A chance encounter at a crowded airport set the scene for an adventure Michele WhiteEagle never imagined.
“Peru was never on my radar,” she said smiling from her Kamiah home.
After her last trip to Saipan in which she worked for three weeks building houses for needy families, Michele decided to open her heart and mind to the possibility of more missionary work, letting God direct her path.
Late last year she assisted hurricane victims in Saipan. That trip followed on the heels of the 2015 wildfires that devastated Kamiah. It was then she became acquainted with the Mennonite Disaster Services, who asked that she share some experiences at the Mennonite Disaster Services Bi-national annual conference in North Carolina in February.
“On my way back, they asked for volunteers for flights to get bumped, I’d never done that before so I didn’t know that they give free flight vouchers,” said Michele. She ended up being re-routed to Atlanta where she met Beth Larrison. “I saw this woman across from me and tried to get her attention several times, I felt like I was supposed to meet her for some reason,” added Michele.
Sitting in the crowded airport, the two shared mission stories. Larrison is heavily involved with BCM (Bible Centered Ministries) International and discussed her plan to go to Lima, Peru to help build a new house for a young man she knew. Her work in Peru mainly involved a children’s center where she cared for a young boy named Marlon Gonzales who was sent to live there when he was somewhere between 9-11 years old. His mother passed away from AIDS when she was 14 years old. He never spoke about his father.
“It really grabbed my heart,” said Michele, who later mentioned her desire to return to Peru and help with the children’s home.
Heavy rains caused massive flooding in Lima this spring, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without shelter, including Marlon, his wife Luz Del Mar Marin, and their small son.
The thought of assisting a team at Peru to build a house for Marlon appealed to Michele immediately, particularly after her own flooding issues in her basement this spring. The only thing standing in the way was how to finance the endeavor. Then she remembered the flight voucher she received and thought to herself, “Wow, I have this free ticket, so where are we going next God?”
When Michele returned home from the conference, she immediately prayed for God’s will. Going to Peru was expensive and would take more money than she had.
She confided about it with a close friend, but wondered if it was the Lord’s will to go to Peru. After prayer and much consideration, she got the confirmation she needed. Her friend called and told her she felt God was telling her to give Michele $1,000 for her trip.
On June 23 at 11:30 p.m., Michele boarded a plane for Peru. She was to meet with five other team members who would all stay in a dorm at the BCM Mission in Lima.
“I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t in the United States, I was in Peru,” said Michele. During her stay, she went to visit with some children who live at one of the BCM Missions and discovered that even though there was a language barrier, she didn’t have to speak Spanish to be able to communicate with them. “What they really wanted was interaction and attention, and you don’t have to speak their language to do that,” said Michele.
She was able to take in a few sites during the weekend she arrived in Peru, which consisted of a shopping trip to the big city of Lima and visiting some ancient ruins in the area. “When you’re in the city, it’s hard to believe that all around it is surrounded by poverty because it looks normal like the cities here. There are big shopping malls, skyscrapers, restaurants, and lots of traffic,” said Michele.
After a busy weekend, work on the house began on Monday morning. The small crew of six had the difficult task of building the framework for the house. The walls had to be built and put in place as well as the rafters for the roof, which all had to be finished by the end of the week.
It was discovered early on that Michele had a knack for cutting lengths of wood accurately so she spent much of her time at a chop saw. Eventually she found herself with a hammer in hand and helped with wall raising, something Peruvian women are not allowed to do. It is customary for the women to avoid tasks deemed only appropriate for men.
Something she found most interesting was that in Peru, people don’t have to buy land. “People can just “squat” on a piece of property and by making improvements like putting up a shelter or building a makeshift home, they can own it,” said Michele. This has resulted in the hundreds of thousands of meager dwellings that clutter the surrounding areas of Lima. With a population of approximately 10 million people, it is considered the third largest city in the Americas.
Michele has a genuine heart for helping people in need and loved her experiences in Lima as well as her time spent in Saipan. “Spending time with the children was my favorite part, even though I couldn’t speak their language. I felt like just being there with them meant a lot,” said Michele.
Since her adventure to Peru, she is praying and seeking God’s wisdom for future opportunities where she can be immersed in mission work, especially anything that involves children. “I hope I have a chance to go back and be a part of all of that, just to love on the children and hug them,” added Michele.