Category Archives: Adapted From Book

My Liturgy On “Words”

In our mission training program, we were called upon to prepare liturgies, which could be as wide-open as we wanted. Some candidates were very conservative, the most  conservative being when the woman surgeon going to Africa asked us all to pray the rosary.  What? That was just too rote, too bland, too unthinking for my taste. My favorite liturgy that I prepared was writing, and then reading this poem.

Word, word, words, words, babbling words
Noble words, heavy words, hearty words,
Think about it words
Think about it, words
Comfort words, happy words, sad words,
If there’s anything I can do words
I’m sorry for your loss words
Silent words, oh he or she is SO nice words, sliding the knife in words

Yes, it’s terrible
I’m so happy for you
I hear you
I’ll be here for you
My door is always open
Oh, don’t worry, that won’t last long
This wont hurt a bit
I didn’t mean to hurt you

God loves you, yes he does
Well, God and I were talking just the other day
Over dinner and he told me so
Well he must love you, that’s his job description
Of course, he love’s me just a little bit more
I heard it through the grapevine
I heard it in a whisper
I heard it in the air

Words to fight the killing
Words to stay together
Words to hey everybody let’s love one another
Words to fight the illness, the dirty water, the dirty air
Words to plead for the babies
Words to plead for the hookers
Words to plead for the johns
Words to pray

Gotta be rock n roll words
If you wanna dance with me
What, say me?
What, hey me?
What, right now?
What, in public?
What, before God?
And Everybody?

Words Words Words Words
What What What What
Now, not now, yes not now
Yes, of course but
Words to think about how it would look
Words to think about how they would think
Words to Yes means
No thank you, not now not really not quite

You understand.

OK, I know it wasn’t great poetry! While I “meant” many things, including just playing with the word, “word,” for its babble effect, my overall theme was how wonderful noble words are but they are just that, noble words. They mean nothing unless motivated action is behind the words and with the words. Otherwise, noble words are just empty calories. Even worse, they give false hope.


Adapted from John Wagner’s memoir, TROUBLED MISSION: Fighting For Love, Spirituality, and Human Rights in Violence-Ridden Peru (Kelly House, 2015)

Meeting Bella

Our GATE (Global Awareness Through Education) study tour of Peru was staying in a convent in Lima at the same a group of teachers was having a retreat there. One evening in the dinner line at the cafeteria, I saw a stunning teacher in a green dress. She was chatting with some other teachers, who were hanging on her every word. She was tall, had a drop-dead-gorgeous figure, was brown-haired and brown-eyed, with strong cheekbones. The sweep of her shoulders stemmed effortlessly from her neck. Her face radiated calmness, happiness, and vitality. She was simply the most beautiful and graceful creature I have ever seen. She reminded me of Sophia Loren, both in appearance and attitude. I knew that, as a teacher in Peru, she could not have much money, but she appeared royal, elegant, and proud. She also radiated a steamy sensuality.

Awakening the next morning, I couldn’t think of anything else but this beautiful, captivating woman. I looked for her on the grounds before and after breakfast but didn’t see her. Then our GATE group was off for a busy day of activities in hot and humid Lima. When we got back, in late afternoon, we were free until dinner. I couldn’t wait to look for this beautiful teacher again. I was sticky and sweaty from the heat and humidity and needed to clean up first. The cold shower water hit my skin as I washed myself quickly, attempting to get out the door fast to look for her. The garden was the centerpiece of the convent grounds and I stood, drinking a Coke, in more or less the crossroads of the garden paths. Now if she does any walking around at all, I thought, I’ll be sure to see her.

The heat caused the cold bottle of Coke in my hand to sweat, dripping beads of water on the ground. I kept waiting. The Coke got warmer. It would be time to join my group for dinner shortly and I had almost given up. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her, coming toward the garden with a friend. The dark hair, the smooth cinnamon skin, the enchanting smile I had seen again in my dreams the previous night—there was something about this woman that made my heart beat faster and my palms sweat even faster than my Coke bottle.

“Hola,” Hello. “¿Qué tal?” How’s it going? I had now picked up a few words of Spanish. “Would you like a Coke?” I asked in English, sticking out my half-empty bottle. “Wait right here,” I said and gesticulated. “I’ll get a Coke for each of you,” I said, pointing at the Coke bottle and at each of them. “OK?” I figured everyone knew, “OK.”
“OK,” they said, laughing.
“Don’t go away,” I said and emphasized with spur of the moment sign language. “I’ll get my phrasebook,” I said, which of course they couldn’t understand as I didn’t have my phrasebook.

Then I ran to the cafeteria to get two more Cokes, hurried to my room to get my Spanish phrasebook, and raced back, hoping they would still be there. They were. I gave them each a Coke, retrieved mine, and introduced myself. They offered their names in return, Bella and Eva. As we worked our way through the phrasebook, I learned they were teachers. They pointed at me, asking me in Spanish what I did. Without checking in the book, I just blurted out the only foreign word for lawyer I knew, the German, “advokat.”
“What,” Bella jokingly asked in Spanish, “are you an astronaut?”
I found it. “Abogado,” lawyer, I said. I tried, “Perry Mason,” but that meant nothing to them. I guess those old reruns hadn’t made it to Lima. We had a halting conversation in phrasebook Spanish. Luckily, Stephanie, our guide, happened by and I enlisted her help as translator to explain what I did for a living and what our group of gringos was doing in their troubled country.

I believe there are “click” experiences in life where you meet someone and, for no reason you can explain, you just “click.” That’s what happened to me with Bella.


Adapted from John Wagner’s memoir, TROUBLED MISSION: Fighting For Love, Spirituality, and Human Rights in Violence-Ridden Peru (Kelly House 2015).

The Campesinos Who Wanted To Keep Their Bicycles

“Give us your bicycles!”

In the Peru of the late 1980s-early 1990s, the vicious revolutionary organization Sendero Luminoso was terrorizing the Peruvian countryside. In the middle of a hot morning, near the small rural village of Sillota, four members of Sendero (known as Senderistas), dressed in dirty work clothes but each carrying a rifle or shotgun, suddenly appeared before four campesino farmers and their wives, who were working their fields. The campesinos froze. The leader of the Senderistas said, “We know who you are. We know you have bicycles. We’re official representatives of Sendero Luminoso.” (Yeah, right. Like there could be “official” representatives of a terrorist organization. But there could and they were.) “If you don’t give us your bicycles, we’ll kill you.”

In rural Peru, poor people don’t have cars and even a bicycle is extremely valuable. The campesino farmers offered what turned out to be a fatal bargain. “How about if you get on the backs of our bicycles and we’ll take you where you want to go.” It’s easy now, in hindsight, for us to see trouble ahead and yell out, as if to the actors in a scary movie who rush back into the house where the murderer lurks: “No! Don’t do it! Give them your bicycles!” But their bicycles were the only way they could get around, get to town to buy the supplies they needed and to sell small cartons of their potatoes and other crops. Without their bicycles, they’d have to walk hours for each little journey they needed to make. Their offer also showed real courage. Senderistas often killed anyone who stood in their way, without a second thought.

But the Senderistas actually accepted the campesinos’ offer and the group of eight made it into the little market town of Chillutira a few hours later. (The wives went to Sillota, gathered community leaders, and tried to figure out what to do.) In Chillutira, all hell broke loose. The Senderistas started robbing houses, townspeople began to fight back, and soon the townspeople had killed two Senderistas, with two escaping. The townspeople held the four Sillota campesinos prisoner until they could notify the Army and an Army patrol could come the next morning.

The wives got to Chillutira that night and sat up all night near their husbands. The Sillota officials got to Chillutira the next morning to vouch for the campesinos but it was too late. The Army had taken them away, along with the bodies of the two dead Senderistas.  “Please, let us go with our husbands,” the Sillota wives had begged.

“No,” the Army lieutenant said. “There’s no problem. Go to the Ayaviri base. You can visit your husbands there.” But that afternoon the Army truck arrived in the larger town of Ayaviri with all four campesinos dead, having been shot at close range. The Army claimed the truck had been attacked by terrorists but there were no bullet holes, they had made no radio report, and the only people injured were the campesinos.

Courageously, and with the help of human rights workers, the local prosecutor charged the Army officials involved with homicide but the Army had the case transferred to the military judicial system that, in Peru, had never convicted any Army official of any crime relating to human rights. Same thing here. The Army quickly exonerated the officers.

This was my introduction to human rights work in Peru—translating the Spanish  documents, studying the case details. Holding their original identification cards, it really hit me. These had been young guys, late 20’s-early 30’s. They were flesh and blood. They had families, wives, and children to support. They had farms to tend. Their lives mattered! I felt it was important to stand up for them in any way I could, to honor them, to do whatever I could to not to let their lives just be snuffed out and forgotten.


John Wagner’s memoir, TROUBLED MISSION: Fighting For Love, Spirituality, and Human Rights in Violence-Ridden Peru (Kelly House), will be published in the fall, 2015.