“I love mission trips,” seventeen-year-old Samantha gushes to Jaime, her interpreter.
Jaime smiles politely, nods and points to Ruben, the outreach pastor. “Follow, please,” he says in his heavy, broken accent.
This street in Peru is narrow and dusty, the sounds of childish laughter floats in the air, drowned out occasionally by the bark of mothers’ orders. Samantha, Jaime, and Ruben are knocking on doors on one side, while a similar group from Samantha’s church knocks on doors on the opposite side.
They’re inviting children to an outreach later that afternoon that presents the gospel with a puppet show, and clowns will hand out small toys and popcorn. As they canvas the neighborhood passing out flyers, word spreads and small children rush them, clamoring for pieces of candy and a flyer.
The houses lining both sides of the street are more like tall tenement buildings housing several families. The buildings are flush against each other making it easy to give an abundance of flyers and candy within a matter of minutes.
Ruben does most of the talking. Occasionally they allow Samantha to give her testimony with Jaime interpreting. The women and children are fascinated with her long blonde hair, but mostly it’s her lilting voice with its American accent that fascinates them. When language attempts fail, Samantha pours out hugs and smiles, delighting everyone.
“Some doors open to a courtyard leading to apartments. In the courtyards the women have gardens,” Samantha says to Jaime and Ruben, more as a question than a statement.
“Yes,” Jaime said. “They very poor. They grow food for family.”
“I wish I could feed them all,” Samantha says, sniffling.
Jaime translates what she said to Ruben and both men smile compassionately at her. Ruben says something to Jaime, then nods toward Samantha. “Ruben says they don’t know they be poor. It is life to them.”
Samantha smiles, then responds to a shout from her friends across the way. “Yes, having fun! The children are so adorable, the mothers so polite.” The other group shouts the same things to Samantha before turning back to the task at hand.
Ruben points at the next door they come to and rapidly fires off something to Jaime. Jaime turns to Samantha. “This is house of, eh, house of hor’s. Ruben asks do you care to see.”
“Whores?” Samantha responds, a look of perplexity on her face. What’s a brothel doing in the middle of this neighborhood full of families, she wonders.
“Si! Yes, hor’s.” Jaime smiles.
“Uh,” Samantha fumbles for something to say. She’s never seen an actual prostitute before. “To witness? To tell them about Jesus?” Since the event that afternoon is geared towards children, Samantha’s sure they shouldn’t invite prostitutes. But she’s more than willing to tell them about Jesus.
Jaime looks puzzled, but turns to Ruben and translates what Samantha said. Now it’s Ruben who looks confused. He shrugs and says something to Jaime.
“Ruben say they cannot understand of Jesus, so why tell them.”
Samantha places her hands on her hips, and frowns, her mind whirling with different responses. “Well, even whores, as you call them, need to know about Jesus. Tell Ruben that.”
Ruben and Jaime carry on a conversation for a couple of minutes, both glancing at Samantha with amusement on their faces coupled with confusion.
“Ruben, he say you tell them of Jesus, but they no understand. He thinks you may have fright, uh, fear, of hor’s, that is why he ask.” Jaime says, smiling as one would to a little child.
Samantha squares her shoulders. “I’m here to share Jesus. Whores don’t scare me. I’ll do the talking, and you can translate, okay, Jaime?”
Jaime relates something to Ruben, who shrugs. Ruben smiles at Samantha and opens the big door without knocking first. The door leads into a dark, narrow entry way, and Samantha blanches. She casts a backward glance over her shoulder at the rest of her group across the street, immediately regretting that she didn’t insist that one of them accompany her.
She follows Jaime and Ruben down the corridor, unpleasant smells wafting through air, and strange sounds confuse her. She feels the stirrings of fear, wondering what lies ahead.
Ruben pushes open a larger door to reveal a central area lined with four stalls where horses are eating with their heads lowered into buckets of oats.
“House of hor’s,” Jaime says with a sweep of his hand. “You talk now.”
A crimson flush spreads over Samantha’s face.
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