Oklahoma missionaries share decades of joy, aid with Peruvians

Steve Gust
The Sooner Catholic

The mission trips and outreaches of love and help to Santissimo Sacramento Parish in Peru continue as volunteers witness firsthand the difference they're making in people's lives.

Parishioners at Saint John the Baptist in Edmond, Christ the King Catholic Church in Oklahoma City and other volunteers are wrapping up their second full decade of helping people in Piura, Peru.

For nearly 25 years, McGuinness graduate Fr. Joe Uhen has pastored to the spiritual and physical needs of his flock, which totals 40,000 and is spread over 28 chapels.

Lending a hand are people like Chris Engel of Edmond, who recently returned from his 19th trip.

"We definitely get more out of this than what we give," Engel said.
 
Agreeing with that assessment is Deacon Jim Smith of Christ the King. Deacon Smith and his wife Dori have made 10 trips.

"Each person has their own reason for going down to the parish, but underlying it all was a common desire to serve and to get in touch with the Catholic spirituality of the people of Peru," Smith said. "It is a spirit of worldly poverty, but of a deep joy and trust in God's love and concern."

Engel has become especially close to five families in Peru.

"These people are like my family now," Engel said. At first some were skeptical if the missionaries would have much of an impact.

"When I first came here, there was a girl who wasn't even in school," he said. "She is now in law school."

He also has marveled at the impact the medical missionaries have made.

"They've given some people back their sight," he said.

One of those team members is Cheryl Pierce, who first became involved in 2003 and is now team leader for Saint John's medical/surgical and dental teams. She just returned from her 28th trip. She has seen many events that have touched her and fortified her faith. One young woman cried tears of joy after witnessing a hernia operation for her mother, which ended 12 years of pain. The family hadn't been able to afford the surgery.
 
"She told Dr. David Heon from Shawnee that she didn't know where we came from, but 'surely we were sent by God.'"
Missionaries, and those back home, have adopted families and sent clothes and financial help. Some missionaries help build homes for young people.

"It has made such a big difference in their (his children’s) lives," he said.
 
It is a special experience even if someone is making their first trip. Recently the pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Mustang, Father Joe Jacobi, made a trip with 16 others. He wrote a letter to his parish outlining his experience, which included building small homes for those he described as living in "crushing poverty." Not helping that condition was a flood earlier this year that damaged many homes and buildings in Piura.

"Having Father Jacobi with us this time was great because he was able to participate in pastoral duties, such as reconciliation," Engel said. Father Jacobi also is fluent in Spanish. "I think he really felt the Holy Spirit in that place."

In his letter to his parish, Father Jacobi outlined his many special experiences in Peru and noted another mission group was flying out as he was returning to Oklahoma City.

"The missionaries are graced to receive more than they give and to be bountifully blessed by the faith and joy of the Peruvian people."

Steve Gust is a freelance writer for the Sooner Catholic.