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Mama Victoria


Billy and Laurie Drum minister in Huancayo, Peru as teachers. Both having spent many years as teachers in the States, they have a heart for education and are called to help children and families who do not have the ability to obtain an education in Peru. They founded the Kuyay Talpuy program, which means "sowing seeds with the love of God" in the Quechua language. Through the Kuyay Talpuy education centers, the Drums are able to touch the lives of children, their families, and their communities. Laurie and Billy are also active in community health outreach and discipleship programs.

Here, Laurie tells how the sudden death of a Peruvian friend opened new doors for ministry.

The phone rang at 5:30 a.m. – never a good sign. Billy went into the office to take the call, but I could hear him saying, “Please repeat! I don’t understand. Please repeat!” I hurriedly put on my robe and went to the office. Billy handed the phone to me and said, “It’s Flor (my best friend’s daughter). Something is wrong with Mama Victoria, but I can’t understand her.” I quickly understood why – Flor was crying and panicked and going back and forth between Spanish and Quechua. “You have to come now. Mi mamacha (which means, ‘my grandmother’ in Quechua) is bad. Mama Victoria is bad. She’s really bad. Come now!”

I assured her that we would rush to them, fully knowing that ‘rush’ meant that it would take us a full 40+ minutes to get to the other side of the valley and up the mountain. We quickly dressed and woke my mother to fill her in so that she could stay behind and watch Sarah, our daughter.  As we headed for the truck, the phone rang again. “Don’t come. She is worse. They are taking her to Huancayo to the hospital. They are coming to the hospital by your house. Wait for them!  They are coming!”

And so we waited. And we paced the floor. And we wondered, What could have happened? We were just with Mama Victoria yesterday afternoon. She was running down the path with her four-year old granddaughter and the sheep, laughing and fussing at the same time. She did that so well! What on earth could have happened between last evening and now?

Mama Victoria was the matriarch of the community of Patarcocha. In her late 80s, she was as bubbly and alive as anyone I know. She spent her days sitting in the fields being a shepherd to her sheep and cow. Most days, her grandchildren played at her side as she watched animal, spun wool, knitted, or harvested crops in the fields. She was always happy to have company, including ‘gringos’ who didn’t always speak the best Spanish or Quechua but absolutely loved to be by her side. She was a storyteller, and she welcomed the opportunity to tell about the community, her life as a girl, or about her family. She was also comfortable with silence. We have sat together in silence many times, just working quietly and watching the sheep. On numerous occasions, she called me “hijita,” the endearing term for daughter in Spanish. Her real daughter, Elva, is my best friend. Mama Victoria worried over me, always being sure that I had a hat on to keep the sun from burning my head, or making sure I had a “manta” or wool blanket around my shoulders so I didn’t get too cold and get sick. She played with my daughter and fussed at my husband and me if she thought we were too strict with her.

Just a year ago, Mama Victoria accepted Christ. I won’t take credit for that. I know that Christ was always in her heart. Someone had planted that seed long, long ago. But through a series of life events, that seed had grown and withered, grown again and withered again, over and over until it just lay dormant within her. I just happened to have the honor of being a part of the new growth that began in her as a result of God leading us to this community two years ago. Through the relationships that developed during our time in Peru, Mama Victoria became a full believer and a witness for her community. 

All of these thoughts were going through my mind as we waited for their arrival. I continued to worry and think through the possibilities of what could have happened. Did she fall? That wouldn’t surprise me… she was spunky and always tried to do everything herself. What was taking so long? There probably weren’t any taxis. We should have gone out there to get her. Then I started to second-guess my Spanish and my understanding of Flor’s phone call. Did she say that we needed to come and take her to the hospital? Did she say that we should meet them at the hospital? What if we misunderstood? We’ve been sitting here waiting for almost an hour! What if we made a mistake!

Billy grabbed the phone and tried to call back. Flor answered, and I could tell from Billy’s face that he definitely understood this conversation. He sank into the chair, and his lip began to quiver as he tried to hold his voice steady to calm Flor. Mama Victoria had died before they got to Huancayo. Flor said that Elva and Elvis (Elva’s oldest son) were on their way to our house, and for us to please wait. And so we waited, numb from the news and confused by this new realization that our Mama Victoria was gone. 

We were suddenly panicked and confused, too, We know nothing about what happens in this culture when there is a death. What is our role in this? What should we do or not do? What will happen in the next couple of days? How can we help and be supportive, yet culturally sensitive? We had no idea.

Elva and Elvis appeared at our home and fell into our arms. We cried and cried in our living room as we held our friends and tried to comfort them and support them in their grief. Elva composed herself enough to say, “You are family. I need you. Please come home with us. We have lots to do. How am I ever going to do this? How can I live without Mama Victoria? I’ve never lived alone. She has always been by my side. Now what? You are family. You have to come home with me. Come be with us, please.” We agreed to go with them immediately and be with the family. 

Throughout the days that followed Mama Victoria’s death, we were overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed that we were included in such a special, emotional time as death. Overwhelmed that people opened up to us in a way unlike ever before, and openly shared with us about their traditions and culture and beliefs. Overwhelmed at the incredible insight we had to this Quechua Wanca culture because of the relationship we had with Mama Victoria. 

During the next four days, we stayed right beside Mama Victoria’s family. They led us through their cultural traditions surrounding a funeral, explaining everything as they went. Mama Victoria was dressed and laid in a coffin on the front porch. For three days people came and paid their respects and sat with the family.

A most beautiful thing began to take place for us. Since we were obviously the “adopted family” and did not know the customs surrounding the funeral process, the community began to gently teach us during every part. They would tell us what was going on, why it was done that way, and what we should do.

And so went the days until the burial of Mama Victoria on the third day. The burial was preceded by a funeral service performed by a priest. The service was small, attended only by family members who gathered on the small, dirt-floor porch.

The day after the burial was a day of celebration, of sorts. There was a time of fun and games during the day, more memories and reminiscing and laughter. There was more explanation to us regarding traditions, culture, and beliefs surrounding death and spirits. Everyone took it upon themselves to tell us about their ideas and beliefs. We were the learners and the community members were teachers. I prefer that! We have so much to learn.

It seems surreal to look back and say that Mama Victoria’s death opened the door for us in the community, but it seems as though it was her last gift to us. Through her death and our inclusion in her family, we were finally given the recognition as members of the community. We suddenly moved from “missionaries” and “gringos” to a new, more intimate role. After two years of working in the community every day (but living 45 minutes away in the city), we were granted permission to actually move there and live in the community and become one with them. We had been asking for that opportunity and expressing that desire for a long time, but the doors were always closed. Then, mysteriously, after spending those most intimate days with the family and community during Mama Victoria’s funeral process, we were seen as “worthy” and a house was found for us. 

The community rallied around us and helped us make plans and begin to move in. We became neighbors and friends. We began to work on community issues together. We began to have community struggles together. And we bonded in a new way. We went from being a part of Mama Victoria’s family to being a part of the family of Patarcocha, Peru.

Mama Victoria’s death was perhaps the most difficult and sad time we have spent with the people here on the mountain and in ministry, but it was also a most remarkable gift which gave us some of the most touching moments we have had.

Thank you, Mama Victoria! You were a beautiful woman in this life and your beautiful life continues to touch us even after your death. We look forward to seeing you again one day. I’m sure that you are sitting with the Great Shepherd enjoying the time together, telling stories, or perhaps just enjoying the silence. Thank you for the blessing that your life, and your death, have been for us!