Thursday, 26 November 2009

Cards in the Park

Hi. Last week end went well. I shared at the ‘Luz de Vida’ young people’s meeting and then also preached there on Sunday night. Both meetings went well and I feel I am continuing to develop relationships particularly with the young people there. Please continue to pray that I would be used of God in all the churches I visit.

Although this blog is mostly dedicated to keeping you up to date with what I am involved in, a few weeks ago I included a post about ‘Day of the Dead’. I received very positive feedback and felt I have been asked to share other posts of a similar vein from time to time. As I live here in Peru I have been making a concerted effort to broaden my understanding of various aspects of life, but particularly with regard to religion. Well, I thought I would share about something I learnt a little about this week.

On Monday morning Andrew Roycroft and I went out to get some things done in town and we were walking down a major avenue in the centre of Tacna. We unsuspectingly came across a number of fortune tellers who seemed to be plying their trade along the length of a certain section of this avenue in a little park that divides the two carriageways.
We were intrigued by a few things we saw in particular so I returned that afternoon to see if I could get a few photos. By the time I returned it was a little cloudy but there were plenty of people about, children playing on the grass and people lying about chatting eating ice-cream. In the middle of this the fortune tellers continued to attend their clientele.

The first man I asked to photograph was very obliging. He was the man we had seen earlier. What had intrigued us were not the tarot cards or coca leaves but the crucifix.
As I watched for a few moments I noted that his routine at the beginning of dealing the cards is to place them on the crucifix and in a sense have the crucifix ‘kiss’ the deck before he begins to deal.

As I walked down the avenue I took a photograph of this lady who was very eager for me to do so. She reads coca leaves and has a few superstitious items pinned to the coloured cloth under the leaves. You can’t quite see it in the photo but she showed me a little rubber sandal pinned there.
The next fortune teller also was keen that I should photograph him in the middle of attending a client. Note again a smaller crucifix strategically placed on the cards.
I was able to get into a conversation with this gentleman who was one of the last fortune tellers I passed. He insisted I wait until a client came before I took his picture.
While waiting we chatted about his profession. He told me a little about himself, namely that his Grandfather and Father were fortune tellers before him and that he learned the trade from them. He was sad however, because his children were not interested in carrying on from him but have tried to pursue other more mainstream professions. This nonetheless does not mean there is a lessening interest in people wishing to have their fortunes told.
I asked him who normally comes and he said that people of every age, gender and social class will come and seek to have questions answered. I asked for some examples of people who had visited him that day. He said that in fact there had been a lot of young adults that day. They had been looking for advice whether to travel or not. Travel can sometimes be dangerous here, and given that fear and uncertainty about the future is one of the primary motives for going to a fortune teller, then I presume this is why people seek some form of reassurance about upcoming journeys.
Others were seeking advice about job opportunities, whether to change, or about accepting or seeking promotion. He also said that very often young people will come with ‘romantic questions’ as he put it. They will come asking if a person they have ‘their eye on’ is a good match, or will bring a profitable or happy future. He said that often couples will come together before getting married seeking to see if their relationship will have good or bad future.

All in all I found it interesting, though in the same instance saddening, to see how the syncretistic nature of religion here in Peru has meant that crucifixes have been mixed in with tarot cards and coca leaves. It was worrying that people could be duped into thinking that this practice was in anyway related to Christianity. Though I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising given that many people like to blend or adapt various ‘religious’ traditions or superstitions to suit their own needs or fill their own void.
It also struck me that this was practiced in the middle of a busy street. This is not the stereotypical image of a fortune teller in a room down a dark alley. This is in a very public place with ease of access to all. The children playing nearby growing up with the impression that this is just as normal and harmless as the key cutters on one side of the street and the hardware shops on the other who also just seek to ‘practice’ their trades. What is more this is not isolated to Tacna. In Ilo there are also fortune tellers at a certain point on very public promenade along the seafront.
Lastly it alarmed me that so many of those looking to have their fortunes told were people about my own age. These were not elderly people stuck in an old animistic mentality. Whilst most of the fortune tellers appeared to be of an Andean background, those seeking their advice appeared to be people who I would never have guessed as people who would believe in ‘luck’ and fortune. I cannot pretend to understand the individual motivations for those seeking to have their fortunes told, but what I can say is that from what I observed, this ‘trade’ does not seem to be dying out. Rather superstition and animism seems to continue to grip the Peruvian mindset even among the educated younger generations.

Please continue to pray for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom here in Peru.
This Sunday I hope to visit the Tarata church once again. Please pray for safety in travel and also as we seek to visit an elderly lady in Ticaco (a nearby town) during the afternoon. Pray that this would be an encouragement to her.
God Bless,


J-D lovell said...

this is a great incite in to the ground work that is needed to reach people. sometimes we talk more and not listen. observation and getting others to talk shows clearly how they give us permission to listen about here lives. then with the guidance of the Holy Spirit we can talk about our God. u really show that by taking time is out to know others is really important! sometimes its possible to live in a bubble of friends and church contacts. and never reach beyond. thanks for this post. its very encouraging. J-D Lovell

Gordon Darragh said...

Alistair - what an amazing story! This is well presenting and very challenging. Thanks for the way you respectfully asked each person for permission! Hope semester ends well and you get some good time off at Christmas.

Karen said...

yea just to agree with the others, this post was especially interesting to read and a real encouragement to continue in prayer. also good to hear how you are getting on! it really is such a big encouragement to hear about all you are involved in and how God is using you so thanks for allowing us to share in that!

Alistair said...

Thank you all for your words of encouragement. I look forward to catching up with you all more fully when I get back.
God Bless,