"I have been in nearly all the women´s jails in the northern part of Chile," she told me when she caught my arm after the Roots in the Ruins: Hope in Trauma workshop. A team of trauma healing and resilience development facilitators from the Shalom Center had come to Antofagasta on the coast of northern Chile to accompany the members of the Pentecostal Church of Chile.
"I was a drug dealer," she added. "Today you taught us that in order to be a place of healing, the church needs to be a safe space to share each other's stories. I know this is true.
For over 20 years I was in and out of jail. Then one day, my neighbor invited me to this church. I came, and I discovered God's presence in a way that I had never known before. Weeping and trembling, I told God my whole story and felt like I did not have to hide anything for the first time in my life. When God listened to my story, my life began to change. I no longer dealt in drugs, I went back to my family and home, and I kept coming to church.
I thought that everything would be alright, but it wasn´t. I realized that I needed to do something about my behavior in my family. My children and I fought constantly. I decided one day to tell them my story. I shared with them how my childhood had been and confessed that I knew that theirs had been similar. I told them stories, good and bad, that I had never revealed before. They listened. Together we decided to start working on creating happy experiences, a little at a time each day, for all of us to remember.
And I thought that now everything would be alright, but it wasn´t. I began to notice the violence, not just the shootings and the shouting, but the way of thinking and of being in my "población," my neighborhood. I could see that I had grown up and that now my children were enveloped by the ramifications of all the lacks that come with poverty. As a member of the church, I now had a point of comparison. I told my community story to my pastors and they encouraged me to get involved in healing my neighborhood. I did. I visit my neighbors to listen to their stories and encourage them.
God listened to me and my spirit was healed. My children listened to me and our family was healed. My pastors and church listened to me, I and I am helping to heal my community.
I have discovered that daring to tell and listen to our stories sets us on the path of healing."
Anonymous as told to Elena Huegel
Elena Huegel serves with the Pentecostal Church of Chile (IPC). She serves as an environmental and Christian education specialist. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.