Hartselle High School teacher embraces culture in mission work
Emily Reeves is passionate about many things – among them, her job as an English teacher at Hartselle High School, her relationships and her daughter Lenox. Maybe most of all, she is passionate about her mission work in Iquitos, Peru, through an organization called Kings and Queens International.
The nonprofit organization is based in South Carolina and seeks to end child abandonment in Iquitos, which is considered the capital of the Peruvian Amazon. It is there where Reeves works with a home for abandoned boys.
“I went on my first mission trip to Iquitos, Peru, in the summer of 2012 through my local church. A member of my church was involved with a different ministry there and shared his experiences, and I immediately felt the call to go,” Reeves said.
Constantly seeking adventure, the 29-year-old mother and teacher said she loves the simplicity of life in Peru and the appreciation for the little things often taken for granted at home.
“I am extremely relational, and the Peruvian culture is centered around relationships, versus things like materialism or workaholism,” Reeves said. “One minute I am riding in moto taxis, where traffic rules don’t seem to be a real thing; the next minute I’m watching a wild monkey befriend a dog; and later on I might be swimming in the Amazon River and jumping out before the electric eels come out.”
She said it’s the people there who keep her going back, “specifically the kids. Child abandonment is rampant in Iquitos, a city of a half a million people, due to an overwhelming number of them living in extreme poverty,” she said. “So many children are desperate for attention, love and affection. I have an overwhelming calling over my life to show the children that are considered the ‘least of these’ in Peru that they are important, valued and loved.”
While she is not fluent in the native tongue, Reeves said she knows conversational Spanish, and one of her goals is to become fluent. “I speak to Peruvians on a daily basis, so I am always learning the language,” she said.
Reeves said she has lost count of the number of times through the years she has visited the country, often staying 10 days to two weeks. This summer she will stay a total of six weeks.
Kings and Queens did not exist when Reeves first began going to Peru in 2012.
“There was a group of us that continued to go on mission trips to an orphanage deep in the Amazon jungle – only accessible by boat – and their transition home for older boys in the city,” she said. “Through the years we watched them struggle with financial problems to the point where they closed down other orphanages they had throughout Peru.”
It was then that Reeves said God gave her a vision of getting the boys sponsored, and she took the idea to the owners of the organization many times.
“They said sponsorship was impossible for multiple reasons and never listened,” Reeves said. “Meanwhile, Kailee and Titus, two friends I met through Peru mission trips, were called to start a nonprofit in Peru but had no idea why. They went through a ton of work to get one started but were doing nothing with it. Finally, the orphanage told us they were closing their home for older boys. All of those boys would be sent back to live on the streets. It became clear why Kailee and Titus were called to start a nonprofit.”
Five young adults in their 20s, who lived in different areas of the United States, came together to provide a home for the boys who would otherwise be left to the street.
“We asked if the boys could be given over to our ministry. The Peruvian government said yes,” Reeves said. “We had absolutely nothing – no staff, no home for them and no funding – but we all worked around the clock to fulfill my original vision of sponsorship for them.
“We had exactly two months to raise the funds to take in the boys before they were put back on the street. We needed money for healthcare, food, shelter, clothes, resources – beds, dressers, everything – and employee salaries. We watched God provide for every single need. It was the most miraculous experience. Our final boy got fully sponsored moments before I boarded the plane to go to Peru and take in these boys as our own.”
The home is called Casa de Reyes, which means House of Kings, and is open to older boys who come from a remote jungle orphanage once they reach the age of 18. Casa de Reyes offers them more educational opportunities and support.
“We pay for their education through college or for them to learn a trade or a skill,” Reeves says. “They are allowed to stay with us after their graduation for a designated amount of time until they are able to support themselves. Our goal is that when they leave our home, they are able to break the cycles of poverty, abuse and abandonment in their community.”
It was through her mission work that Reeves met and fell in love with her husband, Joe Yahuarcani, who she married in June. The two met seven years ago when he was a worker in the orphanage Reeves visited in the jungle. Reeves said she was immediately was attracted to him – not only for his looks but because of his admirable leadership over the boys in the orphanage.
“He loved and served them so well,” she said. “We were just friends for years. I stayed single here, and my dating pool was limited because I knew I could not even date someone who did not share my passion for Peru. Fast forward to my dating relationship with Joe: I immediately knew he was my future husband. He now works for Kings and Queens as well and is over discipleship for the boys in our home.
“Everything about it makes sense. We love the Lord, love each other and have the same heart for service and missions. Even with the distance and all the things that seem so impossible stacked against us – such as COVID-19 that kept us apart for a full year and the spousal visa process that is incredibly delayed right now – our relationship is healthy, easy and overwhelmingly good.
“We are living out our calling, one so much greater than ourselves, and it’s a joy to do it together.”
The mission work has changed her life completely, Reeves said: It has made her who she is.
“It’s not just a short-term trip I take once a year. It’s a daily investment into the lives of the children, the adolescents, the people I love so much,” she said. “When I am here, I am fighting for them to have a better life there. I pray for Peru. I financially support mission work there. My social life is influenced: Not a day passes that I don’t talk to friends, employees, boys or my husband in Peru. I voluntarily work for our ministry, and I also incorporate my experiences any chance I get into my own classroom content as an English teacher here at Hartselle High School. My experiences there have changed my outlook on life and help me prioritize what really matters in life.
The first time Reeves went to Peru, her daughter Lenox was 1 year old; she is now 10.
“She has grown up with a million video chats to Peru, pictures of the kids I love throughout our home, praying for them by name with me. Even before Lenox was able to go to Peru, it was a part of her life,” Reeves said. “The trip we take is considered dangerous, and normally anyone 16 or 17 must be accompanied by a parent to go, or you have to be 18. However, working for the ministry means that rule doesn’t apply to me. I prayed a lot about taking Lenox to Peru, and she went for the first time in 2018.
“She said it was one of the best times of her life. She can’t wait to go back this summer. She’ll be there almost four weeks. She’s most excited about holding a sloth.
“She doesn’t want to live there, like I do, but she wants to visit,” Reeves added. “She hates the heat, the exhausting travel days, the bugs and the food, but like me, for her, all the good far outweighs the uncomfortable and challenging. The lessons she has learned from experiencing a different culture, seeing extreme poverty that is unimaginable here, taking part in the Great Commission and helping make a difference for good in the lives of others are the most valuable gifts I could ever give her as her parent.”
To learn more about Kings and Queens International, visit the nonprofit’s website at www.kingsandqueensint.org.