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Volunteering in Chile

February 2, 2006

Eric Kirkegaard - Chile

It is now our second Sunday in Chile. Last week I was preaching in the Iglesia Pentecostal de Chile here in Talca. Talca is about three and a half hours south of Santiago in the heart of wine country where we are partnered with a tea-totaling church... ironic huh? This week there is no church and everything is closed because they are holding national elections, a very important thing in a country which is still recovering from the brutal dictatorship of Pinochet, more on that later...

Our trip was uneventful enough, the girls were WONDERFUL, of course for the long haul from Dallas to Chile they were flanking Laura and she might have a slightly different opinion. It did take them quite a while to fall asleep on the plane, but then they got a reasonable nights rest. Really the only excitement was when I realized 30 minutes before boarding time in Dallas that we had left our video camera in the overhead bin of our little wee plane from Milwaukee (a long shuttle train ride and then a bus away from our gate...) The gate attendants were only mildly helpful, not! One of them told me, well I guess the only way you'll know if it's still there is if you go and find out... great help. I took off at a dash, sprinting through the airport desperately praying that I would both find the camera and perhaps more importantly that I would make it back in time to catch our flight.  

Well, I found the camera but as I dashed up the stairs to the shuttle train and watched the doors close a few feet in front of me I knew that I wasn't going to make it back before they were to close the doors on the plane to Chile... With tears in my eyes, and visions of Laura's desperation at the gate (she told me later that just after I took of at a run, the gate agents asked her what she was going to do if I didn't make it back, was she going to go anyway... I had Berit's passport -clever me - so there really was no option) Well, there I was praying, and waiting realizing that there really was nothing that I could do to speed up an automated shuttle. As I arrived back at the gate 10 minutes after the plane was to have closed it's doors, I came dashing down two flights of stairs hoping beyond hope and... the door was still open, everyone on board, the gate agent grabbed my ticket and raced me down the jet way to Laura and girls waiting just outside the plane.

Whew!  As we settled into our seats the pilot let us know that it would be a few more minutes, that an O ring was missing from the toilet cap on the outside of the plane and lest we have our effluent trailing down the side of the plane we needed to wait for the part. Sometimes it feels that God has a particularly good sense of humor, that prayers our answered in truly unexpected ways. No sooner than had we gotten all of our things stowed and caught our breath and the pilot was back on the intercom telling us that they had installed the part, fixed the problem and we'd be pushing back from the gate. Thankfully this has been the most trying part of the trip. We emerged from customs and immigration with no problems even with our two 50 pound suitcases of gifts. As we stared out at the crowd wondering what next we heard a voice from above calling out "Pastor Eric". We were greeted and warmly welcomed by the family we will be living with for the next two weeks, wonderful people with 3 delightful sons Jose, Mattias, and Jairos. We will be "helping" to teach vacation bible school with them and spending a few days on vacation with them at the thermal springs nestled in the foothills of the Andes.

Laura has spent this first week exploring around our home away from home here in Talca, Elena's home actually. They call it "the gathering place." It's a little house with lots of beds and people have been steadily streaming in and out as this place functions as the staging place for the Shalom Center (Elena's primary project in Chile these days) Elena is our missionary here, she has been terrific.

So this first week Laura has been finding her way around Talca, herding kids, exploring the very popular Chilean delicacy Completos (hotdogs!) which they serve with ketchup, mayo, mustard and palta - avocado. Indeed palta is a part of most days, sometimes breakfast, lunch and dinner... yum! Laura has also begun her project of sewing curtains and cushions for the Shalom Center.

In the mean time I have spent the week up in the Andes at the Shalom Center with a work camp, doing lots of singing songs for which I have only a little sense of what they mean. my Spanish is almost non-existent, though it’s better today than a week ago. I’ve been busy building kitchen cabinets for the welcome center at the Shalom Center. They just purchased this gorgeous piece of property 3 years ago. I believe that they've said that it is the first church camp in Chile, it is certainly the first for the protestants which until 3 years ago were not legally recognized by the government - they all were simply organized as private corporations.

The camp is taking on the task of witnessing to God's shalom, a peace that transcends our normal understanding of peace, a peace that always evolves into equality and justice. The center is  focused on the individual, the community, and the environment. These are essential ideas here in Chile, with the church serving a vital new role. I have been hearing the power of each of these witnesses. It seems that this is a nation where up to 75% of all young people have experienced abuse (often within the walls of the home and the church). A nation where sexism is rife, and young people have a very limited sense of opportunity.

Elena describes how the churches with which she’s been involved had only a couple of young people pursuing higher education 10 years ago. Now there are 35 or more in college. How much of this is tied to our mission here, and how much is the evolution of a culture may not be known. But this last week at camp I witnessed the power of watching young people, young men and women claiming their voice from things as simple as the women refusing to wait hand and foot on the men, making their sandwiches etc. to the men having to wash their own dishes... to all of them sharing equally in worship and leadership. It’s exciting to watch in any culture!! It’s particularly exciting when you pair it with the stories that have so broken the spirits of these same young adults. Shalom for the
emotions of the individual.

For the environment... this is a nation where environmental awareness is also just beginning. The church leaders talk about the need to educate the populace about things as simple as not throwing garbage out the window of their cars etc. to the much more serious challenge of addressing major deforestation and the accompanying erosion. Framing these US involvement in putting Pinochet in power. We were the ones who orchestrated and supported the coup that put this brutal dictator in power. We were concerned that the democratically elected socialist president who was doing extraordinary things for his people, was the tumbling of South America toward communism.

Some of you may recall Jimmy Carter’s speaking of the shame that the US should feel about our actions in Chile. Startlingly in spite of our pasts, they have welcomed us warmly as partners, brothers and sisters now. There is such need for healing and for that deeper sense of shalom, making peace, after living for decades in a culture where the only peace was one imposed through exile, execution, the rich getting richer, etc.

I know that I’ve gone on too long. In part I know this because it has now been 2 days since I began this missive.  We are now outside of Santiago staying with a Chilean Pastor (Pastor Pepe) and his family. The girls are enjoying the three young boys. We went last night to their church and experienced a very poor shantytown outside of Santiago where Pastor Pepe noted "it’s very dangerous, but not for us, we have all of the towns children in church programs so they respect us and watch out for us." All I can say looking at the church and the community that Pastor Pepe is ministering to is wow... we need to pray for him!

I am attaching some pictures. One of Berit and Elsa putting together the school bags that all of you were kind enough to send over with us. 40 of them will go to this struggling congregation, others shared with other churches. There’s also a picture of the pickup loaded with the wood for the cabinets for the Shalom Center. The cabinets are muy rustica. A picture of Elsa at the Shalom center, she got cold so I zipped her in my jacket and she fell asleep. Too cute!

Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers.
Eric (Laura, Berit and Elsa)
Eric Kirkegaard served as a Short-term Volunteer with the Pentecostal Church of Chile.  He helped out with the children's programs of a new church start near Santiago with Pastor Jose Donoso, and was involved in a children's camp at the Shalom Center under Elena Huegel's leadership and attended part of the annual meeting of the Pentecostal Church of Chile.

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