Released in the Midst of Quarantine

A few years ago, I briefly wrote about the opportunity I had to connect with two men who had aged-out of a children’s home years ago and subsequently ended up in prison. Since returning to Peru in September, I have started visiting them again.

One of the 21 cell blocks at the Lurigancho Prison in Lima

Needless to say, the prison system here is very different than in the United States. Lurigancho Prison, where these two men are, is the most overcrowded jail in the entire country. Originally built with a capacity for 2,500 inmates, the prison now has 7,000 within its walls. The prison is so severely understaffed that the guards have turned the control over to the inmates themselves. For the most part, the guards just keep a perimeter around the jail and maintain a presence at the main gate. Inmates are more or less free to do as they please within the walls of the prison. It goes without saying that this system opens the door for countless human rights violations and corruption is an institutionalized part of the prison culture.

If you want to read more in-depth about the conditions in prison, I encourage you to read these articles from The Independent, from The British Medical Journal or this photo essay.

Peru began a nationwide quarantine due to the COVID-19 outbreak on March 16 that has been extended repeatedly (currently through at least May 10). As in other parts of the world, prisons here have been a hotspot for the spread of the virus. Over the last few weeks, there has been growing unrest among prisoners nationwide that has now begun to boil over. The strict quarantine means that no visitors are allowed in or out, which means that no money, drugs, prostitutes, etc. are able to come or go—all of which are critical to maintaining homeostasis in the prison. Aside from that, there are anecdotes that the coronavirus has run rampant among the inmates, and there is almost no healthcare available to them. Earlier this week, a riot broke out in another jail in Lima that resulted in the death of nine inmates.

Inmates at Lurigancho Prison on the roof holding up a banner demanding Coronavirus tests

One of the guys I have been visiting was very excited that his sentence of seven years in jail was coming to an end on April 25. At the same time, he has been quite nervous for a number of months as to what life is going to look like after prison. Having no family, no financial assets, and a criminal record, his options are bleak. On top of this, he has struggled with drugs and alcohol. I am excited to say that our partner ministry, Paths of Hope, and Health Bridges International are partnering together to walk with him as he tries to build a life for himself.

April 25 came and went. He was not released. A few more days went by, and this past Tuesday he was called into processing to be let out. He was asked for a bribe in exchange for his prompt release; even if he wanted to pay he didn’t have any money. In exchange, he was set free nearly two hours past the nation-wide 6pm curfew. No one is allowed on the streets, and there is no public or private transit allowed. He called me from a pay phone to let me know what was going on, but there was nothing anyone could do. He spent his first night of freedom making the long walk (without so much as shoes on his feet) from the prison to the historic center of Lima, about seven miles.

He later told me that he found a deflated air mattress that had been left out for trash. He wrapped himself up in the mattress as best he could and spent the remainder of the evening sleeping in a park. He told me that it really wasn’t that bad and said honestly, it was more comfortable than his sleeping arrangements in jail. There were times when he would have to share an old foam twin mattress on the floor with up to three other inmates and another time when he was literally locked in the garbage room for a week (his punishment for being accused of stealing from another inmate).

He called me early the next morning. We were still not allowed on the streets to go and see him because of the strict quarantine orders, but we were able to have an authorized taxi send him a care package that we had worked on putting together with Carmen, from Health Bridges. We sent some new clothes, non-perishable food items, a Bible, a journal, toiletries, a little bit of cash and an old cell phone. He explained exactly where he was standing and what clothes he was wearing. We sent the taxi out, praying that the driver would find him. In no time at all, he called me from the cell phone to let me know that the handoff had been a success!

Now that we had established an easy line of communication, we had one final hurdle – housing. While there are a few ministries and programs in Lima who work with and house ex-inmates and struggling addicts, no one is able to take him in until after the quarantine ends. A stable job would be incredibly hard for him to come by under normal circumstances. In our current situation, it is impossible. Our goal, then, was to find a safe place where he would be able to stay temporarily until the quarantine ends. The problem is that almost all hotels and hostels are closed by government decree. A small team of us made phone call after phone call while our friend walked through the streets looking for a place to stay. We kept coming up empty. Eventually, I found a hotel who said that they would be able to receive him with room and board – only to find out later that their Google Maps place marker was wrong. They were located far away in the jungle, not the city of Lima! We called and called, but the 6pm curfew was looming, and there was no one available to take him in. Thankfully, after literally begging and pleading with the owner of a small mom-and-pop hostel, he found a room on the condition that he would leave first thing the following morning.

The next day yielded much better results. I eventually found a hotel that was offering food and lodging, as long as we prepaid upfront at the beginning of the stay. He is in much better spirits. He has spent two nights thus far, and we are asking that he self-isolate in his hotel room for the next two weeks.

Please continue to keep him in your prayers over these next weeks and months.

– Pray that he would be surrounded by a community who can continue to help him move toward his new goals, to turn a new page.
– Pray that he would feel supported and encouraged on the path that he has chosen, even in the absence of physical contact with friends and others who care about him.
– Pray for his long journey toward recovery, that the Lord would draw near to him and make His presence known in a brand new way.

I am so thankful to see the ways in which the Lord has provided for this young man over the last week in spite of having lived a life in which he has always felt that the deck was stacked against him.

We would not be able to show him this love and support if we didn’t have a community of friends, family and supporters like you assisting us.

Thank you for being a part of his life!

– Billy

Day 7 of 15

It’s day 7 of the 15 day mandatory quarantine here in Peru.

Timeline of events:
March 4: Will’s first day of preschool
March 11: President Martin Vizcarra cancels public and private elementary and high schools through the end of the month.
March 12: Universities and other higher education programs are also cancelled. Events/meetings with 250+ people are cancelled.
March 13: All flights to & from Europe and Asia are cancelled
March 15: Nationwide mandatory quarantine for 15 days announced to begin at 12:01am the following day.
March 16: Lima airport closes at 11:59pm for all flights (domestic and international).
March 18: President announces mandatory nightly curfew from 8pm until 5am and prohibits the use of personal cars.

Starting at 12:01am on Monday, March 16th we were all ordered to stay at home, and martial law has been enacted. Peru has mobilized the military and its police force to enforce these extreme measures. The first violation results in a verbal warning, and the second violation or any type of resistance results in immediate detention. Only people who work in healthcare, essential infrastructure, food production/sales, and a very limited number of public transit workers are allowed to continue working. All other businesses have been closed.

We are only allowed to leave our house one person at a time to buy food or seek medical attention. But, we have to stay within walking distance of our home to buy food – no private cars are allowed on the streets. The measures are even more restricted in the evening. There is a strict curfew in place from 8pm – 5am each night. We are not allowed to set foot in the street – not even to take out the trash. If caught out after curfew, people are immediately detained.

Needless to say, this is drastically affecting our rhythm of life! There is a little bit of anxiety – perhaps even more cabin fever – having to stay confined to a relatively small apartment, especially with a very active 3-year-old boy!

All in all, though, we are doing pretty well and in good spirits. We are thankful for technology that allows us to stay in touch with friends and family – both locally and internationally. We are thankful for time to spend together with family, and we are thankful that Will has had a great temperament for these first 7 days in lockdown. Each morning he comes into our room and asks if we can go to the park today, which is sad. We remind him that the parks are closed and that we are going to stay in the house for quite a few days, but reassure him that we will find lots of ways to have fun as a family! He accepts our answer and really doesn’t ask much more about not being able to leave the house. Kate and Will have been baking different treats every couple days and every other evening we’re watching a Disney classic from our childhood.

Day 2

Going a little crazy on a video call with family

Spent a little time outside in our building’s entryway with Will

Even the Fisher-Price Little People are participating in the quarantine.

Will watching online church this morning

Billy ventured out a couple days ago for the first time to head to the grocery store. It was odd to walk around the neighborhood. Lima is a city of more than 10 million people, usually full of busy noise, traffic, and horns honking 24/7. As he walked to the supermarket, all he could hear was the wind in the trees, and even some roosters crowing – a sound we almost never hear in this city!

Crossing the Pan-american Highway which normally would be full of cars, buses and trucks.

An eerily quiet, normally busy intersection near the grocery store

We were a little bit worried about how well stocked the supermarket would be, but we are thankful to say that there was no noticeable shortage of anything, not even toilet paper! As Billy walked into the store, they had personnel spraying alcohol into everyone’s hands, continuously cleaning the hand rails for the escalators, and wiping down the handles of the shopping carts before handing them over to new customers. The mood was calm, but sober.

(As things started to get restricted here and not knowing what was next or when, we started to gather essentials and stock up our pantry with non-perishables. Thankfully we have a full freezer of meals and ingredients to last us a bit. The Peruvian president, Martin Vizcarra has continually promised to ensure that there will be no food shortages across the nation, and we are comforted and impressed that they have been able to fulfill their word thus far.)

This situation has obviously altered our plans for ministry in the short-term, and though this slows down a number of projects, we do not need to grind to a halt. We continue to work from home, specifically devoting time to compile and develop materials for training volunteers, staff at children’s homes, and working to build a life skills curriculum for youth who are getting ready to graduate from children’s homes. Some of our upcoming meetings were able to be switched to virtual meetings, though many of them had to be cancelled or postponed. We are also using this time to work with our board of directors in the States to further develop our medium-term and long-term strategic plan as an organization moving forward.

Peru has taken fairly drastic measures in terms of trying to contain the virus – especially considering the relatively small number of cases present in the country. When the quarantine went into effect, there were 87 cases. This afternoon during his daily press conference the president shared that we now have 363 cases and 5 deaths here in Peru. Our prayer is that we would begin to see the fruits of these measures and that the outbreak would be controlled. When all is said and done, we appreciate that the Peruvian government has chosen to err on the side of caution as opposed to being overly lax.

We very much appreciate your prayers for us and for our country here in Peru.
— Pray for us, personally, that the Lord would use this time to bring us closer as a family. Overall, our levels of anxiety are fairly low, though it is a little bit disconcerting to know that we will probably not have an option to return to the States or to receive international visitors for an indefinite period. We had no immediate plans to return to the States, but something about knowing that we couldn’t if we wanted or needed to brings a sense of unease.

— Pray for our ministry as we continue to work toward developing multiple different projects here in Peru, that the Lord would continue to open doors and show us the path forward in the midst of these circumstances.

— We appreciate your prayers that the Lord would continue to provide for our financial needs as the global economy takes a downturn.

— Pray for this country. The percentage of people who live off of their day to day income is far higher here than in the States, so this mandatory quarantine is really stressing some of the most vulnerable among us.

— Pray for our friends, the staff and children in various homes across the country, that the Lord would continue to provide for their needs and that the staff would have the words and temperament needed to ease the children’s anxiety.

— Pray for opportunities for us to be able to share the hope that we, ourselves, continue to cling to that we find in the Gospel.

Thank you so much to those that have reached out to us and for your continued prayers. We are encouraged by you and the rest of our two church families at Ward and First Presbyterian. We are very aware that this virus is also drastically affecting life in Michigan and our friends and family across the United States. We are praying for health as you social distance and quarantine yourselves.

Stay safe and stay at home.

– Billy, Kate & Will

COVID-19 Mandatory Quarantine

Last night through a message to the nation, the president Martin Vizcarra declared Peru in a State of Emergency for the next 15 days. Borders (land, air and water) are closed and people are on mandatory quarantine.

One family member can leave at a time to buy groceries, medicine, or go to the hospital, all others are to work from home. Restaurants, schools, and beaches are closed and public parks are off limits!

Full details about what was implemented by the President can be found here from the UK Embassy in Peru.

The quarantine will greatly affect the economy, small businesses and people that are paid informally. Many people here live off what they make daily or weekly, and not are salaried employees. Most don’t have a surplus. We all are affected by this.

It will be an interesting next few weeks but we are thankful for the actions of the government taking such extreme measures so soon. The first case of COVID-19 was reported just 9 days ago and now there are 72 confirmed cases and I don’t doubt that there are many more untested. It is for our own good to stay home. It affects all of us.

We appreciate your prayers for the people and country of Peru, and that we’re able to stay healthy and sane while stuck at home with Will for the next 2 weeks.

– Kate, Billy & Will

Since meetings with groups of 250+ had already been cancelled, church yesterday was broadcast via livestream.

Looking Back and Moving Forward – Part 2

This is Part 2 of the blog post “Looking Back and Moving Forward.” If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.

In the prior post, I shared the ways in which the Lord has given us a heart for young men and women — specifically those who come from hard places — who are approaching adulthood or who have already entered adulthood. I shared some of the many obstacles that they face and areas of struggle as they move out of children’s homes and move toward becoming independent. I am intrigued by how often we use that word — independent — without really considering the true meaning. It is an interesting concept. In this context, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines independent as, “not requiring or relying on others.” Is this really our ultimate goal, our measure of success? In thinking about our own children, do we really hope that they never need to rely on others’ help?

I would argue that this concept is actually contrary to the way in which we have been designed—contrary to God’s very nature. In Genesis 1, we see our triune God (God who eternally exists in perfect community with himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) present in the creation of humanity: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” (Gen. 1:26). In the very next chapter, we see God exclaim, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Gen. 2:18). Keep in mind that this is still before sin entered the world; the idea that humans need one another is part of God’s design — not a consequence of the fall. In fact, up until this point in the story we see that everything that God declares about his creation is “good.” Yet, the existence of man without any type of community is “not good.”

We like to talk the talk of independence in the United States. We think about the idea of our children becoming independent as the moment when they move out of our home — either to attend college or to being working and providing for themselves. But are they really independent? I am willing to bet that everyone reading this has known an 18-year-old at some point in their life (or, perhaps, many 18-year-olds). I am also willing to bet that whoever comes to your mind was not ready to be independent — completely self-reliant; needing nothing from anyone. Perhaps this is just a game of semantics. We all know that when we talk about independence, we aren’t cutting ties from our children. We all know what we really mean.

Semantics or not, I believe that this is a conversation worth having—especially as we talk about working with at-risk populations who may not have a natural community or support structure as they move into adulthood. All of the structures that so many of us take for granted in our own communities simply aren’t there for these young men and women. What was just a theoretical conversation on semantics suddenly becomes a terrifying and isolating reality for some of the most vulnerable among us. They wonder what they are doing wrong—why “success” seems so evasive to them. They ask themselves why they seem to struggle so much more to live independently as they compare themselves to their peers.

I would posit that we need to substitute independent for interdependent: “dependent upon one another; mutually dependent” (Merriam-Webster). If we are inherently relational beings, created to live in community, then perhaps we should redefine the way we talk about mature, successful adults. Perhaps we should talk about maturing from a place of dependence, “I am completely reliant on others, with nothing to give,” to a place of interdependence, “I have needs, and I must rely on others to help me meet those needs. At the same time, I have much to offer, and I can play an active role in meeting my own needs as well as helping others around me.”

This is our aim as we partner with Paths of Hope and United World Mission here in Peru. Our mission statement reads, “Guide and support young adults to discover and pursue the purposes of God.” How do we get there? It is not by telling them that they need to be independent. It is by walking alongside them in relationship, living out what a life of interdependence looks like.

It is hard to believe that we are coming up on six months since we moved back to Peru! Time is flying, and I am excited to briefly share some of the projects that we are working on thus far. Our projects each fall into one of two categories:

First, we are working with young adults who are or who will soon be moving into adulthood — either graduating from a children’s home or coming from another high-risk situation. As such, we are building relationships with local churches who are wanting to partner in this endeavor. Our desire is to act as a catalyst between local churches and at-risk youth in their community. We hope to be able to enter into conversation with local churches about how we might be able to support them in a vision to reach at-risk youth and families around them, and we are in the process of developing different components of this ministry (mentoring, life skills classes, educational support, counseling, etc.). We are excited to say that we have identified our first church partner, and we are working with their leaders to launch a mentoring ministry for at-risk high schoolers in a local public school in the next couple of months! Additionally, we are working with a local girls’ home toward the same end.

Leading a training on the Biblical basis for mentoring and God’s heart for the most vulnerable among us.

Billy and Linda discussing next steps after a meeting with administration at a local public school.

Secondly, we are working on the preventative side. Our desire is to see a system change such that families are strengthened to be the community and support system that their children need. In cases where children simply cannot return to their family, we want to build other communities of support by better equipping staff at children’s homes along with working toward equipping potential foster families or adoptive families. We are excited that we are already involved in multiple projects along this front:

– Billy is now partnering with a local ministry, called the Shalom Center, to provide therapy to clients. Shalom specifically targets lower income families who have children with chronic disabilities—both physical and intellectual, and provides occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy services, in addition to counseling services.

Participating in the beginning of the year parents meeting at the Shalom Center.

– We are partnering with a local organization, Kids Alive, as we work to develop a program to connect families who come to them in the midst of crisis to members of local church congregations who are willing to serve as a supportive community to the struggling families. We are currently working to train church members to serve as mentors to these families.

– We are also partnering with Health Bridges International to develop and implement a staff training curriculum that is evidence based and rooted in best practices for the two children’s homes in their care: Girasoles Cusco and Girasoles Ica. These are two of the homes that Kate and I have been involved with for many years, and we are thrilled to be able to continue our relationship with them!

If you have made it this far, know that we so appreciate your interest in our ministry. We can accomplish nothing without constant prayer and support from people like you!

If you are interested in partnering financially, you can do so in two ways:

1. You can sign up online on our United World Mission profile, or

2. If you prefer to give by mail, please open and print this form. Then fill it out and mail it to the address provided.

Regardless of whether you are able to partner with us financially, we so appreciate your continued prayers for this new ministry.

This is the first time that we have been charged with building something from the ground up as opposed to joining a ministry that is already up and running. The task feels daunting at times, yet we are also excited to have the opportunity to build something in accordance with the vision that God has placed on our hearts!

– Billy and Kate

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First Day of School

Tomorrow is Will’s very first day of school.

Billy and I are a mix of emotions over tomorrow. Will is excited to meet new kids to play with, and we’re looking forward to seeing his Spanish vocabulary increase exponentially. But at the same time, it’s the beginning of a whole new rhythm for our family and something about it feels like our little boy is growing up so quickly!

Since we’re south of the Equator and seasons are flipped, the school year starts at the beginning of March and ends right before Christmas. That means ‘summer break’ is primarily in January-February and then there is a 2-week break at the end of July/beginning of August (mid- school year) that coincides with Peruvian independence holidays.

We mentioned the school search at one point last year when we moved back to Lima. Before doing much investigating, Billy and I thought that we would enroll Will in a preschool program that would meet 3 half-days a week – something similar to what we would find in the States – and then after a couple years he’d start school for kindergarten. In October, after talking with some friends here about Will starting school, we quickly realized that there was no such program and that we needed to figure something out ASAP if Will was going to start in the coming school year, March 2020! We didn’t want to wait too long to enroll him because we find value in the socialization of school and know that is where Will will get a strong foundation of Spanish language since we primarily speak English at home.

We began scouring school websites in Lima looking for options for where to send Will. Unfortunately, for where we live in Lima, we don’t have a public school option. We have always felt strongly about making sure Will is prepared to go to college (whether it be in Peru or in the States) and that he is able to fluently speak, read and write in both English and Spanish. Apart from a quality bilingual education, we needed to make sure the school was close enough to where we currently live so we’re not spending 45-60+ minutes each way in traffic to get there!

As we researched and set up school visits, we discovered that preschool is a little different here than in the States – it’s 5 days a week from 8am-12:30pm(ish) depending on the school and typically where you go to preschool is the school you continue through high school graduation. Knowing that Will could potentially spend the next 13 years at the same school made the decision more complex – the preschool is great but what about elementary/high school offerings? Thankfully the school tours we went on covered all of the grades and we were able to see each campus/infrastructure for all of the levels.

After many visits, pros/cons lists and much prayer, we decided to enroll Will at the San Ignacio de Recalde School’s preschool called Coloring Dreams. The name is a little silly but the school is what we were looking for for Will and we think it will be a great fit for him.

He’ll be a part of the 3 year olds class and one of, if not, the youngest kid in the class. He just turned 3 less than 2 weeks ago and most kids will turn 4 during the school year! We met his teacher, Miss Daniela, recently and he’ll be in the Dinosaurs class. He has a uniform to wear each day that consists of a white polo shirt, navy shorts (during summer months), and all white tennis shoes and has his backpack all ready to go. He will go to Coloring Dreams for 3 years and then when he’s 6 years old, transition to the main school for 1st grade.

Walking with his new backpack

Trying on the warm weather uniform

Buying school supplies

So tomorrow Will begins his educational career. Join us in praying for him as he embarks on a new adventure and grows in so many ways. Pray for his teachers, classmates and the three of us as we adjust to this new schedule and rhythm for our family.