This post is one in a series of devotionals written by Lutherans in the U.S. and LWR staff around the world reflecting on their faith, which calls them to proclaim hope for those in need. Check out the other devotionals in the series.
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“I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” — Genesis 9:15 (NRSV)
Felipe stood and spoke to the highest governing body of the small farming community: the community assembly. “The time has come to do the minka for our Champaccocha irrigation canal. We have to clean and repair three kilometers of the canal, and we will begin it in two weeks,” he said.
The 95 men and women assembled were not surprised. In fact, everyone knew that August was the month to clean and repair this community necessity. Members of the community had been called on to fulfill this traditional obligation for as long as they could remember. Not tending to the task would mean risking not having maximum water flow capacity and, therefore, the danger that many families wouldn’t have enough water to irrigate crops and livestock grazing areas.
Minka is a Quechua word, meaning collective work based on reciprocity. The practice of this ancestral tradition, deeply rooted in the Andean population, dates to a pre-Columbian era but continues today in Peru and other nearby countries. The minka was and is a covenant or agreement among farmers and communities to ensure the collective service of a public good. Above all, it ensures the life of the whole system.
I will never forget the day of that gathering, when I was working on an LWR project aimed at promoting the cultivation of native potato varieties.
Two weeks later, men, women and children assembled to do their minka duty at the canal. Their work would ensure more water, and that would mean more food, as well as more products to take to the closest town market, bringing in more cash income for the families.
Wishing alone would not bring more water. Without an agreement, or covenant, that makes sure all parties contribute to actions supporting the collective — and without everyone following its guidelines — this would not have been possible.
It is precisely the kind of covenant that God proposed to Noah and, through Noah, to all of humanity and the earth. God’s promise invites us to reflect on the need to be respectful and vigilant about the agreements and commitments we make to one another and to our environment.
After the grace shown by God in the rainbow (Genesis 9:13), Noah and his family assumed responsibility for making sure humanity would live their lives differently, taking on not only individual commitments but also collective ones. It is the same kind of commitment we are called to make as a Christian community to care for the resources God has given us.
Today, in a world where a word of honor, duty to others and respect for agreements appear to be losing value, it is especially important to witness examples like the minka in these Andean communities.
Does today’s world provide incentives for keeping our covenants and commitments to one another in the way Andean communities fulfill such commitments? Do we live in a world where the need to fulfill our commitments is recognized, respected and encouraged?
God of promise, thank you for the hope and grace you proclaim to the world, from setting the rainbow in the sky to sending your son, Jesus. May we respond by keeping our promises to the people and creation you have placed in our lives. Amen.
Eduardo Contreras is LWR’s Country Director for Peru. He has over 20 years of experience working in rural development in Peru, Latin America and the Caribbean.
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