Today I swept and mopped the floor listening to Tony Bennet’s Christmas album.   It was bittersweet listening to carols knowing that it would neither be a “White Christmas” or even a slightly cold one here in Lima, but it was still nice to sing along to some carols since it is not as popular to listen to them here.  My first Christmas hymn to be sung in church will not happen until Thursday night when we have our Christmas service (since it is not traditional for people to go to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day).

Yes, the words of “I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams” rang too true.  Yet instead of focusing on what I am missing, I was inspired by an Advent reading in Luke 1:49. “For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”  In this part of the text, Mary has just received the shocking and mystifying news that she will give birth to God’s son.  With all of the chaos that comes with this announcement, Mary responds with gratitude. And there are so many things to be grateful for!!

This season of Advent, the women whom I work with at the Compassion Program took up a collection among themselves to pay for the repairs of my broken shoe, which I was not allowed to decline.  I am also grateful for the care packages I have received.  Two more churches donated generously to our mission, First Presbyterian Church of Angleton and First Presbyterian Church of Bryan.  Another church gave extra money from their end of year mission funds. This completes our fundraising goal and helped cover expenses at our Peruvian site!

I enjoyed the time that I was able to share with Hunter Farrell and Maria Arroyo while they visited Peru on official business.  I witnessed a formal covenant being signed between PC(USA) and the IEP (Evangelical Church of Peru). I was glad to get to preach at three different churches this Advent season. I also made my first Peruvian hospital visit to be with a young church member who survived two operations on his heart and is now recovering. I was glad I did not go alone because it was hard to find the hospital and even harder to find where a person was inside the hospital. There was also a special event at the church were they gave out nice toys to kids in the area suffering from extreme poverty.  It was heartwarming to watch them open their toys and play with them (even though there was a huge mess to clean up afterwards).

Like one of my fellow YAVs said in her blog, I am extremely grateful for SKYPE so that I can talk for free to family and friends with video.  That is a luxury that was not available when I studied abroad in Venezuela back in 2001.  Reading good books like The Hunger Games series and A Million Miles and a Thousand Years have brought me joy because reading for fun was not an option in seminary. I also recently stumbled across Dr. Pepper in one of the big grocery stores here.  It costs about a $1 per can, but an occasional taste of home is worth it. The adolescent group celebrated the end of the year with a time of reflection and a celebration with hot chocolate and paneton (Italian fruit cake). Participating in the decorating of the host family’s house was a special moment, as well as the many nights we have spent teaching them poker. I am very thankful that, though I am away from most of my family and friends, I have my darling wife with me to share in all the moments of anguish, triumph, frustration and even silliness.  It has been fun giving her a gift each day and watching her light up as I spoil her with 12 days of Christmas.

I am looking forward to meeting Sarah’s grandpa in Quito, Ecuador where we will bring in the New Year, and then Sarah’s parents visiting the first week of January to accompany us to Cuzco. What have you been grateful for this season of Advent (please comment below)?

Wishing special blessings to all of you this Christmas.  May God’s peace come near for you and yours.