Just to give a different perspective on missionary life, here are two views of places in the Andes Mountains which are even more difficult to reach than the African sites at which Fr. Francis taught. What one must do to reach them is part of the story below.
There is a river at the bottom of this gorge which you can barely see from the path your burrow travels. Fr. Ernesto, an Episcopal priest prior to his Orthodox priesthood, explains his mountain journeys below, and in a second post on his blog.
Shoes of Peace
Yes, that is my hand holding the separated heel on a hiking boot. It has been cold in Florida the last few days, so I thought that I would put the hiking boots on to keep my feet slightly warmer. But, when I went to put on my size 7½ hiking boots, I realized that the heel was separated from the main body of the boot and that the cushioning was crumbling. I know I have to dispose of the shoe, since there is no fixing them, but I almost feel as though I ought to bury them rather than throw them away. Among Orthodox, Catholics, and Anglo-Catholics, either burial or burning is what you do to dispose of certain holy objects. And, these boots are certainly holy, in one sense.
You see, these are the hiking boots I bought over a decade ago when my wife and I were missionaries in Peru. It was these boots that hiked the trail between Cabanaconde and Choco, inside the Colca Canyon. For those who do not know, we lived in Arequipa, Peru as missionaries. Every few weeks, I would have to take a five hour bus ride from Arequipa to Cabanaconde. On the way, we would pass over 16,000 feet altitude. There were some beautiful passages of the altiplano on the way. After several trips, I got used to breathing at the heights of the pass, but the first couple of trips were certainly interesting! Cabanaconde was at only 11,800 feet altitude which was certainly better than the pass. Choco was “low” at only 9800 feet of altitude.
In Cabanaconde, a Quechua villager would be waiting to meet me with a mule and a burro for me. On the burro I would put my expensive backpack (which was left behind for the next missionary). In it were my vestments, chalice, paten, hosts, sometimes wine in a plastic container, any literature I might want to take, underwear, shaving kit, etc. I always wore a collar shirt, blue jeans, a “cowboy” hat, and the boot(s) in the photograph above.
At those altitudes, and on the mountain trail, the mule could not carry me the entire way. The trip was eight hours long, and out of eight hours, I certainly walked four of the hours every trip. I would arrive in the early evening, though one night I arrived late at night. And, be certain that there is nothing more frightening than taking high mountain passes in the dark on a mule, waiting to fall down the canyon. After I had been going there for a while, the bell in the village square would ring to tell the villagers that the priest was arriving. I always stayed in the loft above the little town store, slinging my sleeping bag on a small, narrow bunk bed with an interestingly old mattress. There was no electricity, and we all bathed in the river, as needed. And, let me tell you, there is nothing as cold as the water of a mountain stream at that altitude. I could not stand to fully dip myself in it, but squatted on the bank to wash myself.
Over the next two to three days, I would celebrate the Eucharist, and make sure to go around visiting the villagers. I would preach the Gospel, talk to them about their needs, pastor as necessary, etc. And, then, it would be time to take the trip back. Some trips were rather rough. Winter and rain could make the trip absolutely miserable. Fortunately, I had grown up in Ohio and knew how to layer for the cold. On at least one trip, I think I would have suffered hypothermia if I had not known how to dress correctly. We always had to pack water for the trip because it is a desert area in which only the Inca inherited irrigation system makes it possible to have towns all along the canyon. But, it is a rough life out there.
The boots were last used, and then only periodically, when I was working with inner city kids in Birmingham and was charter representative for a Boy Scout troop. They did not get much use then and they have gotten no use in Florida. So, their decayed state was a surprise to me. But, given the history, can you see why it is hard to dispose of the boots and why I almost think I ought to bury them?
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; . . . praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit . . . with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints, and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel . . . that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.