The Special Task Force (STF), a leadership training program for youth, is developing each year. In 2009 a new aspect is the overseas service experience in a developing country, intended to give our young people a taste of what life is like for those who are less fortunate, and also for them to experience the joy and fulfillment of service. We chose Central and South America as our mission continents, as the United States continues to have a historical role to embrace and uplift its developing neighbors.
Altogether about 100 STF participants went to Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Peru for a ten-day period from January 20th to 30th. I had the opportunity to accompany the team to Peru, the Land of the Incas. Its’ honestly hard to put into words what feels like more than a months’ worth of experiences and insights, but I’ll do my best!
First of all, we owe our good experience to Mr. Francisco Cutipa, the Family Federation national leader of Peru, a direct descendant of Andean Indians and a man of heart and deep spirituality, and all the members of the community in Lima - they prepared and took care of us throughout our stay in Lima.
We jumped right into action on our first morning by meeting with a National Congressman (who is also an Ambassador for Peace). Of the 120 Congressmen of Peru, he is highly respected because of his strong stand against corruption. Next day we met a prominent mayor, also a long-time friend of our movement. He is on his 4th term (16 years), which is very unusual in those parts of the world where leaders either get impeached or run away with a lot of money. We could quickly grasp how much presence and influence our movement has in Peru.
We resided in Miraflores, one of the more affluent colonial districts of Lima; but the capital city is surrounded by miles and miles of poor slum areas, spreading out into the desert and into the mountains. Millions of people live in shacks extending as far as the eye can on the rocky dusty mountainside around Lima. Peru suffered 2 decades of ‘terrorism’ (1980-2000) during which tens of thousands of families fled from the countryside for protection in the city…the only land they could claim back then was a piece of desert hillside without water, road or electricity.
Driving through such a destitute wilderness, we suddenly came across a small and humble Unification Church center – it was more like a shack reminding of Reverend Moon’s cardboard hut on the hillside of Pusan. Some of the deepest experiences we had were through the local Blessed families and their children…it was quite a shock to experience how people who have so little can give so much, how people who are so poor can invest with so much passion and conviction.
There are a few of these ‘Unification outposts’ serving the distressed areas. Towering high above the center is a large Unification Church flag and a megaphone and the neighborhood resounds with holy songs and readings from the Divine Principle. In the center we heard testimonies of how new members are drawn to them through the power of the spiritual world, it sounds like the early days of the movement in Korea.
Our service days started with ‘food-raising’: going out in the early morning to the wholesale fruit and vegetable markets of Lima. That was an experience in itself: going from stall to stall with crates and bags asking for produce donations to serve the poor - it was very fruitful, after thirty minutes we would return with piles of fruits and vegetables.
We later donated all the produces to “comedores” – best translated as community kitchens, all named after the Japanese missionaries who made a foundation in the country years ago. Besides that we served through painting their schools, leveling out their dirt roads, and simply playing sports with the kids. The people we met seemed to be more moved by their hearts, and we quickly came to feel like we are all “one family under God”.
One of the unforgettable visits (besides ruins and beaches) was the Lima Water Fountain Park. They boast it is the #1 in the world synchronized display of water, light, music and laser. For a mere $1 entrance fee you can participate in a breathtaking, harmonized dance of water to the sound of Beethoven or Kitaro. The artists/technicians behind were able to inspire in us a wide range of emotions from awe to excitement and fun. The experience culminated in a fantastic finale of famous musical parts and images of nature and historical Peru - truly uplifting for the human spirit which is designed to respond to true beauty!
During our stay we ate all kinds of local foods – exotic fruits that only grow there, traditional Peruvian “ceviche” (marinated raw fish), coca leaf powder which they use for tea… All in all the whole experience was way beyond my expectation and well worth repeating – STF members’ hearts grew deeply in the short time there, and many shared that they feel called to return some day to Peru to serve more. So we will continue to develop this new aspect of the STF training and work to strengthen the ties between North and South America.
Written by Roland Platt, STF director
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