A Visit to the IslandAugust 21, 2014
After ten days on the road, it’s nice to be back home. I feel as if I have the best of all possible worlds – enjoying the time away and enjoying the return.
We visited Easter Island or Rapa Nui, a remote island in the Pacific Ocean which, even though culturally a part of Polynesia, politically belongs to Chile. The statues are the main attraction. The island had its first human inhabitants around 400 A.D., when people from Polynesia came across thousands of miles of open water and found it. By the 1600s, the population on the island was over 16,000, organized in several clans. It was beyond what the island could sustain. As the rich and powerful on the island began to control more and more of the resources, the poorest people revolted. As a sign of protest against the ruling class, who were the ones having the statues erected; every single statue on the island was toppled. By the time the revolt ended, there were 2,000 people left.
There is a lesson in there about the balance of cooperation and competition, and about how people change when there’s scarcity of resources.
We were guests for meals at a few homes of people that my wife, daughter and our missionary friend, Elena (the fourth member of our entourage), have known over the years (it was my first trip to Chile). Some members of these families took time off from work to prepare the meals, made completely from scratch. Conversation was the most important course. We learned of their lives and their dreams. Their homes, in general, are simpler and smaller than most homes in the United States. Typically, there is no central heating. A woodstove is used by most. Of course, the wood usually burns out at night, so the overnight low outside is the temperature inside in the morning.
There are lessons in there about simplicity, wants vs. needs, and hospitality to the stranger.
We also visited Centro Shalom, a church-sponsored retreat center (like a church camp here) up in the Andes at an elevation of about 5,000 feet. There is a waterfall about a mile beyond the buildings, accessible by a trail through the woods. We climbed over storm-related debris and through a 38-degree downpour (it’s winter there now). One stream was so swollen that the low-water crossing was unusable. The high-water crossing, over boulder-strewn rapids, was a 30-foot log with a sawed-off flat top (as wide as my shoe is long) and four 1/8 inch cables/wires loosely strung from trees on each side of the bridge for the hands. The cables helped a little for balance, but they were insufficient to prevent a fall if someone (like me) lost balance.
It was a moment of decision for me. I do not enjoy heights. While this was only about 8 feet above the rushing water (so loud we had to shout), a tumble off the bridge would bring serious consequences with the 34-degree pounding water and the rocks. I might as well have been 100 feet in the air. An unexpected guest arrived: Fear. Paralyzing.
I didn’t want to give up after coming so far, and I didn’t want to disappoint my co-travelers. And I didn’t want to risk life and limb. Then I received a gift: prodding from God to simply “trust.” Trust that Elena would not put us in any real danger. Trust that those with me would help me if I needed it (and vice-versa). Trust that I could challenge my fear and not succumb to it. Trust that God was right there with me, truly and in real time. And God was. Fear had to hike on, alone. All of us, including me, made it safely in both directions.
We worship a surprising God, who can lead us, accompany us, and open us to ourselves and to God in new and amazing ways, such as having old fears challenged by God’s own strength and love. And God’s Word in scripture takes on new meaning: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2). May it always be so.
Rev. Bruce Prestwood-Taylor
Second Congregational Church, UCC
Elena Huegel serves with the Pentecostal Church of Chile (IPC). She serves as an environmental and Christian education specialist.
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