Thursday, March 30, 2017

Peru in a Time of Floods and a Time of Conference: Help and Hope

As I've watched footage of rains and flooding in Northern Peru, I've also remembered one of the most moving talks ever given by a Prophet of God.

Speaking at a worldwide Christmas Devotional just a month after Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras in 1998, President Gordon B. Hinckley, voice breaking, invited himself to give a little Honduran girl whom he had met "a little taste of candy":

"I would hope that at this Christmas season, when there will be no gift-giving among these devastated people, this small orphan girl might receive perhaps a little taste of candy, something sweet and delicious. . .I must see that that happens. Perhaps just a little will be present enough for that tiny child in La Lima, Honduras."

https://www.lds.org/ensign/1999/03/news-of-the-church/hurricane-mitch-victims-receive-christmas-gifts?lang=eng

At the right time, perhaps some friends of Peru might also consider making a like gift of candy and toys--and shoes and socks to replace those ruined by wading through mud and water. It may seem odd, but it would be more than symbolic aid. Even a little chocolate could be meaningful succor for children who have passed through much. We always bless the children everywhere and in any way we can.

And we can expect miracles in Peru, as ever and always in the storms that shake the nations--miracles like those reported during Hurricane Mitch:

"Concerns remain about the spread of disease, particularly conjunctivitis, foot fungus, and mosquito-carried dengue and malaria. 'While there are problems of health among the members, there are not any serious cases,' reported one stake president in Honduras."

The faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may face many trials by storm, even death, as with the case of the orphaned child, but signs and miracles will nevertheless "follow them that believe" (see Mark 16:17). As ever, there will be "assurance of protection" (Alma 50:12).


Now, today and tomorrow, anyone wishing to donate to Peru's flood victims should stick to a very few tried and tested organizations. One hopes that the Peruvian Red Cross is already reaching even the most out-of-the-way places--and they are certainly raising a lot of money. And we must never forget the power of Fast Offerings. As President Henry B. Eyring reminds us, the Fast Offering may go to bless distant Saints in the moment of storms or local Saints, our own neighbors, in the storms of the daily lives. For example, I rejoice in the Fast Offerings that bless those I love in my refugee branch as much as I rejoice in those that will bless Peru or Columbia in this desperate season (see https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/04/is-not-this-the-fast-that-i-have-chosen?lang=eng; The Peruvian Red Cross: https://www.ammado.com/nonprofit/cruzrojaperuana).

Some have filmed recent Church donations, gratefully received by the First Lady of Peru and dutifully shipped to Paita for distribution, now on discount at a store in Sullana. It is shocking to see what the Church donates put up for sale in shops, but it's also rather to be expected--and nobody to blame. At least it's not still on the docks, while Piura drowns.

Distribution, much less equitable distribution, seems to be an ever-present challenge. Everything's in a state of flux and chaos. The Peruvian Armed Forces, with its 400,000 active and reserve personnel, deserves everyone's lasting gratitude for overseeing distribution, repairing roads and bridges, reaching out to--and even helicoptering-into--the ignored shanty towns and isolated villages. The Peruvian Government, national and local, must unleash its full powers and resources to help those affected. It's time for Peru to stand up and minister to her own with power. And the time has passed forever for writing off the very poor. I remember walking the sands of Porvenir, Trujillo's most destitute district. Porvenir registers the future, a name of hope, given in desperation. Today, Porvenir is both underwater and without water.

The coming future, el porvenir, must see not only Peru but all America efficiently and effectively standing up to her own needs, including the needs of the millions who drown in generational poverty. And today all peoples must stand for Syria, for Mosul, for Burundi, for South Sudan. The lives of countless thousands of refugees rest on our shoulders, and we must place them on our shoulders as loving and nurturing fathers and mothers, kings and queens. It's imperative that we turn to Arabic, to understanding, to peace.

Peru's available resources, leadership, volunteer forces, and yes, the essential donations from abroad, must be put to effective, aggressive use. Fresh plans must sketch infrastructure imperatives and safe urban growth. We recall Alma's account of how a motivating Moroni, "a man of a perfect understanding. . . who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people," fortified cities, in a manner never before known among the Nephites, against the recurrent attacks of their enemies, attacks reminiscent of the twenty-year cycle that generates pounding rains, furious lightning storms, overflowing rivers, and rushing flash floods (or huaicos). Moroni's bold and energetic fortifications, including his building of new cities along a defensive perimeter, saved the Nephites from sweeping destruction (see also Helaman 5:15).

Alma 48:8-9 reads: Yea, [Moroni] had been strengthening the armies. . . erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about. . . and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land," including "their weakest fortifications": "And thus [Moroni] did fortify and strengthen the land." 

Does your country need a creative, energetic, and effective leader like Moroni? As Elder Matthew Cowley would say: "Be that Leader!"

And as President Henry B. Eyring reminded us in October 2014, continuing revelation in times of crisis serves to magnify the efforts of the Priesthood to bless victims of floods--and even burst dams! After the Teton Dam disaster, Brother Eyring saw how effective Priesthood leadership brought about the following responses from a government official who at first spoke to regional leaders, who happened to be stake presidents, bishops, and Elders' Quorum presidencies, with a dominant, perhaps domineering, "voice of authority": "After a few minutes, the man [with his deputies] from the federal disaster agency said, 'I think that I will just sit down and watch for a while.'" "The next morning the leader of the federal team arrived 20 minutes before the report and assignment meeting was scheduled to begin. I stood nearby. I heard him say quietly to the stake president, 'President, what would you like me and the members of my team to do?'"

What that man saw I have seen in times of distress and testing all over the world" (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/10/continuing-revelation.p5?lang=eng).

Local, efficient, heroic Latter-day Saint leadership, under Priesthood direction and unidos el norte, el centro y el sur, may have to show overwhelmed mayors, mayors who could yet be Moroni's, how to reinforce or build both infrastructure and the bonds of community. Faithful Priesthood bearers, after all, carry on in the promise of Moses and Enoch--to "have power over many waters," and even "to turn" waters "out of their course[s]." In the Priesthood, we learn from the Scriptures, is "power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course" (Moses 1; Joseph Smith Translation Genesis 14:30; see President Henry B. Eyring, Priesthood Session of General Conference, 1 April 2017). Such promises will find fulfillment, in some manner symbolic or literal, in the New Peru, a Peru proof against the desolating floods that come every couple of decades or so.

News reports of hundreds Latter-day Saint youth in Lima preparing blankets and other essentials for the victims shows us how the Scriptures on Priesthood directed service will find fulfillment in Peru. These youth of Lima, Trujillo, Piura, the promise of the land, are receiving "their first lessons" in their foreordained mission "to fortify and strengthen the land" in time of temporal and spiritual danger (see Doctrine and Covenants 138; Alma 48:9). We mistake to perceive youth as weak, for Youth in Action has the power to make weak things strong: so that everything "which had hitherto been a weak place, had now, by the means of Moroni, become strong" (Alma 49:14). "Like unto Moroni," who was but 25 when called to leadership, these youth will so fortify their land that all will gain "assurance of protection" (Alma 50:12).

As President Kuczynski said to the Latter-day Saint youth: "Sigamos su ejemplo" (May we follow your example). The same thing may be said of all Peruvian youth who feel "called to serve."
"http://www.noticiasmormonas.org.pe/articulo/primera-dama-saluda-a-voluntarios-de-manos-mormonas-que-ayudan

The day has come for the nurturing and sustaining Priesthood of God to lift the suffering land and lamb to its bosom, place her upon its shoulders, and carry Peru to higher ground. Elder Carlos G. Godoy, 43, an Area Seventy from Lima, Peru, was called today, 1 April 2017, to the office of General Authority Seventy, only the second Peruvian to be so called to general church service. As many are already noting on social media, God is mindful of Peru in her hour of need. Hay un gran porvenir preparado por Peru. Let us together, throughout the Americas, help rebuild a great nation. She will then guard her own fortresses well.


Notes: Updated after Priesthood Session of General Conference, 1 April 2017; see discourse of President Henry B. Eyring. See Facebook postings by Brother Alfredo Ladislao Mardini Gonzales and others (1 April 2017).

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Floods of Memory and Today's Torrential Destruction: That's Mi Peru

*Severe rains will continue through much of April: Donate to the Peruvian Red Cross at https://www.ammado.com/community/193613 



Peru stirs a kaleidoscope of images, reflections, and memories. We glimpse that line of conquistadores grimly, inexorably, riding down to Cajamarca--where they will kill Atahualpa; we shield our eyes at the glory of Korikancha, Cuzco's Golden Temple of the Sun; we wonder at the "two-l llama" ("that's a beast," says Ogden Nash); Machu Picchu rises green from the Andean mists. 

"Entonces en la escala de la tierra he subido entre la atroz maranna de las selvas perdidas hasta ti, Macchu Picchu" (Pablo Neruda). 

Peru sits enthroned with Egypt and the Arabian tales, sultans and sultanas, above the open panorama of history; at once, she quietly and deeply grips each human heart. Peru is yours and she is mine.

Since Christmas, I've been listening to sierran huaynos in both Spanish and Quechua. Some rake the ears; others pour like crystal streams from the misty fastnesses--down the quebradas like a torrent. I have a new Quechua grammar lying about, beckoning. I often carry it around like a prize. I may one day even leaf through a chapter or tackle a verbal paradigm, though it's enough to carry it around, or move it from shelf to shelf and never too far away.

The Spanish Conquest at long last ends. I've discovered the triumphant music of Edith Ramos Guerra. She stands in the Korikancha and sings El Pajonal. Singing doesn't suffice to describe the effect Ms. Ramos has on her hearers: she calls, she summons. She commands with a bracing, aggressive lordship--sultana de las sultanas--the songs of Puno, the South that I do not know--and yet I know it. I know it in the way we all know Puno and Cuzco and the Inka in his glory, before Pizarro comes. I watch the Miski Takiy (Sweet Music) TV sensation on YouTube, which features Andean musicians performing in the open mountain air against a backdrop of shooting fountains of the purest water. Shooting fountains of clean water. Here rises a phoenix from the burnt out decades of Andean terrorism and police state militarism, ambiguously brutal beyond imagining, phoenix from the subjugating centuries. I'm going to cut the Passive Mode ("the Andeans were conquered") out of my new Queshwa grammar.

I don't know why I listen to these songs. But the heirs of the Inka Empire won--and they didn't need Mao.

My deeply held Peru, deeper yet and stranger for being something beyond imagination, certainly includes the memory of a visit to a small home, at evening, in the North--so far away it seems tonight:



We spoke of Lehi and the Liahona,
Of desert ways, where sighting can be tough.


"My papi has a compass too," she said,
and ran and brought it.

It was heavy.

"It guides his boat when out at sea.
and brings him safely home to us."  



Seared in my senses is the acrid poverty, the sharp nasal tang, the sand forever blowing in the eyes, the spluttering of a candle, the incandescence of a rich wick lamp piercing the darkness of a room washed in blue walls and holding,
precariously, a rough, unsteady table. I attest the struggle to provide simple fare for that table, I affirm the hospitality of the North, a dry land, cut by small rivers coursing down from the fabled Andes--from Cajamarca. I call to mind the little river towns, rising proud from desert sands, not far from the sea, Mamacocha, source of all her woes.


There sits the noblest little kingdom of them all, on the banks of the Rio Chira, two-l Sullana: "Del chira eres la perla, sultana de las sultanas." I dream of walking along the river-- or of "paseos en las canoas"--I fall into the reverie of her blue heaven. I sometimes even search this demesne online, circumscribing, even besieging her, on GoogleMaps. I spy green Marcavelica, just over the Chira, rich in groves of mango and papaya. I visit a juice bar. I Google Sullana's Villa del Mar and check the closing times, pronounce on the menu. Sullana is what she is and may be a fickle sultana, but there's a stateliness about the Chira, a lazy peace attending the Plaza.


The vision snaps like the bridge of San Luis Rey, a bridge of ropes that Inka Pachacuti suspended over space and time.


I just watched a video of Sullana. A huaico runs through it--a torrential flood of devastating mud and rocks and wood (in Quechua, wayq'u). I scan footage shot from helicopter: The entire North appears to be underwater. And las lluvias e inundactiones promise to continue through April. Piura, la Primera Ciudad of the North, saw 2.17" of rain in the last 24 hours; she averages less than 3" a year (25" since January). Thirst, hunger, homelessness, joblessness, and torrential sickness have all begun--and promise to continue. And children always pay the greatest price. All 2017 will be eaten up by las lluvias e inundaciones--and by the home lost, the street lost, the harvests and the jobs that will never be. Long long ago, the wayq'u swept away the great civilizations of the North; now the huaico lays waste to the ephemeral homes of the very poor. Rivers overflow their banks ruining vast swathes of acreage and pasture (see Enrique Planas, "Los moches y El Nino: asi castigaba al norte el dios Aiapaic," in Luces, 20 March 2017; http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/more-rain-expected-as-death-toll-rises-to-75-from-peru-flooding/70001160).


One thing I remember about Peru with no nostalgia whatsoever: children and babies die at a startling rate. It's a plain fact--like Dostoevsky's St. Petersburg percentages (described in Crime and Punishment). You see it, hear of it--and pass on because you can't tilt at the "awful arithmetic." Yet Thornton Wilder, summing up the lesson of the snapped bridge of San Luis Rey, responds brilliantly: "each of the five lost lives was a perfect whole" (see Luke 13:4 and also "Second Reading: Jonathan Yardley on Thornton Wilder's 'Bridge of San Luis Rey,'" Washington Post, 7 December 2009).

Once I strove with all abandon to save a baby's life. The effort was as deliberate as it was tenuous, the sand impeding every long step. How could I help a baby, when it took so long to walk even twenty-five or fifty feet? The rope bridge frays above the yawning abyss. Yield to the percentages; it's all so foolish--even embarrassing. Abandon the quixotic; accept Peru as she is, fickle sovereign, sultana de las sultanas--or just keep kicking up sand, step-by-step.

The baby lived. Mother and child had been seen and summarily dispatched just a day or two before--one of a dozen such cases, I fear. But now a sultanic nurse gave something more than a sharp word and cursory review. And she lived. It was the mother I was fighting for, so desperate in her straw shack, fragile windbreak, a spot of quiet cut out from the world. There she could weep over her loss and Who was she in a Dickensian world?

Yet she stepped back into the sun. She called for help. Two Elders heard that call. Before, during, and after the priesthood blessing, I weighed the awful percentages. I thought, too, of how the baby just might live, perhaps even grow into adulthood--"a perfect whole"--a young lady that brought joy to her parents. She held that Divine birthright, though you couldn't actually see the title clenched in her tiny hands. At least she could live another year or two; she could even do all the living she wanted. What did I have to do with it? And I never think of it. Not then, not since.

I guess she's there now, en el norte.





*Donate to the Cruz Roja Peruana
https://www.ammado.com/community/193613