Last March, a group of Arizona Presbyterians and their Peruvian partners gathered in La Oroya, Peru, to paint a mural near the town’s troubled Doe Run Company smelter. That outing was disrupted when about 200 people — allegedly Doe Run employees — verbally and physically attacked the group, effectively chasing it out of town.
The mural was left unfinished — until now.
Thanks to the efforts of the University of Arizona’s Presbyterian Campus Ministry (PCM), the mural is now making its way to Peru, where it will be completed by the youth of La Oroya before it is displayed there.
“We didn’t want our spring break mission trip to just be about (the attack),” said the Rev. Ellen Dawson, director of PCM. “How do we make this something positive?”
Along with the youth of Joining Hands Peru — a partnership ministry of the Presbyterian Hunger Program — the PCM group had originally designed a mural that spoke to general themes of caring for creation across culture and distance. That message still rang true for the college students, so they began to explore options for completing the mural.
“How can we just forget about (the people of La Oroya?” asked Suzie Bloom, who was a student at the University of Arizona when she went on the mission trip last year. “We have to tell their story — how do we do that?”
The group eventually decided to redraw the mural onto 36 small canvases labeled with paint-by-number outlines, then distribute them to congregations across Tucson for completion.
This project not only allowed the mural to be completed, but it also gave the PCM group a chance to share more about last year’s trip. Although some congregations and individuals completed the canvases on their own, others invited the PCM students to host a discussion about La Oroya, which is well known for its massive air and water pollution levels.
“It’s important for other people to realize how much of an impact we have on each other,” Bloom said. “We can all play a part in making it a better place. We have the power to raise our voices. We don’t have to stand down.”
The attack in La Oroya received a lot of attention, but PCM wanted to focus on the original intent of the mission trip.
“Sharing the story (of the attack) was important but sharing the connection was also important,” Dawson said. “We wanted to share that with the churches here in Tucson.”
All 10 people who had gone on the Peru mission trip also completed a canvas, many of which include notes of prayer and encouragement on the back.
“It was such a healing project … and we just had a blast,” Dawson said. “The coolest part was when it all came together. You can tell that different people worked on it.”
But the mural isn’t complete just yet. Once it arrives in La Oroya, youth there will add a slogan on the bottom calling for a clean and green world for all people.
“We want this mural to be a symbol of peace, which was what it was originally intended to be in La Oroya,” Dawson said.
Click here to watch a video detailing the mural project.