Melissa Stehman of Manheim, Pa., was a trekker on EMM's 2017 Peru Trek for PROMESA. Along with nine other hikers, Melissa trekked 61 miles over five days, sometimes climbing higher than 16,000 feet above sea level. The purpose? Raising funds to build a new school for Peruvian Mennonite K-12 students! Here are Melissa's memories from the trip. (Intrigued? Learn more about EMM's 2018 Peru Trek opportunity.)
What a trip! Where do I start? It all began with a letter from EMM that started with the words, "Adventure with us!" The letter went on to describe an opportunity to trek in the Andes Mountains, while using the trek as a platform to raise awareness and funds for the PROMESA school.
PROMESA was started by the Peruvian Mennonite Church to provide high-quality, discrimination-free education to Peruvian children from minority backgrounds and religions, including evangelical Christianity. The school is outgrowing the Mennonite church building where it meets, so the hike would raise funds to construct a road and bridge to the property where PROMESA is building a new school. I enjoy traveling and going on mission trips — I figured the trip was a great combination!
But once I'd signed up, I was pretty nervous to go on the trip. I had never hiked for more than a day, and I was worried about having the stamina to complete the hike. I had also never camped outside, and I didn't know anyone else going on the trek. The trip would be a true test in trusting in God.
Despite my nerves, on October 15 I arrived in Cusco, Peru, along with the trip organizer, Michelle Deller of Steep Adventures, and the nine other trekkers. Cusco is approximately 11,000 feet above sea level — I was definitely feeling the high altitude just walking around! To put things in perspective, Lancaster, Pa. is 368 feet above sea level.
Before starting the trek, our group spent a day touring the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu and learning about the Inca culture. Their ability to build structures without mortar on the side of a mountain was mind-blowing! We also hiked up to Cristo Blanco, a towering white statue of Jesus that can be seen across Cusco. The statue was a gift from Arabic Palestinians who sought refuge in Cusco after World War II.
After seeing some of the beautiful sights of Cusco, we were excited to begin our trek! Early the next morning, we drove to a small village east of Cusco called Tinqui to start hiking. Flashpacker Connect was the amazing local trekking company that helped us hike the 61 miles around the Ausangate Mountain. They provided guides, a horseman to load our supplies onto horses, and chefs to cook meals for us as we traveled.
Everywhere we looked on our hike, there were breathtaking views. God's creation is absolutely stunning! Little did we know we would be experiencing precipitation on many days. The weather was a test of our determination, perseverance, and our ability to stay upright! One morning, I almost didn't make it out of my tent because it had snowed the night before and the zipper was frozen shut.
On day three — the halfway point of the trek — we reached the main highlight: the Rainbow Mountain. We all stopped to gaze at this mountain blanketed with vibrant colors. The view was breathtaking, both figuratively and literally!
We passed by several villages and local residents as we hiked in the valley. Our team leader Michelle had been carrying pencils in hopes of meeting local children. The fourth day of the trek was filled with joy when we finally came across some children and saw the pure happiness on their faces as they received pencils! Those smiles made the trek even more worthwhile. It drew my attention to how happiness can be found in the littlest of things, and it also made me realize how blessed we really are.
On the last day of the trek, our guides warned us that the mountain we'd be climbing had several false peaks. As I reached each false peak (five to be exact), I became more and more discouraged. But once I finally reached the top, it was a relief to go downhill all the way to the end of the trek!
Having finished this huge adventure, we reflected on all we had accomplished. We said goodbye to our wonderful guides, horseman, and chefs, who had made the whole journey possible. The horseman had loaded our night packs, tents, and food onto the packhorses. The chefs had cooked delicious meals, including a cake for breakfast. And the guides had encouraged us as we hiked and took care of us when we were ill from altitude effects. We drove back to Cusco with thankful hearts, even when we were stopped in a traffic jam caused by a herd of alpacas and cattle!
We spent our last day in Peru visiting the current location of the PROMESA school, where we were able to meet the school staff and the children. We were thrilled to finally see who would be benefiting from the more than $58,000 we had raised!
After taking a tour of the school in its current Mennonite church location, we were invited to a special assembly with around 300 students. We were greeted with students performing a dance in traditional clothing, and another group of boys holding up signs saying, "Thank you for your support, God bless."
We prayed with the students before they were dismissed. In that moment, the trip came full circle. The hard days of the trek vanished as we saw so many children and adults with smiles on their faces, waving at us with happiness. The true purpose of our trip, education, shone!
Soon we hit the road toward the mountainside property where the new school would be built. (Since our visit, construction has begun!) We carefully drove along the bumpy path in our 4x4 vehicle to reach the location. To the average person, the view was just another semi-wooded mountainside. For PROMESA, it was a new beginning, filled with many opportunities for growth! It was encouraging to see and feel their excitement and gratitude.
I'm super glad I made the decision to go to Peru. I made so many memories and new friends there. I was able to accomplish the hike because I had encouraging teammates and an abundance of prayers. We may never really see or know the full impact of our decisions, but from what little I was able to see, the impact of this trek on the PROMESA school will be huge!
Melissa works as a secretary at Dave's Lawn & Garden, a family-owned outdoor power equipment sales and service business. She attends Ruhl's United Methodist Church in Manheim, Pa., where she is actively involved with the mission team. She has gone on six mission trips with Ruhl's to New Mexico, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Kentucky, and twice to Guatemala. Melissa enjoys traveling and seeing God's beautiful creation, and her love for travel coincides with her love for mission trips. When she is not traveling, she likes to crochet, spend time with her family, and enjoy the outdoors!