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Idaho church members stretch boundary of compassion
By Sandra Blackmer, assistant editor, Adventist World
|MERIDIAN TEAM: The Meridian church members who traveled to Peru stand with their interpreters. (Back/from left): Hudson Logan, Beverly Logan, Mary Carroll, Calvin Carroll, Sherman Bookter, Elaine Bookter, an interpreter. (Front/from left): An interpreter, Chuck Bobst, an interpreter.
When 12 students from the Adventist-run Jerusalen Elementary School in Iquitos, Peru, were baptized August 22, retired Pacific Press Publishing Association employee Chuck Bobst felt God was affirming the difficult decision he had made seven years before.
After an initial mission trip to Iquitos with the People of Peru Project  in 2006 to establish a crisis center there, Chuck had chosen to shift his focus to helping children and their families in less-affluent areas of the jungle-surrounded community. He subsequently founded Bridge the Gap, Inc., a nonprofit mission organization. Meridian Seventh-day Adventist Church members in Idaho and others have since supported his endeavors, not only financially but also with their time and prayers.
|JERUSALEN SCHOOL: The Jerusalen Elementary School was established for children living in high-poverty areas.
This year, August 18 – September 1, Chuck and six Meridian members made the annual trek to Iquitos — with a population of more than 400,000 and the largest city in the world that can’t be reached by road — to again offer their support to struggling families.“I wanted to work on the grassroots level and help kids and families in real need, so we partnered with the Jerusalen school, established for children living in high-poverty areas,” Chuck says. “It’s housed in a local Adventist church building.”
Meridian members and others from Pacific Press in Nampa, Idaho, and local businesses help pay school expenses, often including the cost of uniforms and books, for 27 of the students. About 90 kids are currently enrolled in grades 1–6.
Going to School Hungry
|SCHOOL CHILDREN: About 90 children attend the Jerusalen Elementary School in Iquitos.
“The teachers were telling us that the kids weren’t paying attention and often falling asleep in class because they were hungry,” Chuck notes. “So we started feeding them. After that, on average, their grades went up a whole letter grade!”
“Children need to go to school with a full stomach or else they can’t learn,” adds team member Calvin Carroll. “So now they get a good breakfast at school and also a snack later in the day.”
A principal together with six full-time and two part-time teachers — all Adventists — guide the children daily not only academically but spiritually as well. About half the student body is Adventist.
“It’s a true mission field,” Chuck says.
|HIGH POVERTY: Statistics indicate a poverty rate of 30 percent in Peruvian urban areas and more than 60 percent in rural regions. Many Iquitos homes are made simply of wooden slats supported by stilts for flood protection.
Unfortunately, the school’s future is precarious because the church in which it’s housed is available to them only short-term. A new facility will soon be needed, and the cost to the small-church team is daunting.
“We’re not sure where the money to build or purchase a new school will come from,” Chuck notes, “but we’re trusting the Lord will provide. He’s done it so far, so we’re praying that He’ll continue to do so.”
Each year the Meridian church also selects four or five new families in Iquitos to sponsor, and various members travel there to meet the families and assess their needs. They provide them with basic necessities such as mattresses, propane “camp” stoves, clothes, and food such as rice and beans. For some they pay to bring water or electricity to the homes. They also help families become more self-sufficient by giving them items such as a refrigerator, from which they can sell refrigerated goods to passersby.
|HIGH POVERTY: Statistics indicate a poverty rate of 30 percent in Peruvian urban areas and more than 60 percent in rural regions.
With a poverty rate of 30 percent in Peruvian urban areas and more than 60 percent in rural regions  finding families in need isn’t difficult. Many live in tiny makeshift wooden or mud shacks set on stilts and topped by thatched roofs that don’t always hold up well during rainy seasons. Annual flooding as well as a lack of clean water, adequate healthcare, and available jobs are daily challenges. Many households supplement their meager incomes by selling fish, produce, soda, candy, and other items in small concession stands in front of their homes.
The team feels their efforts to make a difference in the people’s lives there don’t go unnoticed.
“One mom we helped named Pilar just hugged and clung to us; she was so overwhelmed by everything we did for her,” says Elaine Bookter, one of this year’s team members, who, together with her husband, Sherman, is also picking up the tab for Pilar’s 7-year-old daughter’s school tuition. “There were two children and the parents in the house, and there was only one single bed but no mattress. They were sleeping on wood slats. So we bought them a mattress.”
“The people are so grateful and so generous,” adds Sherman. “They look for anything they have, things hanging on their walls, to give you. They have hardly anything in material possessions, and they’re looking for something to give me! Their generosity just touched my heart.”
Team member Beverly Logan agrees with Sherman’s evaluation. “There’s so much need and yet so much love,” she says. “Just such an open, innocent, generous love.”
|SPONSORED FAMILY: The Meridian church team supplied this family with a new roof, electricity to their home, and a bed, as well as paying the school tuition for one of the children.
One Meridian church-sponsored family lost their farm when a flood destroyed it in 2012. They lived in a church’s Sabbath school room until Bridge the Gap arranged to provide them a home. When this year’s team visited the family, they found they had an 8-day-old baby, “but not one piece of furniture in the whole house except for a hammock and a broken cot that you could sit on if you balance on one end just right,” Beverly explains. “The mom wasn’t expecting anything from us, but we provided her with bunk beds and mattresses, a table and chairs, a high chair for the baby, a rocking chair, and a fan. She and the baby were roasting. She was fanning it the entire time we were there.”
Providing for all these needs is “definitely a heavy load to carry,” says team member Hudson Logan, “but the Lord is providing. It’s a privilege to help them.”
When people ask Chuck “Why are you doing this?” he describes that as his “golden moment.” It gives him the chance “to explain that it’s because we’re all one big family and we all love the Lord. It’s only because of circumstances that I have what I have and they have what they have. It’s one of my favorite opportunities to witness.”
The people he helps, however, witness to Chuck as well. He remembers a particular family to whom he gave a month’s worth of rice and beans, and right away they began dipping it out and sharing it with their neighbors.
“I just cried. I couldn’t believe it — that they had that kind of compassion,” he says. “They didn’t have a house, they didn’t have anything, but they were sharing what they had.”
The needs also include physical ones. Team member Mary Carroll, a nurse, spent many hours in the local hospital with Delila, the mother of one of Meridian church’s sponsored kids. Delila was suffering with a severe health issue and needed treatment, including a surgical procedure, to correct the problem. The team not only funded the medical care but Mary also provided transportation and emotional support.
“I spent a lot of time waiting, but I was really glad we could be there to help her,” Mary says. “She’s now doing very well.”
|PRAISING GOD: The 12 children baptized as a result of attending the Jerusalen school pose with the Meridian church team. Team members from left are Calvin Carroll, Hudson Logan, Beverly Logan, Chuck Bobst, Elaine Bookter, Sherman Bookter, the local church pastor who baptized the children, and Mary Carroll.|
Reflecting on why she and the other team members are helping the people of Iquitos, Beverly says, “We’re building friendships for eternity. We’re there for just 12 days, but we get to meet and help these wonderful people.
“In church the last Sabbath we were there, the driver we hired, Fernando, sang a song titled ‘I’ll Meet You in Heaven.’ I thought, How appropriate! We’ll never see some of these people again until we meet in heaven, but we now have this bond we developed in the short time our paths crossed. That’s worth everything.”
To learn more about the Meridian church Peru project, contact Chuck Bobst, president, Bridge the Gap, Inc.