From Minnesota to Cuzco and Back Again: Board Member Carletta Lahn's Story

When asked what she appreciates most about SIL LEAD, new board member Carletta Lahn said that “SIL LEAD thinks outside the box. They are looking for innovative ways to bring the question of language into the larger conversation of education and development.  I really appreciate that as a faith-based organization, they seek to position themselves in the broader social context and have a voice there.”

Carletta Lahn had a fairly typical, all-American childhood.

She spent her formative years in the same house in the same Minnesota town, where her life revolved around school, church, and home. In high school she competed in a Bible quizzing program, performed in the marching band at Anoka High School, and was involved with 4-H. For vacation in the summers, her family would make the half day drive up to the Boundary Waters for a wilderness canoeing and camping experience on the border of Canada. They were a tight-knit, musical family.

But after high school when Lahn was attending Crown College a little over an hour’s drive from her home, the tug of another, more out-of-the-ordinary world grew stronger by the day. The textbook for a linguistics class from a less-than-enthusiastic adjunct professor nonetheless turned her on to the world of linguistics, and she began to circle an organization called SIL, which operates around the world working (in part) in education and linguistics—two areas that interested her immensely.

Fast forward several years, and this young woman from one of the northernmost parts of the continental United States was flying into the mountain city of Cuzco, in the midst of the Andes mountains of Peru, South America. For more than fifteen years she lived in Peru, with work that at one point took her on a truck ride thousands of feet down a precarious dirt road, into a valley and up a cow path to a remote village on the other side.


Lahn recalls sitting in the smoky kitchen of an adobe home with a freshly-killed goat strung up overhead, eating a bowl of cancha (large, roasted corn kernels), and feeling immensely grateful for what she calls another one of her “National Geographic Moments.”

More inspiring than even the breathtaking scenery of the Andes or the surreal cultural experiences so far removed from her childhood was her work with indigenous Peruvian organizations. Lahn’s educational background had only somewhat prepared her for the challenge of working with native-born Quechuas to prepare written materials that would support literacy, meeting these descendants of the Incas right where they were, in their own language. She learned as she went, though, and had the pleasure of helping to train and enable her indigenous partners as they expanded the scope of their project far beyond what she and they had initially imagined. Pamphlets became radio broadcasts and then two short films, performed in the Quechua language by local, Quechua actors.

Lahn was no longer just an American from Northern Minnesota. She was part of a team that was developing community-based tools that the people could use to make their lives better. She became a “trainer of indigenous trainers,” and her world expanded even further.

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In 2015, Lahn’s marriage brought her back to live in her home state of Minnesota, where her husband Jim is a land conservationist and she continues to work as a Scripture Access Team Leader in the Americas Area of SIL. Her work on an SIL International initiative related to language development brought her into closer contact with SIL LEAD, and in 2017 she signed on as one of SIL LEAD’s newest board members.

From a town in northern United States to a mountain home in southern Peru and back again, Lahn has lived an extraordinary life, and we’re excited for what she contributes to the SIL LEAD board.