5 Months in a Flash!

It is hard to believe that it is already the end of February. And even harder to acknowledge that we haven’t updated this space since September which is quite sad since I probably have about 4 different drafts of updates that were started and never finished, mostly in my head. I don’t know if this is true for everybody, but during those 3 or 4 minutes I spend in the shower each day I am able to whip out an amazing, eloquent update that all gets promptly forgotten as I step out of the bathroom. Sitting down in front of the computer and I can’t remember how to spell or get a simple point across. Maybe we need to buy some of those waterproof notepads.

Nevertheless, maybe the following will help explain why we have basically gone radio silence around here. Around mid-December time, I would have told you that I think I could count on two hands the number of days that Billy and I have spent in Lima since mid-September. Here’s why:

Way back in September our church in Lima, Camino de Vida, hosted it’s annual women’s conference – Conferencia Ellas. I attended the conference in 2014 with Carmen, a friend of ours in Lima, but throughout the entire time kept thinking that it would be fun to do with a group of people. When they started advertising the event earlier in the year, I started to think and pray about who to invite and decided to invite Esther (our house mother from the Ica home), Carmen (our house mother at Hope House, the girls home in Lima), Rosa and Luz Mery (two girls from Hope House), Julia (a friend who is living out in Yungay) and Carmen (our friend in Lima). The conference was two great days of speakers, worship and fellowship with other women and it was so great to be able to share this with a group of friends.

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The day after the conference, Billy and I headed off to the airport. Thanks to a great deal on flights (all 6 of them, 2 of which were international for $97!), a favorable exchange rate and a reward to ourselves for literally going straight from May to August, meant we were able to spend a couple weeks in Colombia. We split our time between the mountain city of Medellin and the Caribbean colonial city of Cartagena de las Indias, plus a very quick day in Bogotá. Our parents weren’t too keen on the idea when we first told them but all was fine and even at some points we felt safer there then we do here in Lima.

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We returned to Lima and not even 24 hours later after spending the day unpacking, washing clothes and repacking, we found ourselves back at the airport to head to Detroit for just over a week. Earlier in the year, we attended the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) Summit where we learned a great deal about the international orphan care movement and met many people and organizations that have become experts and examples in the field. One of those connections, the organization Back2Back Ministries, invited us to participate in a 3-day train the trainers workshop on the topic of “trauma informed care” in Cincinnati. The kids that live in our children’s homes all have experienced some form of trauma in their short lives (whether it be physical abuse or emotional trauma by the mere fact they aren’t living with their families anymore) and we feel that to help them understand and navigate their lives, we and the rest of the Girasoles staff need to be trained in how to effectively minister to a child who has experienced trauma. For me, one of the best things the presenters said during the three days was “behavior is the language of children who have lost their voice.” There were so many takeaways and things that will greatly improve our ministry and the house staff as they work with the kids on a daily basis.

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We returned to Peru after the conference and being able to spend a few days with our families ready to go on to the next thing. We arrived to our apartment in Lima at 7am and by 5pm that same day we were on our way to Kawai (90 minutes south of Lima) to host a week-long training for the Girasoles parents. Immediately Billy was able to share a few of the principles we had learned during the trauma competent caregiving workshop just a few days prior and check-in with all of his house parents during the annual training. We spent a few days in meetings and made sure to find time to grow together as a team and enjoy a bit of the surrounding area.

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The day the Girasoles training ended, Billy was off to the airport to meet the missions pastor from a church that has generously supported us over the past few years. He was new in the position and hadn’t been to Peru before and was interested in getting a first-hand look at the ministry. In 3 short days they managed to visit our children’s home in the Sacred Valley and the two in Iquitos before the pastor departed for the States.

(At this point, I had to check our calendar to see what came next…)

Ah, finally a week in Lima!

One of the boys from the Kusi home came to Lima for a couple of days to have some intense dental work done on his teeth. He was born with a disorder where his teeth don’t produce enamel and are basically rotting away at 12 years old. He was deathly terrified of the dentist and didn’t appreciate having to spend a few days at a great dentist here in Lima (which coincidentally was the same place Billy had his wisdom teeth removed a few months prior) but the staff made it an painless of an experience as possible. We were so thankful to Peru Dental for their generosity and help with the procedure!

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We hosted a group the first week in November at our home in Ica and had a great time. I have always loved going to the home in Ica – it’s a really easy home to get to at just 4.5 hour bus ride and the staff there are just wonderful with the kids. The group was a new church from North Carolina who were so much fun. We spent the week playing with the kids, painting the classroom, making book shelves and enjoying the start of the Peruvian summer.

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We said goodbye to the group and traveled the next week with a couple from the church who would help us film a new video to share about the children’s ministry (coming soon). We spent a few days filming the kids who are studying in Lima on the government scholarship and then traveled to Cusco and Iquitos to film testimonies from the older boys who are still in our care. I had a lot of fun “setting the scene” and getting kids to act in the shots while being able to work with some of the older kids to help them share their testimony on camera. We’re looking forward to seeing what the final product ends up being.

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Another week in Lima! Unfortunately I got sick and ended up spending a few days in bed and missing going to our pastor’s house for an American Thanksgiving party. :/

The following weekend Billy traveled with a Peruvian couple to Puerto Alegría so they could see the house. Henry and Eva were our house parents in Kimo but when the decision was made to close the home, they were asked to move to Puerto Alegría and take over as the house parents there. They went for a weekend with Billy to see the home, meet the kids and see if they wanted to move from one jungle to another. (A few weeks later they decided to do it!).

A day after Billy returned from Iquitos we were off to the Sacred Valley again to assist with a water filtration system installation at a church near the boys home. Billy led the installation with a couple members of the congregation while I led the education component that always goes along with the installation. We sang a lot of “Use Esta Agua” (Use this Water) and did a whole bunch of Living Waters for the World activities

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We are suckers for a great airline deal and a few months prior when the LAN flights went on sale, we managed to snag roundtrip tickets to Arequipa, the white city in the Peruvian Andes for the weekend. When roundtrip flights go on sale for $40 a person you can’t say no. We grabbed a Groupon for a very basic hotel (bathroom wasn’t even connected to the room) and were off for the weekend. Arequipa has been on our “must visit list” for a long time now and I was so excited to be able to finally go and even more so to have Billy’s uninterrupted presence for 3 whole days. This was a minor miracle. The city is covered in bricks made from volcanic ash so many of the buildings are a beautiful white color and there is an amazingly beautiful convent which was by far the best thing we saw those two days. It was over 20,000 square meters and took up an entire city block. I probably left after the 2 hour visit with over 150 photos and they just don’t do it justice.

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Ah, back to Lima again!

At this point we were ready to get back into a routine in Lima and decided to stay home and take it easy for Christmas. We invited a few of the boys who are in Lima on the government scholarship to come over on the 24th for the traditional Peruvian Christmas celebrations. Billy and I spent the day cleaning the house, making a bunch of sides and Christmas cookies and getting things ready for their arrival. Huberth and Kevin arrived about 8pm where we sat down to have Christmas dinner about 9:30pm (Peruvian schedule but American food). We watched Charlie Brown Christmas (thank you somebody on the Internet for subtitles!) and headed out to the street at midnight to watch all of our neighbors light up the sky with hundreds and hundreds of fireworks. It really is quite impressive and one of my favorite Peruvian traditions. We returned inside and like everybody else in Lima sat down to open a few presents and unlike most people in Lima, were off to bed at 1:30am.

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(Almost caught up… Now I’m seeing why we haven’t had time to update recently and realizing that this would have been easier if we had more often!)

A few days before the end of the year we had two groups arrive to ring in 2016 at two of our boys homes. Thanks to some pretty horrible weather around the Dallas area, both groups had flight issues and ended up not arriving when they were supposed to. We made a few long calls to airlines to get new flights sorted and multiple trips to bus stations to change and repurchase new tickets. In the end everybody made it to Peru finally and Billy and I were off to the jungle to spend the next week at Puerto Alegría. It’s always fun to spend a holiday at one of our children’s homes. On New Year’s Eve we moved all of the tables in the dining room into one long table and enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner at 10:30pm (everybody was so hungry by that point!), played the classic Puerto Alegría group games and shortly before midnight headed out to the soccer field to start a bonfire and light off fireworks to start the new year.

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At this point, life starts to slow down and we spent almost an entire month in Lima! January has always been a slower month for us since there are few volunteer groups and not much pre-planning needs to be done yet for the upcoming groups. We still managed to fill the month with spending time with the older boys living, working/studying in Lima, doctors appointments, Skype meetings, meeting with Buckner Peru about working alongside Hope House and a quick weekend trip to Kawai (90 minutes south of Lima) for a 25th wedding anniversary. We also celebrated my 30th birthday and our 3rd wedding anniversary this month.

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At the beginning of February, Billy set off on what will probably be his biggest trip this year – the World Without Orphans Forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Thanks to those connections made at the CAFO Summit, Billy was personally invited to attend the forum. After conveniently finding the best price & itinerary ticket to Thailand out of Toronto, he set off to Detroit for a couple of days before beginning his long roundabout trip to the forum. After quickly having to adjust to the 12-hour time difference, the forum started and was another great networking opportunity. Two of the breakout sessions he chose ahead of time dealt with “next steps” for children that are leaving a group home setting and becoming independent. They gave him tons of examples of things to work on with these transitioning young adults which will be very helpful here. Over the past couple of years as the older kids transition out of our homes into either the government higher education scholarship or into getting a job and living on their own, we’ve noticed some basic things that they just never were exposed to as kids (money management, how to open a bank account, etc).The forum gave Billy the opportunity to reconnect with people he had met at the CAFO Summit and meet others who are working in the same field.

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A few days after Billy left for the States, I received my own visitor here in Peru. Katie, who has been a one of my greatest friends since commiserating over RA rounds at Alma together, came to visit for a week. The last time she was here was for an extended trip which included going to Machu Picchu and our wedding so this time we were off to the jungle! We headed to Iquitos where I was able to show her the two boys homes we have there before heading out into the Amazon jungle to stay at a lodge for a few days. We had a great time out in the middle of nowhere where the heat and humidity made it look like we were always just getting out of the shower. One of the hardest things about living here now is maintaining friendships back in the States and it was so great to be able to spend an entire week catching up and making new memories together.

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Now, it’s mid-February and Billy’s on his way back to Lima. It has been a weirdly crazy, unpredictable 5 months.

As I think back over the past few months, I am reminded of how much we both enjoy being a part of this ministry and how thankful we are for the people that help us make this possible.

Would you join us in praying for these couple things?

– Continued safety in Lima and as we travel around the country visiting the children’s homes. We will be heading to the Sacred Valley in the beginning of March with a volunteer group and in April, we will be visiting all 6 homes within two weeks with a small team of doctors and dentists for the Girasoles annual check-ups.

– Time for rest together as a couple amidst our busy schedule.

– Smooth application process for the kids that are applying for the Beca 18 government scholarship for higher education studies these next few weeks. They will be sitting university entrance exams, filling out lots of paperwork and waiting to hear results. Pray for ease as they navigate Peruvian bureaucracy and their nerves as they sit for exams.

– Wisdom and guidance as we put together projects for our upcoming volunteer groups and make all of the necessary coordinations ahead of time. Pray that their visit will further strengthen the Girasoles ministry at the homes.

If you made is this far, thanks for sticking with us through this long update! 🙂

– Kate & Billy

Peace in the Midst of the Storm

This week has been emotionally trying, but at the same time I cannot deny that I have seen the Lord’s hand at work in the midst of numerous obstacles. This past weekend, Scripture Union’s board of directors held a meeting to discuss a number of items—the most pressing of which is the current year’s budget shortfall. Sadly, in the last couple of years the expenses for running our children’s homes have gone up significantly. At the same time, some key contributors to our regular operating costs have had to step down. Kate and I spent a large portion of time in the last year traveling around the USA, visiting many of you to raise funds for the Girasoles Program as we work towards building a more sustainable budget. While we are encouraged by the new support that has been raised over the last year, the reality is that we are still significantly over budget in 2015, having to spend into our reserve funds to sustain the program. For that reason, our board made an incredibly hard decision to close two of our homes at the end of this year.

In addition to this information, Kate and I have reviewed our personal support over the past 12 months, and we are also coming up a little bit short. A few friends have had to reduce support, and our required support level for 2015 rose slightly as compared to 2014. In total, we are needing to raise new support in commitments of approximately $650 per month.

Parallel, though, to all of this, I was reminded of my need to completely depend on the Lord at multiple points during this week through multiple conversations with four different young men who were a part of our program and have now come to Lima to continue their education.

Day after day this past week I received various phone calls — completely unrelated and each involving difficulties that these guys were facing. My calendar quickly filled up, but honestly I didn’t mind at all. I had an excuse to procrastinate some office work (sorry Kate!) so that I could really fulfill my deepest passion — sharing Christ’s love and compassion with those around me. Some of the conversations went late into the night or even into the early hours of the morning. I had the honor and the opportunity to listen to them speak from their hearts. So many different topics came up: computer problems that led to difficulty in school, academic issues, feeling alone — the loneliness that comes with not having a family (while we constantly remind them that they are a part of our family, there is still the natural longing for an immediate family), problems with girls and relationships, personal economic issues, seeking a new place of employment, being a victim of a recent crime, unwise decisions, struggling in maintaining a relationship with God, etc.

On a quick tangent, I want to stop here and express how blessed I feel to be in a position where I can be available to sit down and talk with these guys—none of whom have a traditional family or support structure to fall back on. Fourteen years ago, when I first traveled to Peru, I would have never imagined the opportunities that the Lord was going to provide me to really pour into these lives!

While in many cases they were looking for help or advice, the common thread in each conversation was that each of them needed to know that someone was there for them and that they didn’t have to carry all of these burdens alone. Deeper than just fixing the problem (which we are also working towards), they needed someone to hear them and to tell them that they are cared about deeply. It was my joy to be that voice of reassurance this past week.

Over and over, I found myself sharing some advice that a friend who happens to be a great psychologist shared with our staff in Iquitos a couple of months ago. Often times we trap ourselves in a negative mindset. We constantly worry about our circumstances or about something that happened in the past. Those thoughts often lead to feelings of depression, low self-esteem, sadness, et cetera. While we can’t control our emotions, we can absolutely control our thoughts, which eventually effect our emotions. We need to remember that our thoughts don’t need to end at our present circumstances. Instead, we have so many promises that God has given us to which we can hold fast—even in the darkest moments. Promises like:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” –Jeremiah 29:11

The LORD is my light and my salvation—
so why should I be afraid?
The LORD is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
when my enemies and foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
I will remain confident.
–Psalm 27:1-3

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. –Romans 8:28

And the list goes on! I encouraged them to spend time meditating on the promises that God gives us. After all, following Christ is all about having a relationship with Him; and how can we expect to have the faith to trust in his plan if we don’t know Him? And how do we get to know Him? – by spending time in His word and knowing His promises for us! We live in a fallen world, and bad things are going to happen, but when we walk with Christ we can trust that He has already overcome the world!

I had the opportunity to tell them that even when times are difficult, there are people in their lives who deeply love them. They might not have a family to fall back on, but they now know that Kate and I are only a phone call away; the house parents at each of the homes where they grew up are only a call away — they are not alone.

So many times in my life, I have found myself in need of the very advice and reassurance that I am giving. As I reflected over the conversations this week — in the midst of our present financial circumstances — I was amazed at how much I needed to take my own advice. Yes, we are facing large obstacles. Yes, there will be difficult times and trials ahead, but I needed to be reminded of the Lord’s promises to me. He will never leave us or forsake us. The large hurdles in our path are nothing for Him. We continue to trust in His plan — not ours!

Please remember Kate, myself, and these four young men in your prayers this month. Pray that the Lord would guide us through our trials, and pray that we would be constantly reminded of His promises and His plans for our lives. Often, they don’t coincide with our own personal plans, but we step out in faith and we trust that these guys’ future, our future, and this ministry’s future is in the hands of the One “…who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” – Ephesians 3:20

— Billy & Kate

P.S. We are so thankful for many of you who are currently supporting us financially. Your prayers and support are invaluable to us, and we literally would not be here if it wasn’t for your encouraging us to pursue our calling! If you do not currently support financially and feel led to contribute (either to us personally or to the children’s homes), or if you feel led to increase your current support, we would be honored and glad to talk with you. Feel free to send either of us an email!

End of a Season

It’s the end of August and we’re finally able to come up for air after this year’s volunteer team season. It is always a good feeling to be on this side of the season knowing that life is going to be slowing down, suitcases have time to air out and a resemblance of a routine starts to form.

This season we hosted 14 volunteer groups from across the United States and Scotland. Hundreds of volunteers arrived at the Lima airport and spent the next week or two working at our Girasoles homes. We had some great interns who helped us by traveling and translating for the groups.

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And as always, the house parents at each of the Girasoles homes were welcoming and organized some fun activities. The final night groups were at the home in Ica, the house parents Sabino and Esther coordinated a cena de gala celebratory dinner for the group and Girasoles. It was a candlelight dinner on the patio where new friendships were celebrated.

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And the usual evening activities in Kusi ensued.

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We spent a lot of time at the Lima airport – either to meet a group or traveling to Iquitos or Cusco.

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And ate many pollo a la brasa meals (yum!).

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We helped with translations and testing water samples.

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And we got to spend a lot of time with the children in our Girasoles homes.

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Each volunteer season there are always special moments that remind us why we are here or make it evident that God is working in these children’s lives. For me, it was one afternoon while in Ica.

Each time we take a group of volunteers to the city of Ica to work in our Girasoles home, we rent a water truck to go out into a nearby shantytown to deliver free water to a community that doesn’t have electricity, running water or sewage system. The houses are built out of 6×6 feet straw mats and the streets are just dust and sand. Very easily the people that live in this part of town could spend up to 50% of their income on water alone.

When I go with groups to deliver water, I like to take some of the boys that live in our home with us. They are extra hands to help carry heavy buckets of water and they can help spread the word that free water is coming.

This particular day, Sabino and Esther, the house parents in Ica had 10 boys accompany us to Tierra Prometida, the community where we would be passing out water. For two of the ten boys, it was their first time going out to deliver water. After quick instructions and an explanation of why we were there, the boys joined the group gathering empty buckets and returning them with free, clean water.

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I can’t even begin to express how proud I was to see these boys generously serving their community. They carried countless heavy buckets without being asked and worked together like I have never seen before, all without a single complaint about how hot it was under the desert sun or expecting something in return. As high school kids who live in a children’s home, they are always the beneficiaries. More often than not, they only have their time and strength to give. It was amazing to see the young men that Billy and I normally serve going out and serving their community with what they had to offer.

We all have something to offer whether it be your time, talents or treasures and we think it is important that the kids we work with realize that they have something to contribute as well and can become servants of a world in need. Our message to each child in our care is that they do not have to be defined by their past or current situation. Instead we share that God created them in His image with a specific purpose.

For that reason, they have infinite value, are worthy of being loved and are worthy of sharing that love with others.

– Kate & Billy

PS. Would you consider helping us continue working here in Peru? You can find out more about us and give online through United World Mission by clicking here.

4 years.

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Monday marked 4 years of living and working in Peru and it’s hard to believe that another year has passed.

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Year 4 was different than the previous years since we spent about 5 months on home ministry assignment visiting supporting churches, friends, and family. We definitely enjoyed our time in the States but are also happy to be back in Peru.

I’ve traveled 65,854 miles (that’s 885 hours or 36.88 days of travel) over these past four years here in Peru, going to & from Scripture Union’s seven homes for abandoned & at-risk children. I have met many people from around Peru and all over the United States that come as short-term volunteers.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve lost my voice translating games with the boys. Or how many times I’ve sat at a table with friends to eat the Peruvian classics. Or how many fields and dusty paths I have walked in the same pair of trusty Chacos. Or how many fútbol games I have watched on dusty soccer fields under the setting sun. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have laughed or smiled with the Girasoles boys and staff.

Both Billy and I are so thankful to the individuals, families and churches that generously support us with prayer and finances. We would not be able to continue working here without your help.

I can’t wait to see what the next few years bring to this ministry and the lives of the children we work with. The best is yet to come.

– Kate

National Conference in Kawai

Earlier this month, Scripture Union Peru hosted it’s third national conference in Kawai for all of it’s staff members, volunteers and directors. Since the conference was just a few weeks after our return to Lima, it was a great opportunity to see all of our friends and co-workers all in one place and be able to catch up with them during the week at the beach!

The theme of the conference was “Somos Familia” (we are family) and all of the sessions talked about the history, principles and ideology of the movement. It was a great opportunity for each of Scripture Union’s six ministries to interact together (something which doesn’t typically happen on a daily basis) and for staff members all over the country to get to know each other.

Each ministry director led a morning devotional and each day an invited speaker was asked to present something relating to the theme of the week. One of the most principle ideas of the Scripture Union movement worldwide is the use of volunteers to expand the ministry and many of the sessions talked about the importance of volunteers.

I was asked to document the week-long conference and wanted to share some of the photos from the sessions.

The week started with an inauguration ceremony in the chapel in Kawai.
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The inauguration ended with flags representing the departments where SU Peru is currently working.
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National director, Juan Alvear
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Paul Clark, sharing about the beginning of SU in Peru
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Celebrating 25 year of ministry in the jungle city of Iquitos
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Billy translating for Clayton Fergie, from Scripture Union International
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Just a small part of the great Girasoles team that work at SU’s seven homes for abandoned and at-risk children
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It was a great week with friends while we learned about the history and principles of Scripture Union’s work in Peru.

– Kate & Billy