It was last year at just about this time when we arrived in Lima, Peru. There were just a few of us. We were there to meet our mission partners, to find out more about the work the churches were doing, to meet some of the people and hear their stories. There were just a few of us, and we had only been in Peru for about a day and a half when we set out to find a church called "Vida Nueva." New Life.
We had a morning in a nearby market, and then we were to set out. We knew that the church was quite a distance away, out in the hills -- the outskirts of Peru. The church boasted a landmark -- a large statue of of Jesus with arms outstretched. The idea was to get to the church, meet some of the members who were waiting for us, and then climb the steps up to the Jesus with Outstretched Arms.
You can't miss him. Jesus, that is.
And it was true. When we neared the area, we could see the statue off in the distance. We knew we were close, and we began to ascend into the hills, up narrow and winding gravel roads, past small businesses and houses.
And as we ascended we lost sight of Jesus. The statue that is. The one with outstretched arms.
We were sure we were close. We had GPS, but it didn't seem to do any good. We called the church, but the women there did not know exactly where we were, and did not know how to tell us what direction to go to get to the church.
We opened the windows on our van, and fearlessly questioned anyone walking by. "Have you heard of Vida Nueva?" we asked. Some had heard of the church, but they weren't sure exactly where it was. Some pointed us in a certain direction. Some had not heard of Vida Nueva. It seemed like we were going in circles. There were several dead ends. It was getting later in the afternoon, and we knew if we didn't find the church soon, we would have to return home in defeat.
Then someone in the car shouted and pointed, "There it is!" We spied the statue in the distance again. At the same time we saw a young woman walking down the street. "Do you know where to find Vida Nueva?" we asked again. She used to go there, she said, so she knew exactly where it was. She got in the van and took us there, and we were so close, but we had been driving around in circles.
Once we got to the church it was too late to make the pilgrimage up to the status of Jesus with Outstretched Arms. But we got a tour of the small church, learned a little bit about their ministry with children, and then my husband pulled out his guitar and we sang a few songs together. We sang in Spanish, a language I barely knew, and we sang songs I had been struggling to learn. We sang "You have Come Down to the Lakeshore" in Spanish, and when the little group of women began the refrain, with the word, "Señor!", it was as if the Jesus with Outstretched Arms had come down to us. I had sung this song many times before, and, truth be told, I was singing it for the first time that afternoon, with a lump in my throat and gratitude for the community.
We were so lost, and then we were found.
It has been a year since that journey, and suddenly the image of the Jesus with Outstretched Arms appeared again, and I remembered. I remembered the winding dusty roads and the feeling of futility. I remembered our guide rolling down the windows and asking everyone she met for directions. I remember the ramshackle houses, and the vivid colors, and I remember the glimpse of Jesus, and I remember how our voices were raised together, theirs carrying mine. I remember the shaft of light in the small chapel.
We drive in circles most of the time. At least I know I do. The GPS that is supposed to tell me exactly where to go -- doesn't always work the way I would like. Even when I know what I'm looking for (which isn't always the case). "Vida Nueva." New Life. The Jesus with Outstretched Arms.
I know that is the case for my congregation as well. Sometimes we drive around in circles. The path to new life, it seems, should be clear, and I should be able to lead them there on a straight path. But maybe part of the point is getting lost, rolling down the windows and asking for directions. Maybe part of the point is the hard humility gained by going around and around in circles, until you really learn to see what is around you, what you have been missing: the sound of the singing, the outstretched arms, the vivid colors, the hunger.
And then, and then -- Vida Nueva will find you. The Jesus with Outstretched Arms.