Day 135

It’s day 135 of our COVID-19 quarantine and today is Peruvian Independence Day.

199 years ago, José de San Martín and his forces liberated Peru and proclaimed its independence from Spain on July 28, 1821.

During the last week, Will’s preschool class has been learning about the three regions of Peru (the coast, the mountains and the jungle) and how each region is geographically and culturally different from each other. The week culminated in a big Zoom call with all three 3-year-old teachers and the 12 students to celebrate Peru. Each student was asked to prepare a short video or live presentation of either a dance, poem or Peruvian dish/dessert. We chose a poem and found something within reason for our little 3 year old who is still just learning Spanish. Once we had the final recording, Will was so excited to be able to show it to his teacher Miss Dani the following day. He probably watched the video a dozen times and smiled each time.

The poem is an acrostic of PERU and roughly translates to the following:

P – We paint the nation with freedom,
E – As we fight with rifle and sword,
R – The reason for our only truth,
U – United, nothing is impossible!
Long live Peru!

(Miss Dani and the other teachers loved it).

Not much has changed since the end of June when the national quarantine was lifted for everybody between 14-65 years old and the country shifted towards a focused quarantine. Children and seniors were required to remain at home in compulsory social isolation (unless going on walks around their neighborhood). Since Will is just 3, that means he stays at home. This focused quarantine is supposed to end on July 31st but we’re unsure if that will be the case. Government officials have stated that we will not go back into a national quarantine but some regional and county officials have imposed quarantine on their districts. The daily numbers of positive tests aren’t going down yet and hospitals are filling up.

Billy and I continue to work primarily from home but Billy does go out occasionally for mentoring meetings or to take supplies to ministry partners.

Billy also has been participating in a 6-week training called “Advanced Trauma Competent Caregiving”, hosted by Trauma Free World and Back2Back Ministries. In 2015 both Billy and I participated in a 3-day Trauma Competent Caregiving training in Cincinnati, Ohio. It really was the first experience we had with working with children through the lens of trauma informed care. We had so many “aha” moments during the training that explained some of our experiences working with children who have come from hard places. It opened the door for doing more learning and research about the idea of trauma informed care and how we could share this information with the houseparents we were working with at the time. Since that training, Trauma Free World has continued to improve and refine their materials. Due to Coronavirus, the training that was going to be in-person ended up going virtual, making it possible for Billy to participate from Lima. This has been a good refresher of what we learned in 2015, and Billy is also working towards becoming an affiliate trainer of the Trauma Free World curriculum. We look forward to being able to share these materials with our partners and organizations here in Peru.

At the beginning of June we recorded a short video for the Global Mission Highlight during Ward Church service (Billy’s home church in Northville, Michigan). The video was recently shared during a Sunday morning livestream:

Because looking at pictures of Billy or I sitting at a desk working on a computer isn’t particularly interesting, here are some photos of Will having fun this past month.

We try to go for a walk, scooter or bike ride around the neighborhood every couple days, especially if it is a rare sunny day now that it’s winter. Will especially loves it when all three of us can go at the same time.

Playing with eggs, water and salt water for a preschool science experiment.

Will was in desperate need of a haircut since it was constantly falling in his face.

Thankfully we were able to book an in-home haircut for him!

Billy and Will on a Zoom call with Paths of Hope.

We appreciate your prayers as we continue working here in Peru. Pray that we are able to remain healthy and safe. Pray for the country of Peru. In the words of Will, pray that the virus goes away so we can go back to the playgrounds and that he can see his friends and teacher Miss Dani at school again soon.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

– Kate, Billy and Will

Day 107

It is day 107 of our mandatory quarantine and today, June 30th is our last day with the current restrictions.

Behind the scenes of Zoom meetings

A little Playdoh time while watching church in Michigan

Saturday morning pancakes with blueberries

Father’s Day celebration during Will’s preschool Zoom call

Father’s Day gifts made during preschool activities

Little by little, things have started opening up here in Peru. Last week, shopping centers were able to open at half capacity with the necessary sanitary protocols in place; like hand washing, temperature checks, more regular cleaning and masks. Masks are required any time you are not inside your private residence.

Late on Friday evening, the President and his cabinet announced that the State of Emergency would be extended through July 31st but that the quarantine would shift to a focused quarantine. The focused quarantine means that children under the age of 14, as well as people in high risk groups (such as adults over 65 and those with pre-existing conditions) must continue in compulsory social isolation. Sunday is no longer a mandatory curfew day (we were not allowed to go anywhere and all grocery stores, etc. were closed), the nightly curfew is now from 10pm until 4am, and more than 1 person can leave the house at a time – more on that later though.

There are 7 (of 24 total) regions in the country where the quarantine will not be relaxed, but the city of Lima is not in one of those.

So what does this mean for our family?

Unfortunately, not much will change for us overnight from June 30th to July 1st. At just 3 years old, Will is part of that focused quarantine population and must continue in compulsory social isolation. Either way, minors also are not allowed to go to grocery stores, markets, shopping centers or basically anywhere there would be a group of people. Since Will’s not quite old enough to stay at home by himself, either Billy or I will have to continue to stay home with him. When July 31st comes, Will will have spent 138 days in quarantine!

It is uncertain if we are allowed to take Will for a drive around the city and not get out of the car or go somewhere wide open without people to run around. He hasn’t been in a car since March 14th and it would make us all happy to see something new outside of our neighborhood!

The only real changes we will benefit from is that we no longer are restricted to our local district, Surco, for groceries or stores, and Billy will not need to get a special permit for the car when he goes to other districts within Lima for work.

Participating in our church’s small group Sunday school for 3 year olds over Zoom

Will was asked to draw a picture of his favorite part of preschool so he helped color his Zoom screen.

Will is still able to go on daily walks around our neighborhood as long as we remain within about 5 blocks of the house, and he is allowed to stay out for up to 1 hour each day. On Saturday morning I asked Will if he wanted to ride his bike or scooter around the nearby park and his answer was “no, bikes don’t go to the park, they are to be used on the roof!” After assuring him that we could, in fact, take it to the park, he decided to whiz around the neighborhood on his scooter for the first time in more than 3 months.

As part of the State of Emergency, the international borders will remain closed through at least July 31st. Any kind of group gatherings including religious services, parties, family get-togethers, etc. are prohibited through December. Schools in Lima will continue virtual learning for the remainder of the school year, but some remote schools with very low COVID-19 cases will resume in person classes because of their lack of access to virtual classes.

Since group gatherings are still prohibited, most of our work will continue to be carried out virtually. For the time being, our focus will continue to be direct mentoring where Billy regularly “meets” with a few of the young men we have been walking alongside over the past months/years. This means a lot of phone calls, WhatsApp messages and now occasional socially distanced meetings to see how they are doing. Since some of the larger stores recently opened, we were able to convert a corner of our bedroom into a little office space to make things easier to work from home. After many months of working while sitting on the bed while Will and I were in the living room, Billy was very happy to have a real desk and chair to use!

As always we very much appreciate your prayers for us, our ministry and for the country and people of Peru.

Please stay safe.

– Kate, Billy and Will

Day 69 of 107

It’s day 69 of our mandatory quarantine here in Peru.

The big news everyone has been waiting for came yesterday when President Martin Vizcarra announced that the current State of Emergency will be extended through June 30th, which will mean a total of 107 days of mandatory quarantine.

So far, many of the quarantine rules have stayed the same; 1 person allowed to go to the grocery store/bank/pharmacy at a time, no driving personal cars, and masks are required outside of the home. But, a few things have been relaxed. We have a nightly curfew that was initially from 6pm to 6am, but now over the past four weeks it has gradually been relaxed to 9pm to 4am. Over the last couple weeks, restaurants have been able to re-open for delivery and carry-out which has been a welcome change. For restaurants to be able to open again they need to re-apply for a new operating license that includes extra sanitary protocols. Slowly, the Ministry of Health has been approving these licenses and restaurants are able to bring employees back to work and start serving the public. After 62 days of preparing all our meals at home we were able to order pizza delivery!

Restaurant delivery has started again with some new social distancing protocols

Long line of people waiting to get into the grocery store around the corner, about 600 yards from the entrance

Temperature check as customers walk into the grocery store

The other big change in regulations affects children. Since May 18th, children 14 and under are allowed to go for a walk around the block and get some fresh air. One parent is allowed to leave with up to two children at a time, and they are only allowed within 500 meters (about 4.5 football fields) from home. They are not allowed to go to businesses that are open, like grocery stores, neighborhood bodegas and bakeries, nor can they use playground equipment. To discourage their use, some local city governments have wrapped snow fencing around the structures. One district even removed the equipment from their parks completely until further notice. Thankfully, we live quite close to a wide open park, and right now in quarantine, our neighborhood is quite quiet with very few pedestrians walking around. We have ventured out of the house for our 30 minute walks with Will three times this week and the joy that exudes from him to be able to be outside is contagious. The moment we leave the front door of our building Will takes off running while pointing out different things he sees (like butterflies, birds, dogs, etc.) as he races by.

Will about to leave the building for the first time in 65 days

Running through the empty park

Since our last update, Will has started daily Zoom calls and videos with his preschool teacher and classmates. While it is not as ideal as in-person classes at this age, we can already see Will learning new Spanish vocabulary and songs through his classes. Will has turned into our little sous chef and has been helping in the kitchen and enjoying “helping” wash dishes. Thanks to technology, we’re still spending lots of time keeping in touch with family and friends.

Will’s 3 year old preschool class on Zoom

Lining up black beans on a worksheet during class

Being creative with paint

Blowing kisses to Uncle Matt

Wishing a happy birthday to our friend, Jimmy, during his quarantine birthday

While thankfully we are doing okay, the quarantine has been devastating for many Peruvians. The percentage of people who live off of their day-to-day income is far higher here than in the States. The majority of Peruvians use the money they earn today to feed themselves tomorrow. Having an emergency fund is non-existent and this mandatory quarantine has really stressed some of the most vulnerable among us. Despite interprovincial roads being closed to bus and car traffic, thousands of Lima residents have attempted to migrate out of the city and back to their family land in the countryside. Most of them can no longer afford to continue living in Lima without work and the thought is that they can return to the family home and at least farm their land for food. These articles from Foreign Policy and The Nation paint a bleak picture of what many are facing. This video from Uncovered is heartbreaking and tells the story of just one of the thousands of families who are trying to get home.

Amidst all of this, we continue meeting with our Paths of Hope partners over Zoom. Unfortunately, our projects that work with schools will need to be postponed until a later date since it looks like schools will not resume in-person classes until the 2021 school year. And, Billy has had to pause his meetings with therapy clients since many do not have access to the internet at home for virtual counseling. For the time being, our focus has shifted more towards direct mentoring where Billy regularly “meets” with a few of the young men we have been walking alongside over the past months/years. This means a lot of phone calls, WhatsApp messages and Zoom calls to see how they are doing.

Billy learning about Huberth’s recent architecture projects for his university classes.

Billy has been conversing daily with the young man who was recently released from prison (you can read about his story here). Since being released on April 28th, he has been self-quarantining at a hotel because people aren’t renting rooms or apartments right now. And, it’s even harder to find basic essentials like a bed or rice cooker even if he was able to rent a room. We’re working in coordination with Paths of Hope and Health Bridges International to connect him to opportunities as he thinks about long-term plans. We were able to connect him with a small group at church who is wanting to walk alongside him during this transition. About a week ago, Billy was able to get a special work pass as a therapist to take supplies and visit with him at the hotel – all from an appropriate distance. It was the first time they have seen each other outside of the prison walls in years.

Billy meeting in the hotel lobby

We very much appreciate your prayers for us, our ministry and for Peru.

— Pray for us, personally, that the Lord would use this time to bring us closer as a family.

— 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. Pray specifically for those that are struggling to survive due to the restrictions imposed by the quarantine and those that have become seriously ill or have lose a loved one to COVID-19.

— 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 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. 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.

– Kate, Billy and Will

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