” as the others did. I realize that I was blessed and well cared for while under quarantine. I’m sure that my quarantine experience must have been better than most people’s experience. But I realized that all of that great care and community was a result of us all knowing Christ. We weren’t just enduring the quarantine, we were thriving in it. Now that I am home, I hope to still thrive in it.

I kept praying and waiting for the U.S. government to come for us. I signed up with the U.S. Embassy in Lima, and with the U.S. State Department. I contacted the office of our local Congressman, Mike Thompson. Our government began to airlift U.S. citizens out of Lima and Cuzco first, since those are high density cities where many tourists were visiting. I was in Cajamarca, which is only a 90 minute flight from Lima, but is a 17 hour bus ride. I worried a bit about receiving notice that a flight would be leaving Lima, but then not knowing how I would get to Lima.

As I waited, I was able to stay very busy with teaching, mentoring, counseling, and sharing music. I was able to help in various ways, but I must reiterate that there was an unusual joy that God gave me as I sought to continually surrender the situation to God.

Finally the government contacted a group of us. There were 17 Americans in Cajamarca, and plans were made to get us home. We needed government documentation to travel on the roads, to get on the bus, and to have a seat on the plane. I must say that the American government and the Peruvian government worked well together to get us home.

After 48 hours of travel, including three domestic flights cancelled and re-booked, I arrived at SFO and was greeted by my wife, and my re-introduction back into “civilian life” began.

What I learned…

Sometimes God/life backs you into a “corner”. You can enjoy that “corner” if you surrender to God. If not, you will hate that “corner”. You can thrive in that “corner”, or you can become discouraged and bitter.

The Christian communal life is amazing when you are living with people that truly love Jesus.

There is definitely a “peace that passes all understanding” that the Christian can experience. Read Philippians 4:6-9 to learn about that.

Thanks to those who prayed for me, and sent me messages. I appreciate all of that.

One More Thing-Please pray for Peru and for the Bible Institute in Cajamarca. Peru’s health care system is currently overburdened, and the country is entering a more serious phase in the near future.


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