In North America you hear the expression “the other side of the tracks” referring to a part of the city that is considered poor and dangerous. As in, most fathers would not want their daughter going out with a boy from the “other side of the tracks.”
Well here in Lima the expression is “the other side of the river” and it has the same meaning.
We began our third day meeting Pastor Samuel Reátegui and his daughter Susana, who drove us to the other side of the river, and provided a different view of the city. The central parts of the city, and the districts of Miraflores and San Isidro, are as modern as any city in the world. Yet, on the outskirts of Lima, the terrible slums remind one that Peru still has a long way to go.
Now from what I saw today I have to say that I have seen worse, but I also know that our pastor friend was not showing us the worst that Lima has to offer. He carefully warned us of dangerous areas and told me when to pull my camera back in as we passed some sketchy looking youth.
Bob commented to the pastor on the lack of beggars in the streets, to which he replied that the beggars are all found in the rich districts of the city. Ironic yes, but makes sense.
Sitting on the right side of the river is the Plaza de Armas, a spectacular colonial square with a fountain n the center surrounded on four sides with the Presidential Palace, The Archbishop Palace ( a seemingly new structure by a few hundred years), the Lima Cathedral (a strong statement about the history and influence of the Roman Catholic church in this part of the world), and the CIty Hall as well as a few other building not described to me. This old colonial center in Lima is a World Heritage site and was the crown jewel of Spain’s South American empire.
It is the economic contrasts that is so challenging here in Lima. The majority of Peruvians live in poverty – 54% according to the CIA World Factbook. It is estimated that 19% live in absolute poverty surviving on less than a dollar a day CDN. Sobering. In several conversations with leaders here the work of World Vision has come up as one organization that has really helped to transform communities or districts. This did not surprise me after experiencing their work in Bolivia, Peru’s neighbor to the east.
At noon hour we went back to Bethany Baptist Church where pastor Samuel had invited other ministers to come meet me. We enjoyed a lovely time talking over lunch about the work they are doing in this complex city. I was able to video tape several of them sending messages back to those working in the cities of North America.
Two insights from today: 1. These pastors were all happy folks despite working in more challenging circumstances than almost every pastor I can imagine in Canada or the US. 2. They are just busy being the church in the heart of the city and by that I mean helping others, discipling believers and bringing truth and justice to bear for the sake of their communities. It is not flashy – just effective.