I’m Being Polished: My Chilean Experience
I recently received a copy of the sermon that Maggie Schmidt, an 18 year old from Massachusetts, preached at her church after returning from a Conpaz camp (intercultural peacebuilding camp) at the Shalom Center in Chile. I asked her permission to share it with all of you. Elena Huegel
Dear Friends and Family,
I recently received a copy of the sermon that Maggie Schmidt, an 18 year old from Massachusetts, preached at her church after returning from a Conpaz camp (intercultural peacebuilding camp) at the Shalom Center in Chile. I asked her permission to share it with all of you.
I’m Being Polished: My Chilean Experience
As many of you may remember, I spent my February vacation in Chile, on a mission’s trip at Centro Shalom. When I was thinking about what I should say, I was at a loss for what I should tell you. Honestly, I do not think that I could encompass everything into one sermon.
So here are some of the basics. Centro Shalom is a center in the mountains of Chile that will become a retreat place for the Iglesia Pentecostal de Chile. Right now it is in the stages of being built up. Delegations from the UCC, the Disciples of Christ, and the Pentecostal Church in Chile work together both on the physical buildings and to create friendships that they never expected. Elena, Global Ministries’ missionary in Chile, is the one who organizes this and makes sure we all never want to leave.
So what did I do in Chile?
Honestly, I never thought I would go to Chile. I mean, I decided to take French in high school. But, in December I was asked if I wanted to travel to Chile, and then I was flying down to an amazing part of the world. My delegation of 10 was excited, nervous, tired, and obsessed with playing Uno when we landed in Chile. My first experience was when I was walking through the opening from customs; I was heading straight for the window, and that is it, and I was set on getting there. Suddenly a woman jumped out, and put her hands on my shoulders and said, “Are you the group from Massachusetts?” I figured it was someone with Centro Shalom since she spoke English. It turned out to be Elena. That was the beginning to an amazing adventure that would change the way I believed in God.
We spent some time learning about Chile and its history, and how it has influenced the people. But we all wanted to go to the center so badly. We hiked the dust-covered path heading up the mountains after a two-hour bus ride. Kaitlyn, Hannah and I, were inhaling dust from Tim and Tony who dragged their feet the entire way; but we were also looking around, amazed at where we were — a beautiful country with mountains all around and the warmth of the sun beating down on us.
Centro Shalom quickly became our home: We had two AMAZING cooks who kept us well fed and a committed staff that made sure we had as much fun as possible. But don’t worry, we did do work. I decided to work with Wally and Jorge on the bathhouse, nailing up cement board for the tiles that would be placed later. Others varnished, dug trenches, and attacked weeds and thorns. Aaron and Felipe, who were two fun-loving Chilean teenagers, later joined Wally and me. Even with a language barrier we were still able to make jokes and finish putting the cement board up. Aaron and Felipe would hold nails in their mouth before nailing them up telling Wally it was tradition. Wally, of course, flipped out.
While we spent a good amount of time working, we also sang and had group activities, including: night games, a night when we recreated a Chilean village, and a group hike. The hike turned into a peace walk which lead to an overlook that would take your breath away.
I know that when people think of a mission trip they often think about how much work it is. Yes, there is work involved. But if I had gone to Chile and not had all the fun stuff, it would have been pointless. There were times when we would journal, where we could reflect on our time at the center. We prayed as a group before all meals, sometimes in English and Spanish, sometimes just in Spanish, and sometimes just in English. We learned about how we are planting seeds of peace, and in our groups, we all planted trees and joined in Wangari Maathai’s world wide tree planting challenge.
Those are just some of the many things that happened at the Shalom Center. Beyond the Shalom Center, we traveled to Constitución where we spent time with our Chilean delegation’s families. Where I was staying, the family hosted a party for everyone involved with the week. We ate lots of food, traversed the streets, and played soccer. These people willingly opened the homes, kitchens, and hearts to strangers whose names they did not know until we arrived. They took us to the beach, showed us their world, and welcomed us into their families.
In welcoming us to their families, we attended their church. A smaller church in comparison to ours here in Paxton, but it was bursting at the seams with spirit. The two-hour church service was one full of praise, thanks, and stories, and even tears at the end. I was lucky enough to give a testimonial, in which all I wanted to do was thank them for their generosity. I felt as though I never wanted to leave. During the sermon, Pastor Juan asked what was keeping us from getting up and hugging the people around us. Suddenly people were up and hugging us, strangers from a different world. One older woman held me close, and told me something I did not understand. BUT the emotion in her words made me feel accepted and that is something that I personally have often felt. After that church service, we had to leave. With tears streaming down our faces, we loaded the buses and drove away from the people who in 5 short days had gone from total strangers to family.
The most enlightened moment on the trip came during the tear filled ride back to Elena’s house. Many of us were crying and shoving junk food into our bodies. Tim, who never seemed to express any emotion except excitement, said “I actually felt that God was there. I sometimes don’t feel that way back home.” At that moment, I realized why I was sent to Chile.
The mission’s trip to Chile was not just about constructing a building. It was about finding the connections to God that we read about in the Bible but often don’t find in our homes. In Chile, we were all accepted, no questions asked. For once in my life, I could actually be myself, without fear of rejection. I could be Christian and wear it on my sleeve. I knew there was some reason I was sent. I believe that God wanted me to see the openness of the world, the compassion of his children, and spirit that I have. When I think about Chile, I often cry, but I am thankful for all that it taught me. I feel I have a clearer understanding in what I was supposed to do in life; almost as if God was polishing and molding me to do something. I know now that I am responsible for my part in building peace wherever I am, whatever I am doing.
Elena told us a story, shortly before we left Chile, which describes this entire journey and what it was intended to show me. I want to tell you the story as my closing, so that you, too, can understand and take away this lesson from the Shalom Center:
Just a little stone
By Elena Huegel
I Samuel 16:7b “People judge others by what they look like, but I judge people by what is in their hearts.”
There was once a little stone, which lived on the bottom of a crystal clear and bubbling stream that ran through a green valley, sprinkled with trees and shrubs. Life in the stream was quite boring for the stone. It felt the passing of the water, which rubbed it day after day but it was hardly aware that it was being polished into bright smoothness. It watched the sun and the moon play with their reflections in the water, and the fish whirl and jump in the dancing light. But the stone always thought that there must be more to the world than the streambed, and wondered if someday it would have the chance to escape from the seemingly eternal routine of bubbles, water, and light.
One day, without any warning, the stone suddenly felt itself being lifted out of the water. For just an instant, it was able to see the valley and some of the blue sky, but in the very next instant it felt itself stuffed into a dark bag full of other stones. It was a very uncomfortable place, for at times it smashed against the other stones as the bag bounced up and down. Little did it know that in the process, it was being changed and molded but it missed the tranquility of the stream.
The stone did not know how much time had passed when the bag was opened and light poured in. It rolled out along with the other stones onto something soft and felt itself turned over and set apart. For just another moment, the stone looked out on the world to see the beauty of the green and the blue, bathed in the sun’s glare, but only for just a moment because now it was placed all alone in a rough piece of leather. Then it panicked for the leather began twirling rapidly in the air and the stone became very dizzy. Just when it thought it would faint with fright, it was flung into the air. What joy! Now it could see everything below! It could see the stream, the grass, the trees, the mountains in the distance, and many men dressed in shiny armor and helmets, holding up swords. The trip ended quickly for it had just taken in an eyeful, when it crashed into something hard. The stone then fell to the ground.
A few seconds later it felt something heavy land beside it and the earth shook with the fallen weight. Then something picked the stone up again and a voice said, “Just the little stone I needed, and at the moment I needed it.” And the stone returned to the dark bag where it continued with the other stones until it was again needed.
This is the story of David and the giant Goliath, but from the perspective, or point of view of the little stone, and it is a metaphor of life, with its objectives and dreams. Sometimes we have been sitting in the stream waiting for something exciting to happen in life but didn’t realize that God was polishing us and preparing us. Sometimes we have been in the dark bag where we have clashed with others and complained of the disagreeable and painful situations we were in. But God uses the bumping and the dark times to teach us patience and confidence in Him. Here also we are being molded and readied. Sometimes we feel dizzy, in a whirling sling of activities, running crazy with thousands of things to do and hardly a moment to catch our breaths. Sometimes we have the opportunity to fly through the air, and with clarity of vision, we feel the ecstasy of our goals in sight. And sometimes, we are smashing up against giants, hoping against hope that the aim and thrust have been just right amount to bring it down. The Bible says that God didn’t look at David’s size, strength, or outward appearance but looked at his heart. We’re in God’s hands, and with God’s power and perfect aim, we can be little stones used to bring down the giants of these times.
The Shalom Center helped me to be polished for what I should be doing.
How is God polishing you?