I stepped off the plane in Pucallpa, Peru, and was greeted by a blast of wet heat. The air smelled like burning trash, and I could already feel sweat rolling down my forehead. It was 95 degrees Fahrenheit and 95 percent humidity.

It was about a 10-minute drive to my destination, the Ambassadors Medical Outreach and Relief (AMOR) Projects missionary clinic that would serve as my home base while I taught English at Ucayali Adventist Academy.

Always eager to take in new sights, I was surprised when all I wanted to do was rest my eyes in the car. Maybe I’m just exhausted from the trip and stressed from getting ready, I thought.

I went to bed that night on a mattress about a foot too short and tried not to touch the mosquito net that hung closely all around me. I was terrified of getting malaria and was certain I’d die if a mosquito even touched me. I could hear the buzz of their tiny wings, even above the croaking of the frogs outside, jetting my biggest fear all around the room. By now, my head throbbed and my stomach churned.

Celebrating my birthday in typical Peruvian manner—smothered in eggs and flour and then sung to. 
Departing the newly planted church with a motor-car full of my fellow student missionaries. 
Playing with Pepe the smiling coati. 

I spent my first few days lying in a hammock, sweating, shooing flies, and darting to the nearest bathroom. Nice welcome, I thought. Between bathroom trips, I watched longingly as planes flew overhead on their way out of Pucallpa. I’d never felt so jealous in my life.

The days passed slowly, hour by hour. My fear of getting malaria dissipated, but that had nothing to do with me settling in. I knew that if I got the “Big M,” it would be my ticket home. It might be worth the risk.

I prayed earnestly every day for God to give me strength to meet the challenges in my path, and slowly things began to shift. I regained my health, made new friends, and even discovered where I could buy mac ’n cheese. Yet I still longed to go home.

Then something happened that helped me make a leap toward being happy in my new experience. I went to a Bible study one Friday night at Elder Matias’ home, and he said something I’ll never forget. He drew a parallel between growing as a Christian and the process of a refiner purifying unprocessed gold. He explained that God sometimes puts us in a fiery oven to remove our impurities. His goal isn’t to hurt us. It’s to make us the best that we can be.

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It was then that I understood that Pucallpa was my fire—something difficult and uncomfortable God was using to make me shine for Him. I’d been thinking that I was giving up necessities for my well-being, but I realized they were just impurities that kept me from growing in Jesus.

Elder Matias’ words were the nudge I needed to change my perspective on my mission service. I took them to heart and began to soften to the idea of remaining in Pucallpa for the next nine months. Although it’s blazin’ hot most of the time and I feel like I’m literally melting, I know I’m melting spiritually and being molded into a beautiful work of God. I praise Him for the changes He’s made and continues to make in my life.

I bought my ticket last week to fly home in five months. When I got the confirmation e-mail, I couldn’t help but feel sad. Five months isn’t nearly enough now. I'm not ready to leave, and I don't think I ever will be. I still swat mosquitos and wipe sweat from my brow, but I’m not bothered by these things anymore.

I’m no longer envious of the people who fly out of Pucallpa each day. In fact, I know without a doubt that when I fly out, I’ll look down at my new home and feel jealous of those who can stay.

Kainan Shaw
Kainan Shaw served as a volunteer English teacher at Ucayali Adventist Academy in Peru. He is currently earning a business degree at Walla Walla University in Washington, United States, and plans to attend law school.