The international community has a saying about the country of Peru. They say that Peru is a “beggar sitting on a pile of gold.”
When I first heard this I began to wonder what does that even mean? However seeing a small picture of life away from the city left me with absolutely no doubt about why the world says this about Peru. This is the view out of a dirt hut in one of the poorest parts of the world I have ever been to. The breath taking beauty of God’s creation hidden away in the Lunahuana valley. The people who live and work here live well below the poverty line, they are the beggars of the world and yet what can you call this view but a pile of gold.
Just before Christmas we took a trip outside of Lima to Lunahuana. This area is about 200 miles south of Lima and a little further inland, although it is still considered to be the coastal region of Peru. Think of Lunahuana like a county with 15 small villages within, and a total population of less than 5,000. The villages are built into the side of mountain foothills surrounding a luscious green valley. Together the villagers farm the valley and survive from day to day.
These people invited us into their homes, their homes with tin roofs, dirt floors and walls made out of reeds. Parents sent children rushing to the store to buy soda and a snack for us, the old men pulled out the finest bottle of brandy they had been saving and the women began cooking. At every home we visited we were welcomed with kisses, hugs and such joy that I felt I was among family not people whose last name I didn’t even know. We were showered with gifts of fresh fruit and homemade wine. People who had nothing gave everything that they had to welcome us into their homes.
I sat watching the old woman in her dirty, tattered dress cook me dinner over an open fire on the uneven floor right next to the house where one stray spark could do a world of damage. Her face was washed and clean but it showed her age and the difficulties her life has brought her. Her hair was streaked with gray and her hands wrinkled and cracked from years of hard work. In the background behind this woman the caramel colored mountains which climb to the sky. Their harsh lines cut across the panorama directing the eye up to the bright blue sky where the peaks brush up against the clouds floating across the heavens. As far as the eye can see the hills continue, blending with the distance clouds, changing from a soft tan to a white blue in the distance. And the valley itself, well it’s straight out of a painting of an Eden. The river runs through the valley, fast and strong, sparkling like a million gems dancing over the rocks in the way. This river feeds the whole valley and sustains all life in Lunauhana. The vegetation is green and lush. Full of flowers, fruits and crops to sustain the people. As I watch the woman prepare dinner, my mind wanders to the beauty of God’s creation that I have been blessed to see here, a sight which many back home have never seen for themselves. I couldn’t help but wonder how much value this piece of land would have to an American. How much this view would sell for, and how the whole area would be worth if only it had plumbing and running water.
Yet, this place is so much more beautiful for the fact that it does not. These people maybe materially poor but they have been given many beautiful and wonderful gifts from the Lord and they know it. They value their land and their home not just for the view, but for the very fact that through it God sustains their lives. They are extremely poor and yet they do not have to think of themselves as poor because they know the value of the gifts that God has given them. They have food, home, family and salvation through Christ. The world may see these people as beggars sitting on a pile of gold but thankfully they know better, they are sitting on a pile of gold but they are not beggars.
Thinking about the expression today “a beggar sitting on a pile of gold” I think about how true this is, not for Peru but for you and me. The Christian is a beggar sitting on a pile of gold. Truly we are beggars, we are poor retched sinners, undeserving of any love or kindness and yet we sit begging the Lord to show us mercy. He has, and He continues to do so. For the sake of Christ who paid our debts and won for us salvation. In our baptism, Christ brings us into himself and all of His riches. We now hold the keys to heaven, we have everlasting life, forgiveness and the love of our Father. We posses the Holy Spirit; we certainly now are rich beyond understanding.
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7, ESV)
We are sitting on a pile of gold, yet we remain beggars. We continue to wear our tattered and stained clothes, we continue in sin not understanding the gift that has been given to us. We will remain this way until the Lord returns and rights all within this world. But He has promised us that He will return. “I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:3, ESV) We will not always remain beggars. And so we pray, Come, Lord Jesus, Come.