In the jungle it is San Juan time. That means that it is the month of Fiesta San Juan, a time of parties, special events, and tourism. John the Baptist is the patron saint of the jungle, thus the name. Traditionally people make and give the "juane" a big ball of flavored rice with a piece of chicken in the middle, wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf. It's really good stuff! In the McAnally home, here in the bustling jungle city of Pucallpa, there is also a lot of activity, but not of the kind found throughout the city. For us change is on the horizon and a great preparation is under way.
The Lord led us to Peru in 1999 to serve among the Ashéninka people. He called us to a work we initially didn't think we were cut out for. But He enabled us and even used us to bring many to Christ and to plant churches. Now the fruit of that labor is growing and we are very pleased at what God is doing among this people group. Also during those years we kept filed away a deep desire for the salvation of the people of Southeast Asia (Dena is from Laos, SE Asia). Yet we knew without doubt that God called us to the Ashéninka people, so we have worked hard and waited on God for the other.
Back in the fall we began to sense that maybe the Lord was about to give us the green light to leave the Ashéninka work. We began to pray diligently and to look at the work, our team, and our calling. In December, one night while sitting in our mosquito net in an Ashéninka community, we came to a unanimous sense of release and conviction that God was saying "yes" to us and giving us permission to move on. We began to pray all the more and by February we were ready to initiate the process of transferring to Thailand to work among the Isaan people, descendants of Laos, speaking Isaan language, a blend of Lao and Thai. After several months of waiting the transfer was approved.
Now here's the announcement part: We are leaving the Ashéninka work as of the end of August and plan to relocate to Thailand in early March to begin work with the Isaan Team of Thailand.
So already in the McAnally house we have been selling, packing, and painting. With trips coming up before we leave Peru time to do all these things is limited. At the same time we are looking around us and beginning to realize that the country, city, and people where we have invested so much of ourselves during 12 years are about to become a part of our past. How do you just walk away from a life you have lived with intensity? How do you say good-bye to the people for whom we've poured out our lives for so many years. We have traveled, worked, sweat, cried, prayed, sacrificed in order to be among these precious Ashéninka people. Sometimes it has cost us dearly. We raised our son Jacob here and often spent weeks separated form each other to keep him in school. We have desired to take the gospel to the people of SE Asia, but that doesn't mean we have looked for God's blessing to escape from the rigors of the jungle. It already has us in a sober state of mind and heart anticipating the pain of leaving. So while we look forward with great anticipation and excitement for the changes ahead, we also are beginning to anticipate the moments of good-byes and the finality of departure. We will appreciate your prayers during this time. We want to encourage our Ashéninka brethren and motivate them, spurring them to greater things. Yet we want to convey to them our love and that we don't leave them lightly. We want them to know they are loved and that they are not being abandoned. We want them to cling to Christ, sensing the responsibility to carry the ministry, understanding why we are leaving, and to take the reins and go. So please pray for us to handle this departure with wisdom and character, and with strength. It won't be easy.
we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 1 Thess. 2:7-8
It's akin to letting a child leave home. We've in many respects raised these people as dear children. Now we have to entrust them to God to keep them faithful and help them grow. Yet the agony of the separation is already being felt and is sometimes very painful. We write these words together with heavy hearts and teary eyes. May the Lord help us bear the good-byes.
We will spend six months on stateside assignment in the USA before moving to Thailand. We look forward to seeing many of you during this time.
Our work in Thailand will have similar objectives: evangelism and church planting. However, Thailand is a land of Buddhism where Christian faith is often regarded as a westerners' religion. It is not like Peru where most people at a minimum have a Catholic background or have heard of God and Jesus. We are already praying for the people we will meet and share Christ with. We ask you to join us in doing the same. We will need your continued help as prayer supporters as we go through this transition-- moving, learning language and customs, and becoming a part of another team. Please also pray for Mark Caldwell who leads the Isaan Team and those who serve with him among the Isaan people.
Also, Michael and Crystal Gayheart of the Ashéninka Team need much faithful prayer as they develop strategy to reach the Ashéninka people of the Upper Ucayali River. They have a huge task, but God is bigger and is faithful to help them as He helped us. They will have great success and loads of fruit as they labor for Christ and as you pray for them.
Photos: Dena speaks with elderly Ashéninka Christian; rice fields in Isaan , Thailand; Isaan children, Thailand.