Embracing Generosity with a Grateful Heart

Trip Start Jun 06, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Minnesota
Thursday, September 13, 2007

        How does one sum up a summer of learning, of adventure and insight?  What was the source of life to bring these things about?  After much reflection, I conclude that the source was a deep spring of generosity.  Generosity sustained me from the beginning and renewed me until the end.  My family and friends were generous in prayer and encouragement, and the Peruvians poured out generosity in food, shelter, and wisdom.  In light of all I received, gratitude is the Alpha and Omega of my final entry.
Xenos: The Sacred Bond of Stranger and Host
        After 30 hours in airports and airplanes from winter weather in Lima, to Panama, Miami, and Houston, I returned to summer sun in Minnesota at the end of August.  Since my return I have spent a couple hours every day re-learning Ancient Greek for a seminary placement exam on the 14th of September at Princeton.  In one of the earlier vocabulary lists I encountered the word xenos.  The definition is a confusing coupling of both the words stranger and host.  My confusion disappeared after learning of the sacred bond that links these two concepts.  This bond comes from the religious duty and social obligation in Ancient Greek culture to harbor a hungry traveler without a place to rest.  This is a beautiful phenomenon that did not entirely survive in 21st century United States.
        Social obligations are different here.  Today, in the states, if a travel-worn stranger knocked on our door and asked to spend the night our only social obligation would be to call the police!  Such a response stems from a mix of disinterest in the stranger and/or an obsession with security (not always a bad thing...). 
        Thankfully this unshaven, gibbering stranger (me) was in Peru and things are different there.  The Peruvians must feel a social duty to gringos.  They often have a disinterest in their security and an obsession with sharing a beer, a meal, or a bed (to your dismay or delight this entry is void of any of my romantic endeavors).  I experienced the bond of stranger and host.  In exchange for what I received, I shared many stories of the U.S. and other places I have traveled.  I was the source of great laughter, mostly due to my foreign and odd/incorrect forms of communicating.
        Some of the stories I shared with my hosts were about my family.  I'd like to share a new story with you, the generous hosts of my sporadic and at times unshaven entries.  This occurrence reminded me of the religious duty that the caring Greek host felt for the traveler.  In place of the caring Greek, my brother showed great generosity in response to the commitment and love he had for me.
        My parents, brother, and his girlfriend, Patti, spent a few days together up north in our red cabin in Backus, MN.  After a day of water-skiing, swimming, laughing and chatting, we dried off, kicked back and continued to relax.  At 8:00 p.m., during a predictably perfect evening preparing dinner and enjoying the quiet, a random, noisy alarm shrieked in the cabin.  I thought, "Yet again cell phones interrupting the serenity and peace of the calm and careless countryside."  Slightly annoyed and curious we asked my brother, the source of the racket, why he had a random alarm go off at 8 p.m.  His response transformed annoyance to gratitude and set my heart beating with thanksgiving.
        He answered, "Sorry, it's my daily reminder to pray for Tommy Boy." 
        Mike, you are an incredible brother.  Everyday, in fulfillment of his commitment to pray for me while I was away, my brother heard his alarm at eight o'clock, morning and night, to take a moment and pray for a blessed journey and my safety in Peru.  I believe his generous offering of prayer and commitment to me was an integral part of the blessing of hosts that I encountered in Peru.   It warranted just as much gratitude as any meal or set of directions I received this summer (no matter how hungry or lost I may have been).
        I was lost just about everyday in Peru.  All of the backtracking and wandering led not only to an empty stomach but to a great deal of dependence on my Peruvian hosts.  I was astray and hungry; vulnerable and needy.  In such a state it is difficult to know who to trust and easy to be taken advantage of.  At times it is unwise to accept someone's generosity as it could be deceit or meanness.  Yet, genuine generosity is something to honor, not deny.  In a fit of suspicion and uncertainty I was ready to deny one Peruvians generosity flat out.  It was a matter of security.  Let me share a story of a Peruvian host, who I hoped was responding to his sense of a social duty to help, and not to harm a vulnerable, needy wanderer. 
        Struggling to decide what to do I sat up late in my hotel room and reasoned out my decision in my journal.
____________________________________________________________ ___________
20 Julio 2007
Am I incredibly stupid?  I think maybe yes... 
            Ok, what would you do?  You are on your way to the Peruvian Amazon.  The only people you have known for more than a day are hundreds of miles away.  A guy sits next to you on the bus and the two of you talk for 40 minutes.  You understand less than half of it because you are still learning his language.  He tells you he is a business man.  He asks you if you have a place to say, you say, "no," and suddenly you are sharing a taxi with this man to some unknown destination.  The two of you arrive at a modest-looking hostel with a lot of other business people there.   
             The man knows you're off to the jungle and suggests that you join him again in a taxi the next morning to a port village where you can hop on a boat to the Amazon.  Sounds reasonable.
             The night before an early departure he tells you that the taxi leaves at an unreasonable hour, 3 a.m. rather than 6 a.m.  So, it is going to be dark, there will be nobody around, and who knows who will drive?  What do you do? 
             My gut told me to think about it.  I've heard many warnings about being safe.  Friends tell me not to trust anyone.  There is drug trafficking in the jungle.  This guy arrived to the jungle on business.  What kind of business is it?  So, maybe we can assume he is a drug-smuggling kidnapper looking to take me for ransom.  I'm dead.  Or... maybe he's cool.
             This guy was on the bus from Chiclayo.  He couldn't have known that I would be riding that bus.  Drug smugglers must have some other sweeter form of transportation like a jet or helicopter.  He's only ever offered to help and never forced me into anything, including the option of sharing a taxi with him.  Everything has checked out up to this point.  The hotel was safe, comfortable, and well-priced.  Other Peruvians have shown similar generosity in lending me a helping hand.  And as for the warnings of my friends, I would have no friends at all if I never trusted anybody.  I think I'll be ok.  Either way, I will find out.  God, keep watch over me.
____________________________________________________________ ___________

        It worked out.  My friend Amil's generosity and response to his social obligation was genuine.  The taxi ride was safe and cheap, I arrived to catch the 6 a.m. boat, and I made a couple new friends, Mortimer and Nilia, that would later end up saving my tail (when I almost missed the boat on the Amazon).  I shook Amil's hand in gratitude, took a picture with him, and said goodbye.
        A graceful host is worth a song.  Generosity breeds the same in others.  There is reason to help those in need whether a social obligation, a religious duty, or simply a desire to be different.  So, to all of you, consider taking in strangers.  To be safe, take in foreign exchange students and not unshaven bums like me (unless they smile really nicely and look at you with hopeful desperation).  Don't hesitate to offer directions to someone who looks lost.  Buy or cook and share a meal with someone.  Take an afternoon to show a newcomer your favorite part of your hometown.  Pay for someone's bus fare.  Set an alarm to remember someone in your prayers.
        I had an incredible summer.  It was incredible because of prayers like my brother's and answers to prayer like Amil.  I am deeply grateful to all of you who have been committed to me in prayer and encouragement.  I am deeply grateful for all of my Peruvian hosts who cared for a stranger and shared so much of their lives.  Every stranger needs a host; every host can learn from a stranger.  If only we can be generous so many more will be grateful.
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