Making a Difference
“You obey the law of Christ when you offer each other a helping hand.
Alejandra has a dream. Every day she seeks to make a difference in someone´s life even if it is in a small way.
The dream began when Alejandra was a toddler. She bumped into a kerosene stove while playing, and within a few seconds, had suffered burns on most of her abdomen, leg and arm. She spent many days throughout her early childhood in the hospital recovering from multiple operations. So it was through personal experience, even at a very young age, that Alejandra decided she would find a way to help other people. I met Alejandra when she was 17 years old, wearing the typical uniform of a Chilean public high school student: dark blue jumper and same color knee high socks, white blouse, and maroon tie. Her mouth was quick to laugh but her eyes spoke of deep compassion. Over the years, I have watched her deal with her own trauma, choosing time and time again to accept the refining fire of life’s challenges as a source of patience, hope, joy, and peace for her own life as well as the motivation to reach out to others.
On the morning after the February 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Chile, Alejandra, now a nurse at the municipal clinic of Tomé and first aid facilitator at the Shalom Center, went to Dichato, a fishing and tourist village across the great bay from the port of Talcahuano. Alejandra´s father is the pastor of the Pentecostal Church of Chile in the nearby town of Tomé and also ministers in a mission church in Dichato. They climbed over mounds of debris, carefully avoiding pits of water left by the five immense waves that flowed one after the other over Dichato, and found the little mission church still standing among the piles of cars, washing machines, beds and refrigerators. None of the homes of the members of the church remained.
Later that day, Alejandra was finally able to find the sisters and brothers of the church. They were up in the hills preparing to camp, not only homeless but fearful of the constant earth tremors. One of the elderly members of the church, a widow, dressed only in a nightgown and an oversized pair of borrowed fishing boots, took Alejandra aside and asked her, head down in embarrassment, if she could please get her some underclothes.
Alejandra went right to work. First she organized the church to provide aid in the immediate needs of dry clothing, food, clean drinking water, first aid, and shelter. Once the local government was able to begin catching up on these immediate needs, Alejandra began to think about how to care for the emotional trauma of not only of those from Dichato but also in the other towns and villages in the area. Alejandra had been certified in trauma healing and resilience development in a course taught at the Shalom Center just a few weeks before the earthquake, but she wanted to find a way to connect her medical training as a nurse to the spiritual and emotional wounds of the people around her.
Thanks to a scholarship provided by the Shalom Center and the Brookfield Institute, Alejandra was able to travel to Massachusetts for two weeks of specialized training in massage and trauma healing. She returned to Tomé and Dichato to minister to many children, youth and adults that continue to suffer the long term effects of the disaster.
Alejandra is fulfilling her dream. She is making a difference.
Elena Huegel is a missionary with the Pentecostal Church of Chile (IPC). She serves as an environmental and Christian education specialist.