Three days before I left Texas for Peru, I realized that I didn’t have my best set of surfboard fins. They were with one of my boards in Corpus Christi. So, I called my brother and got him to overnight them to me in Austin. “Wait a minute, I thought this was a mission trip. You’re going surfing?” He teased. “Well, two months in Peru, I mean, come on. Besides, you don’t think I chose the country with some of the longest waves in the world on accident do you?”
One of the book marks I have been using is a note from Bishop Reed that he sent me a few weeks before my travels. The note let me know that he’d be praying for me and my family and that he wanted me to enjoy the longest wave in the world. It’s nice to be understood!
Just two weeks ago, I did surf the longest wave in the world, Puerto Chicama. Not the best wave in the world, but the longest; a novelty that I have now scratched off of my bucket list. The truth is, though, that Peru’s status as a surfing destination was one of the reasons I chose to come here. Not simply so that I could search for waves for two months, but because I have an immediate in-road in coastal countries. I am going to do my best not to be too effusive and sound like some overly nostalgic surf bum, but surfing is not a sport or a pastime, it is a lifestyle. And this fact means that I have a touchstone in every country that has a local surfing population. Regardless of the fact that I come from a place that is completely different than the place I am going, I have something in common with these people. We share a common lexicon and an understanding of each other’s experiences (in the water at least).
So it was that the first friends I made in Peru were surfers. Our conversations always began with the primary subject of current surf conditions and the forecast for the next few days. Equipment talk usually comes next: what size board you ride, fin type, wetsuit, etc. Then comes the checklist of spots surfed around the world, places we’ve surfed in common, and once trust has been gained the disclosure of the secret spots where waves are good and crowds are small. After this comes an invitation to surf another spot with them. And, my friendships followed that pattern. But there is another pattern taking shape over the course of these friendships: I have been able to share my own larger culture with them, and receive valuable information about their larger culture. And most importantly, without fail, every one of my conversations with people and developed friendships have led to the question of “what do you do back home.” So, surfing has become a means for evangelism.
In Peru, when someone learns that I am a seminarian they always ask, “Are you a Christian or a ________?” The blank is filled in with the opposite of what your faith is. If you were Roman Catholic your question would go, “Are you a Christian or an evangelico?” If you were not Roman Catholic, your question would be, “Are you a Christian or a Catholic?” Evangelico (or evangelical) does not mean the same thing here as it does in the States, here it is a generic term that we would use for protestant and non-denominational, basically anything except Catholic. I am always amused by the looks I get from people when I tell them that I am both. Most folks have not heard of the Anglican Church and I am always pleased by their responses to my description of the church and its moderate position in the spectrum of religiosity that exists here. Though my first conversations about my religious life were with surfers, my opportunities to evangelize went far beyond these friendships. I have shared Anglicanism with taxi cab drivers, random folks on the street, waiters, hotel and hospedaje owners, members of the South American Explorers Club, school principals, students, tourists, tour guides, and followers of my blog. And though these have been opportunities to share, they have also been opportunities to receive. I was reminded by my own words of who and whose I am. Surfers can be evangelists. Why not, I like to ask, it’s the closest impersonation of Jesus I have been able to muster; walking on water the only way I know how and using my God-given interests to share the good news.