Ruth watched as floodwaters flowed through her village. The rains had been falling for months. It was the spring of 2017 and the worst flooding Northern Peru had seen in fifty years.
People scrambled to salvage precious items from their homes and tried to save their animals. But soon it became too late. The rush of the current began taking people with it and finding higher ground became urgent. Nearby towns were already covered in water and helicopters were lifting people off rooftops and hillsides. Coordinating the relief effort was complicated as mobile phone services were cut off and electricity was scarce. Tens of thousands of homes eventually collapsed, buried under mud. Makeshift camps were set up to provide shelter for the hundreds of thousands of people who fled for safety.
Joanna Chapa had only been in the country for months at the time of the flooding. She and her teammate, Stacy Kuhns, were long-term MB Mission workers living in Piura. They experienced the chaos firsthand and had no idea how the disaster would affect their ministry and bond them with the local people, especially people like Ruth. Joanna and Stacy joined rescue forces that reached stranded families and brought people to safety. But many residents left their homes knowing that they would not be able to return even after the flood subsided, as most of their possessions were destroyed. Worse yet, many were separated from family members, and some had loved ones who were killed in the flooding.
“We could see the effects of the flooding not only on the infrastructure, but on the faces of the people,” said Joanna, “As they watched everything they owned disappear, you could see desperation in their eyes. They lost hope.”
Ruth found herself trapped during the flood. Having sought safety on a hill nearby to her home, she and her siblings watched as the waters rose and their escape routes quickly disappeared. Soon they were surrounded by water on every side. They felt very alone. Earlier in the day, Ruth’s father had left to seek out the rights to new land claims that were being given to families who’d lost their homes in the flooding. In his long absence, Ruth’s mother had left to search for him, leaving Ruth alone to care for her four younger siblings.
Eventually, evacuation boats located Ruth and brought her and her siblings to safety where they were met by Stacy and Joanna. Immediately, the two young women made arrangements to temporarily host Ruth in their home, which was called Casa Caminata, a discipleship center for young women. There, the other young disciples who had been received as family by Stacy and Joanna had the opportunity to welcome others in need. They were quick to provide comfort and support to Ruth and her brothers and sisters.
At the discipleship home, Ruth and her siblings waited to hear news from their parents. Together with Stacy and Joanna and the others in the home, they watched the devastating images shown in the media. As they waited, they prayed for their parent’s safety, hoping that they hadn’t lost more than just their home. After a long and agonizing week, they finally received good news. Their parents were alive, and the family was reunited. Joanna recalled how faith in God gave their Peruvian friends hope in the midst of the disaster. “They had this sense of ‘we’re gonna move forward.’ Somehow they believed that God could bring good even out of their pain and loss.”
As the waters subsided, Joanna and Stacy pulled on their boots and began working alongside the leaders and members of the thirteen MB churches in the area. “We embraced the opportunity to share what we have in Jesus, and to shine the light of Christ into a dark situation,” said Joanna as she reflected on digging furniture out of the mud. “It wasn’t just the physical work – it was the heart behind it, the sense of a family working together.”
The flooding also gave opportunity for people from around the world to give practical help and support. Within the MB family, several organizations came together to provide assistance to the Peruvian MB Conference of Churches. “The local churches were empowered to lead,” said Joanna, “and to take ownership of how they would respond to the crisis. It meant a lot that they could work as a family, supporting one another, honoring one another.”
Joanna and Stacy were encouraged by the cooperation between the organizations they worked with, but they also saw the positive effect that this unity had on local people who were being helped in the aftermath of the flood, people like Ruth. “She saw the support of God’s larger family,” Joanna said, “not only to walk through the trauma of the floods but to experience the practical love of community.”
After the flood, Ruth’s family had no choice but to move. They were given land where they could rebuild their home and restart their lives, but it was far from the city. For Ruth, it meant that she would be further away from the college she had hoped to attend. It felt like another painful loss in her life.
It was then that Joanna and Stacy invited Ruth to continue living with them at Casa Caminata where she could attend college and live in a supportive environment. Ruth was welcomed into a context where other young women were facing similar challenges, including loss and trauma, but they were surrounded by the love and care of a community where they could share their struggles in a safe place and learn to trust that God still had good things in store for them. In the discipleship house, Ruth began to study Scripture together with the other young women and learned to rely on God’s provision. They taught one another how to follow Jesus in new ways. “At first, Ruth felt like she had lost everything in the flood,” said Joanna. “But God has shown her how much he loves her, and reminded her that she does not need to carry her burdens alone. After the flood, she knows she has a bigger family. She has more brothers and sisters who care about her.”
For those who responded to this crisis last year by praying for Peru and providing financial assistance, thank you once again. Joanna and Stacy continue to work alongside the churches and invest in people like Ruth.
If you are interested in supporting our Urgent Relief Ministries, please go to mbmission.org/urgent-relief. Your gifts help churches respond to disasters and crises with emergency relief and post-disaster development. As they provide food, shelter and health care, our workers and churches bring a message of peace, love, hope and reconciliation.