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Lessons From The Jungle
Laura-Lee Lovering shares four lessons from her time living in the Peruvian jungle. Laura-Lee moved to Peru in 2012 to live in the north-eastern jungle region. She lived there for nearly ten years before she relocated to another city within the country. It was a very remote, hot and humid environment: beautiful, but physically uncomfortable. She loved her time living there, and her recent change of location and ministry has given her the chance to reflect on the years she spent there.
Lesson 1- Praising and Serving Amidst the Discomforts and Imperfections
In Philippians 4:11-13 Paul speaks about his experience of knowing contentment in all circumstances. These verses relate to material need and comfort, and the grace that God gave to him to overcome difficult things and continue with the work that he was doing.
Before moving to Peru, Laura-Lee was part of a modern church in a city in the UK. The experience was comfortable, smoothly delivered and easy to engage with. Every time of worship felt spiritual. She then landed in Peru and moved to a small city called Nauta, in the middle of a large jungle area. She remembers her first church meetings, where there were many distractions during the service. Not only was there lots of noise, but the preacher jumped between different subjects and bible verses, everyone sat on uncomfortable benches, and the music wasn’t of a high standard. On top of this, it was very hot, and everyone spoke a language that Laura-Lee was still learning.
In time, you learn to cope with the heat and you learn the language. But the way that the church service works stays the same. Early on, she asked herself whether she was willing to make the effort to worship God alongside her Peruvian brothers and sisters: to seek out God on their terms, regardless of the challenges to herself. She questioned how much of her spirituality was based on the sleek packaging of church life.
Laura-Lee suggested that maybe we don’t have to be as worried about making our churches perfect in an imperfect world.
Lesson 2- God’s Faithfulness Is Not A Gamble
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul speaks of God’s power being made perfect in weakness.
We can recognise God’s strength in us when we first are willing to acknowledge our own weakness, and we are able to rejoice in God’s rescue of situations when we accept that the world is out of our control. We don’t always understand how it works, but we know his faithfulness is not a gamble.
Laura-Lee shared how she lived in the Amazon for nearly ten years without serious illness. She chose to live 100km away from the regional capitol Iquitos in the smaller and less developed city of Nauta, with just two health centres. In 2015 she got appendicitis, but instead of being at home alone in Nauta, she was in Iquitos for the night with a friend. There she was able to access a good quality hospital. She reflects on how differently this would have turned out if she had been in Nauta instead. Experiences like this have convinced her that God’s faithfulness is trustworthy.
When Covid struck and the health system collapsed, Laura-Lee was confident that she would be okay, because God had demonstrated that he would look after her. When she caught Covid, her Christian neighbour had a dream of her being home alone with no-one to help. The neighbour knew that she should go and offer help, just at the time when her symptoms were at their worst.
Hebrews 10:23 speaks of holding fast to the confession of our hope. We are not taking a chance with God’s faithfulness, but have certainty.
Lesson 3- Being Thankful Is A Decision Not A Feeling
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 encourages us to give thanks in all circumstances, and Philippians 4:4-7 tells us to rejoice always. The exhortation is not that God promises to remove all of our problems, but that he will grant us peace in the midst of them.
The Peruvian jungle is an environment of uncertainty and flux, where humans live at the mercy of nature. Many live off the land, or have informal jobs. Their lives are precarious. Without knowing or paying the right people, there is little chance of getting anything done. Corruption is systemic, and justice is absent. The result is an environment where assurances turn out to be meaningless and planning is aspirational.
People will wait a long time for a church service to begin without complaint: at least it has started late rather than not at all! As a westerner valuing punctuality, Laura-Lee finds this humbling. Early on she found it frustrating, thinking of all the things that she could have done with the time. But when she saw her brother next to her with less security already worshipping and praising God she asked herself, who is really pleasing God? The worshipper or the complainer? Who is walking in the Spirit and who in the flesh? To rejoice is a command not a suggestion.
Hebrews 4:15 speaks of how we have a God who knows what it is like to be human. Jesus understands our daily experience. We can relate to him and him to us based on our common experience of being human. When Laura-Lee stepped out of British culture and into the jungle, this theory became a revelation for her. Life for a first century, working class Jew like Jesus was precarious. There was a lack of social security, people lived off the land, and corruption was common. The disciples and Paul didn’t talk about the importance of punctuality. She realised that Jesus, his disciples and Paul probably had more in common with her Peruvian brothers and sisters than with her. It was easier for them to relate personally to Jesus’ life and teachings.
Lesson 4- The Importance Of Learning From Those You Presume To Teach
Laura-Lee went to Peru as a biologist and environmentalist, with an intention to teach on biblical foundations for creation and environmental care. She went with what seemed like an adapted and appropriate script for the jungle context, but on arrival she had to start again. She realised that she needed to stop trying to contextualise all of the bible passages for her students, because the biblical context already spoke directly to their lives.
In Genesis 3, a key passage when considering creation care, God spoke about the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. They learnt that food production would be hard: ‘By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread’. In the jungle Laura-Lee saw people sweat every day to put food on the table. She couldn’t spiritualist this verse: she found that she was the one who had to change. She stopped talking about creation care, as it seemed patronising to people who sweat every day to wrestle bread from creation. She began talking about creation stewardship instead.
Laura-Lee highlights the importance of this fourth lesson, since all of the other lessons were learnt from those that she lived alongside.