We ate fresh made peach pie and drank tea in her well-kept, lovely home looking over the Pacific Ocean. I had stayed there a number of times at the pastor’s house, and every time she laughed about our height difference, once actually taking out a tape measure at a family gathering to see who could guess closest to my actual height. I explained to her how maple syrup is made and she told me that her secret ingredient in vegetable soup is half an apple. She prayed for my neck pain while knitting me a scarf and I prayed for her Parkinson’s while looking out at the city from the guest room window.
The last time that I visited, the little old lady asked, “What would you like for lunch tomorrow,” and while I thought, she said, “don’t be embarrassed to say, you are at home here.” And I knew that. I had always felt so welcomed and loved there and that’s why it was so important to me to make the 8 hour round trip to say goodbye. I remembered the mouthwatering salmon that we ate the last time that we visited her with a delegation and I requested that again. She arranged with her husband for him to go to the fish market early in the morning when the salmon arrives while she goes to buy vegetables. She explained to me that she will make mixed vegetables with little potatoes and knowing my preference for seafood, she also planned buy a type of shellfish that is popular here for me to try during my visit.
After the conversation, despite her protesting, I helped her carry the few dirty dishes to the kitchen. She said to me, “I like having guests in my house but I feel embarrassed that I cannot meet their needs.” “I don’t understand,” I questioned, looking at her to explain. “I know that in the United States you are at a higher level, things are nicer there and you’re more educated. I cannot tend to you well enough.” She said it so matter-of-factly and I felt angry. Angry that my nationality makes her feel ashamed. Angry that the media and the movies propagate lies that represent a false reality. Angry that there’s a system to classify countries into first, second and third world. Angry that to so many, my blond hair and blue eyes are pretentious.
But the anger was fleeting and it turned to sadness, and then to hope. I hope that I can return the hospitality, love and help that have been extended to me. I will remember the extreme patience that others had when my broken Spanish fumbled and I reverted to a clumsy game of charades to communicate. I will remember when the ragged looking man selling vegetables chased me down the sidewalk to tell me that I had overpaid him. I walked away with nine artichokes that day, and I remember his bright, toothless smile. I remember when I shared my testimony for the first time in Chile, and the pastor told me that she would pray for me every day, and I absolutely knew, without a doubt, that she would. I remember mourning with a family during the loss of their father and seeing their faith stand strong despite their grief. I remember when a humble family living on the Amazon River served me a fresh caught fish and served it for lunch with a scoop of quinoa. I learned later that they had shared the last of the food that they had, not a grain of rice, drop of oil or coin left. I had felt both incredibly honored but so undeserving at the same time.
As I travelled through Peru, Chile, Paraguay and Argentina throughout the last year and a half, there were people crying out for nutrition: physically, emotionally and spiritually. I found that I too was searching for the same. I have become more conscious of the people around me, and how my decisions as an American impact the global world. I will work harder for peace, with myself and with others, so that when a Chilean grandma invites an American traveller to her table, they will sit as equals, children of God without excuses for who they are or where they come from, with dignity that surpasses all boarders and languages. Thanks to all of you who have invested in me.
Lauren Kabat serves as a Global Mission Intern with the Iglesia Pentecostal de Chile (IPC) in the Shalom Center in Chile. Her appointment is supported by Week of Compassion, Our Churches Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund and your special gifts.