A short-term mission team from LCMS International Mission led Castillo Fuerte, a children’s program, during a 2023 trip to La Victoria, Peru. (Photo courtesy of Doug Hoyt.)

Samantha currently lives in Cairns, Australia. She is a lifelong member of Immanuel Lutheran Church in East Dundee, Ill. She is also an alumna of the Lutheran Young Adult Corps, a program of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. As part of the corps, she worked with refugees and immigrants in St. Louis, an experience that inspired her to do mission work in several Latin American countries, including two LCMS International Mission trips to Peru — in February 2020 and October 2023. When she’s in the United States, she is an active member of Orange Nation, the Synod’s young adult mission branch. She loves hiking, eating seafood, and trying to befriend every dog that crosses her path.

By Samantha Hoyt, LCMS short-term mission team member

I had a dream last night — in Spanish.

In my dream, there was a table stretching on and on, farther than the eye could see. The Spanish-speaking guests at my end of the table were struggling to communicate with an English-speaking companion, so I jumped in to translate. Smiles broke across their faces as they were finally able to connect with one another. I, too, felt joy that I was able to help.

Several years ago, on my first trip to Peru, the idea that I would be able to dream in a different language would have been laughable. Sure, I had four years of Spanish classes under my belt, but, although I could communicate simple needs like ordering food, I was effectively unable to understand what other people were saying.

This became glaringly obvious when my parents and I received a platter at a restaurant that included two foods we could identify and one we could not, no matter how hard we tried. After several minutes of the waiter trying to explain, he sighed, pushed the tip of his nose up with his finger, snorted, and then pointed to his feet. All of us, including the waiter, shared a good laugh as we finally understood. Pigs feet! At least some sign language is universal.

During a 2020 trip to Peru, LCMS International Mission short-term mission team members offered free medical consultations to individuals dealing with health issues. (Photo courtesy of Ginger Diven.)

Medical clinics and memories

The plan for that trip was to teach. Our team was composed mostly of medical professionals of one kind or another, with a few of us with intercultural missions experience sprinkled in. We were there to put on health clinics across Lima, instructing people in several different neighborhoods in basic first aid, nutrition, and the importance of proper handwashing and dental care.

We had a blast putting on the clinics, which were attended by hundreds of people of all ages. We sang with the children and put on demonstrations for them, and we also enjoyed delicious meals prepared by their grandmothers and great-grandmothers.

When I think of my favorite memories, however, I don’t think of teaching. I think of the swarm of small children who were ecstatic to sing “Happy Birthday” to my mom in her own language. I think of the deep respect I felt for a disabled single father who worked long hours to feed his daughters while still choosing to attend church and help his elderly neighbors. I think of the family of little boys who wanted to be just like my dad because he showed them pictures of the fire trucks he worked on back home in the U.S.

And, of course, I think of the elderly man who traveled to Minnesota and discovered Big Mouth Billy Bass animatronic singing fish, with which he was so enamored that he brought back a whole suitcase full for his family. As a native Midwesterner and fellow Big Mouth Billy Bass owner, I was delighted.

LCMS International Mission short-term mission team members and missionaries met Osmel, a local pastor, and his wife, Yolanda, in 2020. (Photo courtesy of Ginger Diven.)

Unknowingly preparing for COVID

I flew home from Peru at the end of February 2020. Three weeks later, the world locked down. Looking back, I still marvel at God’s goodness.

Just before the world shut down, our group was able to hand out soap in some of the most economically depressed neighborhoods in Lima. We were able to teach children about hygiene and how to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy. We were able to introduce people who had never set foot in a church to local church workers who would be able to care for and minister to them through the coming year of uncertainty and fear. We intended to use that trip to travel and teach, but, unbeknownst to us, God would use it to save lives. 

I returned to Peru in October 2023, this time with my brother. So much had changed. Some people we had looked forward to seeing had moved away. Several had been called to their eternal home.

While some of the news was bittersweet, so much more filled us with joy. Babies had grown into vibrant and energetic preschoolers. People who had spoken no English on our first visit were elated to practice their new language with us. A shy Venezuelan refugee I met in 2020 had become a deaconess student and one of the kindest, most loving people I have ever had the privilege to know. God worked in Peru through us, and it was so, so good to see how He kept working there long after we had left.

The Cerros (Spanish for “Mounts”) are heavily populated in economically depressed communities in Peru. (Photo courtesy of Ginger Diven.)

God is there in the middle of darkness

That, I believe, is the most important thing. So many people look at the evil in the world and ask, “If God is real, where is He in all this?” What a valid question! I firmly believe that it is good to wrestle with questions like this because searching for answers helps us know our Creator more deeply. As God says in Jeremiah 29:13: “You will seek me and find me if you seek me with all your heart.”

The answer I have found to this question is that God is right in the middle of the darkness with us, working through His people. During the pandemic, God was at work through every burnt-out health care worker who pulled an extra shift. He was at work through every grandmother sewing masks. He was at work through every school guidance counselor caring for youth with depression. And He was working through us, weeks before we knew how bad it would be, providing health care and sanitation resources to communities that could have been hit disproportionately hard by an infectious disease.

There is no way we could have foreseen the effects of our service. But God saw. God prepared. God was there. God is still there today, and I trust that He is working through our second trip in ways that I will probably never know.

It is easy to feel helpless, to believe that missions and ministry are best left to the professionals. I know this firsthand. I spent much of my life believing that I must be the dullest knife in God’s utensil drawer. And maybe that’s true.

But our value does not come from our judgment of ourselves — it comes from the creativity and mastery of the Maker. Because of that, I have learned not to hide in shame. Instead, I have learned to wake up every day saying, like Isaiah, “Here I am. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). 

The Great Commission

As I write this, I think back on my dream. I can’t help but smile at the image of people of all nations and languages sitting together in peace. I imagine that’s what heaven is like. I am reminded that we were all given a Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations. Some of us are called to pray and support from our homes, which in itself is a noble calling.

But if God is calling you to destinations unknown, whether for a week or a lifetime, don’t be afraid. Remember Christ’s words at the end of Matthew: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Don’t hide yourself in the bottom of God’s utensil drawer. Go visit the people at the other end of the table, maybe even in Latin America. There’s dulce de leche there, plus more blessings too many to number, and that’s not a dream.

Visit lcms.org/servenow to find your opportunity to serve the Lord and His people through LCMS International Mission.