I know it’s not been long since I wrote last but after this event I felt this had to be written as a way for me to process it as well as to inform you of the struggle we recently witnessed. Much like Team France’s most recent blog, the appropriateness for photos has caused a lack of them in this update. I would like to apologise for the darker tone of this blog in comparison to our usual themes, and to warn you that what you are about to read is the very harsh reality that we recently experienced. As you might have guessed from the previous updates, I can be a bit of a joker but this, is no laughing matter. I can only apologise for that.
The Drug Hole, The Belen District
The Belen (Bethlehem) district is made up of two main areas. The market is in the area known as Upper Belen; the drug hole is in Lower Belen. Our destination in Lower Belen is a place where most Peruvians would not dare venture. The descent down to Lower Belen takes you past the rainy season waterline. At the end of the rainy season the river level will have risen by 50%, leaving Lower Belen flooded. This means that people living in this area have to build their houses on stilts, during the rainy season they even use boats to get around. But as we are just going into the rainy season the water is still low. People live and work on the streets that in a matter of weeks will be under water.
To get to the drug hole, we had to walk through Belen Market. Walking through the market was not too unusual for us as it was not our first time there. However, it is still an unpleasant experience and one that served many poetic correlations for what was to come. No description of the market will ever truly do it justice but alas I’ll give it a go. The market stalls stretch out into the street forcing all the foot traffic into narrow paths, some leading behind the stalls and some through the middle. Any gaps in the tarpaulin roofed mass of stalls are filled with piles of rotting, fruit, veg and flesh. The aroma released from this is overwhelming and can be recognised from several blocks in any direction, at least the market is easy to find. Rummaging amongst the decaying off cuts and rejects, is an abundance of vultures. I don’t use this as a derogatory or descriptive word for pigeons or children, but in fact, I am referring to actual vultures. These Upper Belen streets are flooded with them, one street had 30-40, fighting over scraps, whilst a similar number sat on the roof tops watching over, like, well vultures. This was the symbolism for what we were about to see.
Descending from the market into Lower Belen, felt like we were descending below the poverty line, you could almost see the line. A dramatic change in construction materials and the state of people’s homes could be seen, these people are the poorest of the poor here. We started off by standing under the house nearest the end of the stairs. Under the house is essentially a waste dump, I dread to think what it does to the water as it rises. There were two men eating their lunch under the house, they were totally unfazed by our presence. We were with George, a man who for 30 years was a drug addict and gained money to feed the habit by mugging people in Belen market. 8 years ago he found God and he is now part of the church that runs the project with descends into the drug hole every week to preach and serve. George gives his testimony in the hope that it might be a seed that God will nurture and grow into change. The man is covered in physical scars but is so clearly happy and joyful to be in the presence of God. His American counterpart, Andrew is equally fascinating, but I’ll leave his story for another time.
It was here under the house that George explained (through Andrew translating), what we were about to encounter and some tips on how to react to certain questions and how not to react to the things we might see. He said some people might compliment you on your watch or sunglasses before outright asking for it. “There maybe some people who are in a state of high, that they are not safe to be around. If someone is acting like this or just dismisses you, don’t try to force the food upon them”. He continued, “There will be women and children there, you may think, ‘Why are these children here?’. It is because they live here, this is there home”. Andrew then warned us about phones and money, then referred to the fact that we were all wearing shoes (which he was not), he said we still needed to watch where we were walking. The plan (and this is the kind of plan that doesn’t often change last minute) was to go and buy some fizzy drinks (we already had sandwiches) and cups to serve the drug addicts. We would then find the house the majority of them were hiding under, and this is where we would serve and preach.
In the Den
So that’s what we did, Erin, Sophie and I held the fizzy drinks and poured for people. George preached his heart out, and although I couldn’t tell what he was saying I did know for certain that he gave them all he had. At first the addicts swarmed round the team as they received their ham sandwiches and cups, then a steady stream of people came towards us with empty cups in outstretched arms. Most of them just looked at the ground or eagerly stared at their cups, waiting for them to be filled. The children however, looked up at us in an attempt to get our attention, it was only on their fourth refill that we realised why they were trying to gain our favour.
The den, hole, pit, whatever you want to call it, was, like you might imagine, dirty and smelly. The floorboards of the house above were littered with spider webs, the taller people of the group had to hunch over to avoid hitting their heads. The ground was covered in old take away packets, clothes, muck and anything else discarded by the people living above. The people down here had been discarded by the poorest of the poor. After they had received their food and drink, many of the addicts left but some stayed. As George spoke to them a few sat round and listened, a few slept, curled up on wooden boards nailed to the stilts of the houses. Some scurried off behind the dangling remains of a tarpaulin, to get high. Various ways of taking drugs could be seen through the torn material.
Of those who stayed to listen, some sat quietly apart from the occasional one coughing up of some horrid looking substance. One man, sat next to where I was stood, kept his eyes on the ground almost the whole time but regularly shouted out in agreement with George, he seemed to be either very passionate or very high. At the end of Georges testimony some of us were encouraged to say a few words. Being as overwhelmed as we were, very little Spanish decided to come out of our mouths, but we did get as far as introducing ourselves. Then for a time of prayer, some of us laid hands on the addicts and prayed in Spanish or English. The man I was next to was very thankful for the prayer and keen to shake hands in thanks. We departed with no words. Nothing to say. And our heads racing.
As we walked back up to upper Belen Sophie asked, “Is there a way for these people to get out?”, a valid and important question. Dave (our supervisor) said “Yes, and sometimes they do. All they have to do is walk out with us and George and Andrew will put them in the right places and the right directions, but first they need to step out and that is a hard thing to do. But it does happen, we’ve had people follow us out before, but they’ve not always stayed out”. As we came back up to the market, like a breath of fresh (rotting flesh ridden) air, a sigh of relief came over us. Having had a couple of days now to process this I can truly say I still have a lot more processing to do. Out of all of the projects we are going to be involved in here, this is going to be the most brutal.
The plan is to visit every Monday (though plans change), so if you are praying for us, please pray for Mondays. Around the same time that most of you are eating dinner, we will be descending into the depths of Lower Belen. Prayer for our safety but also that we might see some of the change that God is making down there. If you’ve read this far, thank you, I hope I haven’t put you off your lunch and any comment or private message you might feel led to send would be greatly appreciated.
Till next time, God Bless.
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Luke 19:10. To be as Christlike a possible should be any and every one’s ambition, even if it means descending into hell on earth.