After 18 hours of travel, 44 weary travelers from Puget Sound Adventist Academy (PSAA) in Kirkland, Wash., stumbled into a misty airport in Iquitos, Peru. They peered out of windows fogged with humidity to get their first glimpse of where they would be spending the next 14 days on a mission and travel adventure with the People of Peru Project (POPP).
Fifteen years earlier, the heart of POPP founder Paul Opp was touched by those he met in Iquitos’ streets. For him, seeking a way to lend aid to the city’s needy, especially the children, became the catalyst for a life mission in the area. The PSAA missionaries too would soon feel the pull of Peru’s beautiful people as they interacted with them in a variety of ways. From construction to clean up and from painting to playing with neighborhood children during Vacation Bible School, their time in Iquitos was graced by the gratitude, enthusiasm and hospitality they encountered. It was as refreshing as a daily afternoon downpour after a sizzling day’s work.
Achieving construction projects during the rainy season is always difficult. However, while waiting for things to dry did affect progress, morale was high. It was an added blessing that the mission trip's last day was completely clear, allowing the PSAA team to make quick work on the five project sites. By the end of the week, foundations for new buildings had been poured, a riverboat painted and upgrades made to the POPP Poppy’s House, a home for young girls. The PSAA mission group had worked diligently though rain, mud and heat and accomplished much with an equal amount of laughter.
Despite their busyness by day, everyone’s favorite hour was when it was time to hop aboard their rattley bus, with its magical maximum capacity, and bump their way to VBS for the evening program. Like so many happy clowns, they tumbled out at the community center and right into the excited, waving and waiting arms of the Iquitos children. Enthusiastic singing, storytelling and games ensued, all put on by PSAA students. Spanish students had a chance to put their skills to use, and they did a great job leading out and interacting with the VBS kids, whose number grew to almost 100 by the end of the week.
Saying goodbye to Iquitos, the PSAA crew embarked on the second phase of their adventure — a journey into the Amazon, followed by a trek to Machu Picchu. Challenged, enamored and awed by these excursions, the team felt the impact of the diversity of these experiences.
Every person on the trip has personal stories that tell of the positive influence intrinsic to mission. While they served the people of Peru, in the end they returned home blessed by the Peruvians in ways that transcend time and distance. The reason why is evident: That’s how love works.