"I have lived in shalom!" Milca was bubbling with excitement when we met at the Shalom Center after she had spent two weeks volunteering with the Chilean National Forest Service. I have accompanied this vivacious and talented college student, a committed member of the the Pentecostal Church of Chile, in her spiritual walk from the time she was fourteen and began attending camp at the Shalom Center.
"When I went in to the interview for this volunteer position, I saw that the other young people were from wealthy families and had all the latest outdoor gear. " Milca´s parents are pastors of the Pentecostal Church of Chile in the tiny village of "Las Cabras" (literally "The Goats") in central Chile. "But as I started to answer the interviewer's questions, I relaxed. He asked me basic questions about the biodiversity of Chile, about caring for the environment such as leaving no trace and garbage control, about camping and about team work. He asked me what I would do if I knew that one of the other volunteers was drinking even after signing a ‘no drinking, no smoking, no drugs’ policy commitment; if I would try to talk to the volunteer or if I would talk to a supervisor. I answered that I would talk to the supervisor immediately, because I felt it would do no good to talk to the volunteer myself if a commitment had already been broken, that the drinking could put us all in danger, and that I felt that caring for ourselves, our bodies and our relationships was directly tied to caring for the environment. The interviewer told me that in all of his years of interviewing young people for this volunteer service, he had never heard the answers I gave him. I spent the next hour sharing with him the vision and mission of the Shalom Center and I what I have learned as a volunteer on staff at this church camp of the Pentecostal Church of Chile.
When I arrived at the national forest located on the ‘Todos los Santos’ (All Saints) Lake in southern Chile, I felt like a very tiny and insignificant fish in a large and strange pond. Everything was different from how we do things at the Shalom Center. I was intimidated by the rough language, gossip, and trivial in-fighting between leaders and volunteers. I prayed. I felt the Holy Spirit guide me. I visited the volunteers in each of the tents every night with questions to help them think deeply about their experiences during the day. This is one of the responsibilities of the motivators (counselors) at the Shalom Center. Soon the leaders were asking me to lead group development activities. Then I began making suggestions with regards to the program.
On the second to the last day of work, we were hauling construction materials about five miles up a mountain to repair a scenic overlook on a trail, when it began to rain. Our team leader suggested that we climb three miles further to the nearest refuge. I felt God speak to me in my heart. I insisted that we needed to get back to the base camp immediately. Since I had already made a name for myself by listening to others, working hard and encouraging the leaders, he followed my advice. By the time we had crossed the swollen rivers and climbed down the muddy paths, we discovered that the base camp had been evacuated due to flash flood warnings. We were the last ones to traverse the path we had come down on for the next two weeks. The group leader thanked me in front of the whole camp, once we caught up with the rest of the volunteers at the nearest hostel.
The national leader of the volunteer service asked me to be a part of the staff next year. I told him that I had other obligations with my church, and that I felt that I still needed further training at the Shalom Center before taking on such a responsibility. As I got off the bus on the highway outside of ‘Las Cabras,’ the other volunteers hung out the windows shouting and cheering. Back when I was picked from hundreds of young people to be volunteer in the Chilean National Forest Service, my parents thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me to preach God´s word. It was, but not in any way they could have imagined. I preached, with my actions, about God's invitation to SHALOM as I have learned at the Shalom Center. I lived out fully, in the midst of those who don´t know God, the Bible text that is the theme of the Shalom Center:
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace. Luke 1:78-79
And for two weeks, I showed the people of the National Forest Service what I have learned at my church camp: that to truly care for the environment we must work on healing our relationships - with God, with ourselves, with others and with all of creation."
Testimony of Milca Reyes
As told to Elena Huegel
at the Shalom Center, Chile, 2014