The IKC-UCC recently sponsored a group of three delegates to travel south Chile as guests of the Pentecostal Church of Chile for 10 days as part of a “Ministry of Presence” mission journey. It was an incredible opportunity to grow within ourselves, to expand our cross-cultural awareness, and to experience the immensity of God’s love for all of us, throughout this wonderful world.
The IKC-UCC recently sponsored a group of three delegates to travel south Chile as guests of the Pentecostal Church of Chile for 10 days as part of a “Ministry of Presence” mission journey. It was an incredible opportunity to grow within ourselves, to expand our cross-cultural awareness, and to experience the immensity of God’s love for all of us, throughout this wonderful world. Global Ministries has a long-tenured full-time missionary named Elena Huegel based in Talca, Chile, and it was a pleasure working with her during our stay in Chile.
Most of our time in Chile was spent at the Shalom Center, a retreat center built within a beautiful backdrop of the Andes mountains. Here we met with staff members and another group of local church members from Curico, Chile, ranging in ages from approximately 18 to 25. We were part of a camp called “Con Paz” or “With Peace”, and together our groups became incredibly close in a very short amount of time. During our week, we ate, prayed, worked, cleaned, played, and slept in dorm rooms with our new friends, and we formed very quick and very tight emotional bonds with them as a result.
Aside from making new friends in an unlikely location, most of us couldn’t speak Spanish and they couldn’t speak English, we found it easy to find God in our daily activities. He was all around us, in the smiles and laughs shared when language failed miserably, in the incredible scenery all around us within the Andes mountains, in the thousands of stars we could see in the night sky, and in the daily devotions that we shared. The Chilean culture calls for a lot of physical closeness, and it is proper etiquette when entering a room or engaging a group to give a hug and cheek kiss to all present. This is of course different than what our culture calls for, but it was surprising and fun to witness how quickly it became “normal” for us to feel very comfortable greeting our new friends with a hug, or even just putting an arm around them during casual conversations.
The Shalom Center itself hosts many different kinds of camps during the year. The Con Paz camp that we joined is meant to bring groups of different backgrounds together for five days of energetic learning and spiritual growth. There are also camps strictly for women, for church youth group members, a camp designed to help people deal with grief and emotional hardships, and trauma healing.
The Shalom Center is a cross between rustic and high class camping, with the building itself being a beautiful log cabin design. There are outlets and light fixtures around the house, but there is no electricity, save for when the generator is running, which is not often. Thus, come nightfall we had to have our flashlights handy. We did all of our eating on outside picnic tables, with dishes and silverware that were washed by hand following each meal. There is a separate bath house, with actual indoor plumbing and working toilets, but hot water was a precious commodity that we mostly did without, even for the showers. It is a work in process though, and there are plans now to construct a low-ropes course of sorts for future delegations’ enjoyment. Our own work groups, which we joined 2-3 times per day, were also hard at work clearing non-native briars from the grounds, improving the water flow from the spring to the house, painting and staining the house and deck, and digging in the dirt path/road and setting up rocks along the way to help with erosion control.
The last segment of our trip was spent at a home stay with families in Curico, where we broke off into groups of two and stayed for two nights. This was a very neat experience as well, seeing how their families live and coexist with each other, many times with extended families staying under the same roof. I had the pleasure of staying with a woman who had previously visited the IKC and stayed with my family for a night, and it was wonderful to see the favor returned as I got to know her family as well. We also attended a Sunday evening church service in Curico, which is the main church for the Pentecostal Church of Chile, and which regularly hosts between 1,000 and 1,300 worshippers for a service. I was asked (in advance) to “preach” or deliver the sermon to the entire congregation, which is pretty far out of my normal comfort zone! With the help of Elena who translated my “sermon”, I spoke about my amazing experiences during the three spiritual journeys I have been fortunate enough to make, and about all the incredible people who make the experience one that our delegations can never forget. It ended up being a highlight of my trip, as I was able to share with so many people the blessings that I have received by being a part of these delegations.
All in all, we were struck by the incredible hospitality of our Chilean hosts, when each and every person we met, even for only a moment, was our friend, and greeted us with a warm smile, and a hug that said they were glad we were there to share our time with them. This is what our trip was about, learning that sharing our time was just as, and probably even more powerful, than simply sharing our money and going about our lives as normal. Our “Ministry of Presence” had a profound effect on our hosts and new friends, I do believe that, but to be perfectly honest I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out just how or if I gave to them as much as they gave me. Of that, I’m not convinced.