Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Homeward Bound

As we board our final flight for home it's good to reflect on our pilgrimage to Chile and recap some of the things we will and will not miss. Not surprisingly, the list of things we'll miss about Chile is quite long, just like their country. This is a testament to the wonderful people we met and the natural beauty of this long, narrow country. 

So here's our list of things that we'll miss about Chile. Starting with food, we'll miss eating the empanadas made of meat and cheese, sopapillas served with salsa, and all of the fresh fruits and vegetables, including new fruits that we've never had before (sorry, but I can't remember what they were called). We'll miss the variety of fresh fish, the 'la agua con gas' (carbonated water), Nescafé coffee, the variety of teas, the smooth red Chilean wines and the sweet, but potent little Pisco sours. In general, we loved the food in Chile and we enjoyed dining at the outdoor cafés too.

Chile is a lovely country and many of our hosts were eager to show us it's natural beauty. We loved the temperate climate, seeing the majestic, and sometimes snow-capped, Andes mountains in the east and the expansive Pacific Ocean to the west. We enjoyed the garden-like feel of the country with the stately Araucaria trees, the blooming bushes, the variety of garden annuals and the abundance of potted plants that decorated nearly every patio and deck. The night sky in this Southern Hemisphere country gave us a new perspective of the constellations, not unlike how the Chileans themselves gave us a new perspective on life. 

Despite the short time that we spent in Chile, we observed that Chileans by in-large have a strong sense of family and community. This sense of community was apparent in their overwhelming passion to fight against injustices for those suffering around them. Whether it was aiding those without adequate food and shelter, providing access to quality day care and education for "at risk" children or fighting for cleaner water and air, our Chilean brothers and sister in Christ were there. We were both humbled and inspired by their desire to live out their faith. 

We appreciated that the Chileans are very expressive. When I asked Pastor Carlos if this was true he emphatically stated, "Yes!" Throughout the cities of Santiago, Valparaiso and Concepcion, we encountered many, many walls and buildings covered with colorful graphiti/art screaming at us to take notice. Some of the walls depicted political messages as they clearly stated their position but others were just artistic expression or random graphiti. At times, the walls were used as a creative way to raise public awareness and provide some education on issues like domestic violence and obesity. We even encountered artisans in the streets such as jugglers, stilt walkers, etc., that routinely entertained us while we waited for the stop lights to change at busy intersections and then went car-to-car looking for donations.  We took notice of the variety of architecture and statues we saw throughout the cities too. Artistic expression seemed everywhere. 

Overall, we had an amazing pilgrimage and most of all, we will miss the warm hospitality of the Chileans exemplified by their traditional embrace and kiss to the cheek. This will be a hard habit to break when we return home and I for one, hope that this catches on here too. So this is you're fair warning to be prepared for the next time we greet you!!

As I stated earlier, we had a relatively short list of things that we will NOT miss about Chile. Of course topping that list was the congested traffic, toll booths, crazy drivers and numerous near misses while traversing the cities. I think it's fair to say that we Iowans much prefer our quiet, two-lane highways and two or three-stoplight communities! (Arlyn, we will never sing our national anthem again without thinking of our dedicated bus driver, Jose!) We will also not miss all of the homeless dogs, Nescafé coffee, the smog and needless-to-say, we will not miss the "terromotos" (earthquakes) either!

Even though many scars remain from the Pinochet dictatorship and the devastation following the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, we were encouraged by the healing that is starting to occur. In both instances, it will take time but we were inspired by those working on the 'front lines' for change. We will continue to support them with our prayers. 

My last reflection has to do with a sobering and haunting sign posted next to a silhouetted figure throughout Chile which states, "Lo que veo inca vi. ¿Me olvidaste? ¿Si or No?" (What I see I never saw. Will you forget? Yes or No?) Obviously, it is referring to those who were tortured and/or killed during the dictatorship. And like the Chileans themselves, our collective response is that we will not forget.... We will not forget those who suffered but additionally, we will also not forget those for whom we now affectionately call our brothers and sisters in Christ. May God richly bless our friendship and companionship for many years to come. Ciao and Amen! 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ready to come home

We have packed our bags, tearfully said our goodbyes and boarded our plane to fly back home. But we are taking home so much more than we left with in terms of new relationships and new insights. We leave Chile changed pilgrims ready to share our journey to whomever is open to hearing about it. As we tell our stories you will hear things like 'We are one in spirit.' or 'We felt so loved.'

When we came to Chile we didn't understand anything. Now we understand so much more, but we still have more to learn. We will pray for and keep all those who we met in a special place in our hearts....

I must admit, it's hard to leave and I pray that we will see each other again. Que Dios los bendiga - May God bless you. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Beauty of Chile

As we spend our last few days in Chile I thought I would focus on the beauty we have found here. So much of our time in Concepcion has focused on the damage and recovery efforts following the 2010 earthquake and tsunami therefore, it was refreshing to see why Chileans love this country.

Our hosts today, Veronica and Carlos, a couple with German ancestry who are members of Congregation Martin Luther, led us to a beautiful beach where the Bio Bio River meets the Pacific Ocean. It was breathtaking to walk along the shore, feel the softness of the black sand on our feet and hear the sound of the crashing waves. Some of us climbed the rocks along the craggy shoreline and soaked in the sun as it began it's descent to the horizon. It was almost surreal as we sat there and had a traditional Chilean snack of 'cafe' or 'te' with bread and cheese while overlooking the ocean. "We are in Chile," I kept reminding myself. It struck me that even though we are very far from home, and that we and the Chileans are from very different places in the world, we are all one in Christ and one in the priesthood of all believers.....and that it the most beautiful thing of all!

Friday, April 4, 2014

It's a Dog's Life

For today's blog I think I'll focus on a slightly different topic....the prevalence of dogs in Chile. They are literally everywhere we look and many of them roam freely down the narrow, dusty streets. Some are young, some old, some are big and others are small, some are well-taken care of and many of them could benefit from a good bath, some are full of energy and some are sadly barely limping along.....frequently during the night we'll hear them fighting in the streets. One day, while we traveling in Concepcion, I counted seeing over 100 dogs. That's a lot of dogs and our hearts go out to them....so I am dedicating this blog to all of the Chilean dogs for a better life and who better than Chilean's favorite poet, Pablo Naruda, to do so.

Ode to a Dog by Pablo Naruda
The dog is asking me a question

and I have no answers.
He dashes through the countryside and asks me
and his eyes
are two moist question marks, two wet
inquiring flames,
but I do not answer
because I haven’t got the answer.
I have nothing to say.

Dog and man: together we roam
the open countryside.

Leaves shine as
if someone
had kissed them
one by one,
orange trees
rise up from the earth
minute planetariums
in trees that are as rounded
and green as the night,
while we roam together, dog and man
sniffing everything, jostling clover
in the countryside of Chile,
cradled by the bright fingers of September.
The dog makes stops,
chases bees,
leaps over restless water,
listens to far-off
pees on a rock,
and presents me the tip of his snout
as if it were a gift:
it is the freshness of his love,
his message of love.
And he asks me
with both eyes:
why is it daytime? why does night always fall?
why does the spring bring
in its basket
for wandering dogs
but useless flowers,
flowers and more flowers?
This is how the dog
asks questions
and I do not reply.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Finding Hope

Well this morning four more members of our group left for Punta Arenas to visit the other EILCH churches in that area - Bishop Prois, Chris Prois, Cindy Wells and Gail Bauler. We look forward to meeting up with them in Santiago Sunday night!

At the end of each day while we've been in Chile, we've taken time as a group to share a 'high' and a 'low'. This morning we had both at the same time. 

After breakfast, several representatives from the EPES center here in Concepcion shared their mission and goals for the needs in this community. It was very evident that EPES was especially instrumental in assisting families following the 2010 earthquake and tsunami. Following their presentation they took us to the coastal city of Penco which was heavily damaged from the tsunami and which left many families displaced. We were shown the 'parking lot' that served as a temporary housing site for several years after the tsunami and then later to the new 400-home development where families moved in just six months ago. (That's a long time to be displaced!) We also saw first hand some of the beach reclamation that they are working on there. The aftermath work following a disaster of this size must feel so overwhelming, but it was wonderful to see some progress like the excitement and joy on the face of Juan as he showed us his new home. He was one of the community leaders that pushed for this development. He is a real rock star, but he was so humble.

But the story that nearly broke out hearts was an encounter with a beautiful woman that I will call Hope. The EPES staff introduced us to Hope when she came to meet us on the beach in Penco. She was so excited for us to come to her home. Her original home had been destroyed in the tsunami and she was currently living in a small, 2-room shack made of reclaimed wood with a metal roof. Fragmented pieces of styrofoam were being used inside for insulation. Despite her living conditions, she eagerly welcomed each of us into her humble home with the traditional Chilean kiss on the cheek. I think we were all shocked beyond words at her living conditions....This was our 'low'.

Then Hope began telling us her story of how she had lost her home, how she had suffered from domestic violence, how for three years she has been separated from her husband and that today her divorce was going to be finalized. She expressed heartfelt thanks for the EPES center for their emotional, spiritual, financial and legal assistance. Then with a big smile she explained that when her divorce is final, she will qualify for better housing. Her eyes began to well up in gratitude and so did ours. Because of the help she received from EPES and her new faith in Christ she feels like she has a new life, a new hope and a new future....We circled around her and offered her our prayers of support. This was our 'high'. 

What a beautiful example of living faith and finding hope in a hurting world. Amen.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Congregation San Pedro

Early this morning four members of our group flew to Punta Arenas to visit several EILCH congregations licated at the very southern tip of Chile. We will miss them but it will be excitung to hear their stories when we're re-united in Santiago on Sunday. 

Today started like most our days since we arrived in Chile by visiting one of the EILCH congregations. Today we spent the day with Pastor Oscar visiting the Congregation San Pedro, their two satellite congregations and a domestic violence center that they support. Like their Chilean brothers and sisters that we've met, they passionately expressed their faith and how it motivates them work against various injustices in their communities. They always graciously serve us coffee or tea and a snack.

Our first stop today was a domestic violence center where the director, Marta, warmly greeted us. The area where it is located is in a very delinquent area that has a high incidence of drug and alcohol abuse. Their goal is to provide a safe place, counseling and support for both men and women who are hurting. Marta succinctly described, "We are located in a place where there is much pain and where there is, at times, no hope. Our mission is to ask our clients, 'What is it that I can do for you?'" as we strive to be a place of hope." On average, they work with 3-4 families per month and it is independently funded by the church and private donations. 

A satellite of Congregation San Pedra is next door. This way they are able this to support the at-risk families by giving them a faith community. "The church's influence greatly increases the success of the patient's recovery," stated the center's psychologist who is also a member of the congregation. "We are a church of open arms." Several of San Pedro's members volunteer at the center including Maria who comes every Tuesday to pray for the needs of the center and emphatically stated, "It is the best way, the only way, for the church to work together for families." 

We met Hosea, one of many community monitors who are trained to raise awareness in the community to try to prevent abuse before it occurs. Edith is a social worker at the center, who is a Mapuche (native Chilean), and who works directly with the Mapuche community which have unique needs and suffer from much racism. 

Other highlights of the day included:
~ Hearing Sebastion play the vibes. (There was no school today since the students had been given an "earthquake day" (Chile's version of an Iowa "snow day" I guess) and singing songs while Pastor Oscar played guitar.
~Hearing Hosea's powerful testimony at our devotional this afternoon where he stated, "A church that serves, works. But a church that does not serve, does not work." and "God is not looking for super humans but instead sons and daughters who are made in his image." He shared how he learned skills while in prison during the Pinochet dictatorship. He was tortured and it tore his family apart but now he is using those skills to help others. He challenged all of us with the statement, "The only way to affect change is to feel the pain of the mother whose son is a drug addict or in prison." Carry the cross!
~ Seeing the church and meeting members of the Congregation San Pedro, which is located in a fishing community. Many members are fisherman and they expressed their fears about the future of their livelihood. It is becoming very apparent that part of the Chilean way is to 'fight back' which is what they are trying to do.
~Meeting members of the new Congregation Maria Magdelena which started after the 2010 earthquake and tsunami. It started with Pastor Oscar visiting the temporary camps for those whose homes had been destroyed. Recently they were able to purchase one of the new homes in the re-developed area as an outreach. It was exciting to see the young mothers there who showed a deep passion to reach out with the gospel in this new development. When asked what gives them the motivation for this outreach one mother stated, "Before I didn't know anything about the Bible but know I know more. I have learned to value myself as a woman, it's been good for my family and I want to share this love of Christ with others too."

Well, that's what we want to.....to share the love of Christ!

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.

Psalm 33:1-5

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Taking up our cross....

We started our day by visiting the Martin Luther school for students pre-K to 8th grade. We learned that the school was started 30 years ago originally as a daycare mission project of the Martin Luther congregation during the dictatorship. In 1997 the school transitioned itself into a primary school adding a grade each year until they now have reached 8 grades. They have 250 students with approximately 80% of the them in the 'very vulnerable' category. They also serve students with special needs. While it is a private school, it is totally funded by the government. 

After lunch we visited the Congregation Martin Luther. Like the other Lutheran churches in Chile, it was founded by German immigrants. We met Veronica, Carlos, Vicar Andreas, Ullrich and the congregational president, Roland. Ullrich, who is in his late 70's, shared with us the history of their congregation but also his vision for a united Lutheran church once again. "It is necessary," he frankly stated, "in order for the church to continue it's mission in Chile."  Words of wisdom from a wise man.

Lastly, we visited another of the Martin Luther church's missions, a child care center in a very impoverished area, called, "Centro Communitario." It serves 130 children and it was started 37 years ago. You could see pride in the faces of the staff when they explained that there are several two and even three generations of families who have used the center. Like the other centers we have visited, they work closely with the families in this community. We were particularly touched when we sang first to the staff and then they sang back to us. ¡Muy bien! 

We have been so overwhelmed with the church's fight against past and present injustices here in Chile. It is truly a picture of discipleship that we all can learn from..... Jesus told the disciples, and I believe he is telling us even today, to "take up our cross" and follow Him. 
Que Dios los bendiga. (May God Bless you.)