Paucarbamba rolls on in a little corner of Huanuco in the Peruvian mountains with its own set of characters and stories...
There's the Ward Council, including the Relief Society President. We often run into her during the day, walking to or from a visit of some member of the church in need. She conducts all sorts of activities and has a quiet sense of order. Missionaries want every member to be like her-- if so, our work would be much easier and effective.
There's the Bishop, a short man named John Bravo who rides a motorcycle. He conducts meetings neatly and strictly, keeping things as tidy as possible in a culture where starting times of meetings are relative. His son, Hyrum, attends the Council, too. Streetwise and round-faced, the ten-year-old seems to know as much about the ward as his father, helping count the church attendance each week and offering suggestions of people who can help as we discuss activities in the council. While he seems to always be wearing a suit, his brother's generally in a baggy sweatshirt with a soccer ball. He always has a new secret handshake to show us.
There's our Ward Mission Leader, Junior, a recently returned missionary who plays the advocate for us missionaries and often accompanies us during the week. Many others listen and offer suggestions on how to fortify the ward and individuals.
Then there's the people we visit: V, a recent 14-year-old convert who, like everyone here, is an avid dancer, but he does it on a higher level. He speaks with a low voice except when he laughs, when it's a single high-pitched "Tee Hee!" It cracks me up.
We visit J, another young recent convert, and his insane verbal whirlwind of grandparents. To be honest, his grandfather F used to irritate me immensely, talking straight through us in a voice like a crab, sideways and scuttling. For the life of me, I still can't understand him, though the language is no longer a big problem. Then one day as we were talking with J, he burst into the room in a bright vest and a radio in hand, beaming proudly as a soccer score was proclaimed. Looking like he'd won the game himself, talking to no one in particular, he jubilantly explained what happened. Then I thought about how he always lays on his bed playing the harmonica wildly when we visit, how he unfailingly but a little resignedly lets us in each time, and how he was the one to forgive his wife and brother-in-law when one lesson became an insane triangular accusatory game of digging up the past that no one could penetrate. I decided I was a fan of the comical "abuelito".
Sometimes we come across interesting characters in contacts. We met a pitiless pastor the other day who coldly, condescendingly talked through us from scripture to scripture in a voice like a knife. I wondered whether he'd erased the gospel from his mind to make room for scriptures. This leader of the vastly popular and raucous MMM Paucarbamba church cut a stark contrast to the person in our next meeting- a man named Roberto.
Roberto lost one child to murder, another very recently to an illness without doctoral diagnosis, and two in infancy. The faithful man turned to God in each tragedy, wanting to know what mistakes he had made and how he could change them. He humbly listened as we taught God's Plan of Salvation, explaining that trials didn't always come from our sins and that he could see his children again. He defended us when his son noted cynically that we were very young. Both accepted to read part of the Book of Mormon and pray about it. In his concluding prayer, he blessed us adamantly. The Pastor's piety won't compare to this father's faith in the end.
Let's examine our religious tendencies and determine whether we use them to build ourselves up and note our righteousness, or to turn to Christ in complete recognition of how crippled we are. Christ said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the kingdom of God." These are truths that I have come to know better here in Paucarbamba, amidst a good people.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.