I write to you from the “Gathering Place” in Talca, Chile, the Shalom Center’s primary meeting spot and the place where I have called my home for the last nine months. By the time you receive this letter in the mail, I will be back in the United States having completed a year and a half abroad. Last year at this time I wrote to you from a small Peruvian village along the Amazon River. Today, I write from a bustling city between the Andes Mountains and the Pan-American Highway. Summer is upon us, and for the Shalom Center, that means that our camp season is in full swing and the Gathering Place is abuzz with the ins and outs of delegations from different countries, camp staff, and brothers and sisters from the Pentecostal Church of Chile stopping by for visits. The Shalom Center, the organization with which I am interning, is a group of people who facilitate programs based on peace education, environmental education and spiritual development. It is also a place with an off-grid expanse of forest dotted with cabins up in the foothills of the Andes Mountains where many of the Shalom Center’s camps and programs take place.
I’ve been asked many times by friends and family, “What exactly do you do there?” In this letter I will share a few snapshots of my time with the Shalom Center and discuss sentiments gleaned from a year and a half of stretching and molding myself while navigating life as a missionary intern.
I remember during my first meeting with a representative with Global Ministries, I was given a speech about metaphorical backpacks that I was to bring one filled with knowledge and past experience, and two empty ones to fill during my time abroad. From the beginning I recognized that I would learn more than I would teach, and I would most likely leave transformed. I can certainly say now as I prepare to say goodbye, my two backpacks are overflowing.
I have been learning patience: the patience of sitting politely and drinking tea during sobremesa (the conversation held after a meal) for sometimes up to five hours. I have been learning to open my mind further by using differences in theology to build relationships and deepen discussion while working ecumenically. I have been learning what it’s like to live in a collectivist society; there is great value put on inclusion and lesser value on independence. I have been learning about hospitality; visitors are considered a great blessing and hosts make many selfless sacrifices to be able to provide the best for their guests. I have been learning about God and human nature and struggle with the beauty and difficulty of having free will.
Here in Chile, there is a strong culture of exchanging gifts during various occasions: visiting a church, eating a meal with family or friends, or returning from a trip. I’ve found that my backpacks are now also filling with these small physical tokens, often given to me by the hosts as they explain, “this is so that you will not forget us”:
I carry a nanduti (a traditional embroidered lace) reminding me of my week spent painting at the Jack Norment camp in Paraguay and hours spent drinking tereré both there and with the Paraguayan delegation who traveled here to Chile. I remember sharing worship services with a congregation of mostly children, one of which was a young child who every Sunday carries his toddler brother over a mile to church.
Throughout the cold winter here, I wore a soft woolen scarf gifted to me by a pastor who had knitted it while praying for me. During my time in Chile, the Shalom Center leadership and I had the opportunity to visit and share with many different churches all around the country. I’ve been touched by heartfelt words and actions of love as brothers and sisters from all walks of life have welcomed me with open arms, taking time and effort to teach me about Chilean culture.
Displayed on my wall is a small copper map of Chile given to me by members of the Pentecostal Church of Chile’s elderly home as a thank you for the many craft and game sessions I taught there throughout the cold winter months and the hours I spent with them listening to their stories.
My collection of clay name tags reminds me of all the different groups I helped with and participated in at camp: an international gathering of camp staff in Argentina, fifth and six grade school groups learning about the environment and sustainability and all-women retreats with moments to reflect and spiritually recharge. They hold memories of leadership training and trauma healing workshops, challenge courses and hiking, running around the kitchen to feed a group of forty and preparing materials and activities for this year’s theme of “giving thanks on the farm.”
As I sort through thousands of photos with smiling faces, I am thankful for all the friendships made during this experience and the openness and space we have cultivated to learn more about each other and ourselves. I am grateful to all of you who have continued to stay in contact despite the distance. If you'd like to be informed about the rest of my adventures as a Global Ministries Intern, please read the articles on my Global Ministries page at http://www.globalministries.org/lauren_kabat or on my personal blog at kabatscompass.wordpress.com.
Shalom to all of you!
Lauren Kabat serves as a Global Mission Intern with the Iglesia Pentecostal de Chile (IPC) in the Shalom Center in Chile. Her appointment is supported by Week of Compassion, Our Churches Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund and your special gifts.