Weaving our Dreams

Weaving our Dreams

Beverly Prestwood-Taylor – Coordinator between the Massachusetts Conference and the Pentecostal Church of Chile

You may remember that the country of Chile has gone through a great transformation in recent years.

Beverly Prestwood-Taylor – Coordinator between the Massachusetts Conference and the Pentecostal Church of Chile

You may remember that the country of Chile has gone through a great transformation in recent years.

In Santiago, Chile, on September 11th, 1973, the presidential palace was bombed and their democratically elected government was overthrown. The president, Salvador Allende died in the coup and dictator Augusto Pinochet began a reign of terror, rounding up all “dissidents” and herding them into the National Stadium, where they were tortured, shot and buried in mass graves. During the next several years, many college students, professors, artists and musicians were arrested, tortured and assassinated or jailed. About 3, 000 were assassinated and about 27,000 were tortured or jailed as dissidents.

Pinochet was able to gain power with the support of covert operations of the U.S. military. Recently, new evidence suggests that U.S. military planes were used in the bombing of La Moneda, the presidential residence. And U.S military ships waited on the shores of Playa Ancha to invade Chile, if the coup failed.

In 1977, under US president Jimmy Carter, relations between the US and Pinochet cooled. The US exerted pressure on Pinochet to return to a democratic state and to be accountable for his crimes.

Later, as international calls for his ouster increased, dictator Pinochet opened the way for democratic elections, and was unseated in the 1988 election, relinquishing the presidency in 1990. Pinochet continued to hold much power. He was still in charge of the Chilean military, and held a Senate seat for life. Fear of openly opposing him or his policies still gripped the country. When I was in Chile in 1998, people were reluctant to speak freely about their political opinions. A member of the delegation tried to buy a socialist book in a Santiago store, and was led to the back, where such books were kept secretly under lock and key. It wasn’t until Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998 when he went for medical treatment that the fog of fear, which had enveloped the country, began to lift.

Another cultural force in Chile is the domination of men in society. Studies have shown that there is a high rate of physical and sexual abuse against women, which hasn’t yet been openly acknowledged or punished. Very few women have held positions of power, and divorce has only been legal since March 13th, 2004. Women whose husbands had abandoned them couldn’t even divorce and they were called “widows above the ground.”

Today, a new wind is blowing in Chile. Last week, newly elected president Michele Bachelet was inaugurated as president. She was elected as a healing president. Her father, an Air Force General had been assassinated by Pinochet when he refused to support the coup. Bachelet and her mother had also been imprisoned and tortured. Yet, she was able to forgive the past and intends to seek to bring the divided country together. As a socialist, she is concerned for the poorest of the poor in Chile, who have been left out of the economic revitalization occurring in the country. Yet, she plans to continue the present economic policy of a free market economy, bringing socialist principles and capitalism’s structure together. She is also committed to lifting up the voices of women, and has appointed a cabinet that is 50% male and 50 % female. When I visited this year, I could already see her policies beginning to take hold, as all of the “flagmen” on road construction, and the toll-takers on the Pan American highway were women, in sharp contrast to the all male revue a year ago. (Her influence in this area began several years ago, as she held a cabinet position with previous president Richard Lagos.)

Bachelet, at her inauguration said, “My commitment will be to travel with you on yet another stretch of this great promenade of freedom we have been opening,” Her comment was an explicit reference to Allende’s last speech from the besieged La Moneda palace on September 11, 1973, when he declared that some day, much sooner than later, “we will reopen the great promenades down which free men pass”. One newspaper noted that “The street euphoria that greeted Bachelet’s victory felt very much like the emotions that gripped Santiago back in 1970, when Allende was elected.”

It was truly an amazing time to be in Chile. Her election is a miracle of transformation that hardly seemed possible even six years ago.

It was in this context that I participated in a retreat for young women in the Andes Mountains of central Chile, at the Centro Shalom, a camp style educational center focused on exploring issues of peace, care for the environment, and spiritual development. The Center was founded thanks to the cooperation and commitment of the Pentecostal Church of Chile, Global Ministries and the Ohio Region of the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ. The retreat was called “Weaving Our Dreams.” Much of the content of the retreat was created by the staff of Centro Shalom and used in all their camps this year. Drama, art, journaling, music and games were woven together skillfully and imaginatively by missionary Elena Huegel. Through these activities the participants learned about cherishing the environment, caring for themselves in the forest, building covenant community, appreciating differences, exploring their walk with God and camping. (I’ll have to save the full description of the “night game” for another occasion. This game entailed tromping around in the woods in groups, and encountering surprises along the way: of frustration, fright or serendipity.) This kind of camping experience was a first for most of the girls on the retreat.

The Bible study centered on the life of Mary Magdalene. As we learned about Mary Magdalene, we also learned about the dream cycle and considered Mary Magdalene’s courage in living out her dreams. We reflected on the stages of the dream cycle: Overcoming Obstacles, Dreaming the Dream in all its detail, Living the Dream, and Re-evaluating and continuing to live the Dream as it becomes real. The girls were invited to begin to dream their own dreams and to share them with each other. The dreams of these young girls were so poignant, especially in light of the changes going on around them in their country. One could see that some of them began to believe for the first time in their lives that they could live a dream. I was deeply touched by the mother of one of the “motivators” (the name for the camp counselors.) She had just turned 50 and was dreaming a new dream in her life. She said to the girls, “Some of you may not be able to believe it, but I still have dreams, too. I have new dreams that are just being born, as the old dreams are dying away.” The girls, who were 14-20 years old, had dreams of being the first person in their family to attend the university; or of discovering a way to heal a sick sibling or of preaching in their churches, or of teaching others about God.

Throughout the entire workshop, I was knitting a prayer shawl in my spare time, in order to incarnate the metaphor of “weaving/knitting a dream.” (The word in Spanish for knitting and weaving is the same word.) One of the girls came up to help me with my labored effort, teaching me, with infinite patience, an easier way to knit that she had learned at her mother’s knee. My 50 year old friend continued the knitting lessons and taught me much more…about her experience of God, the names of all the trees around me, and a sense of awe for the blessings of each day.

At the closing worship service, I laid out all the shawls on the altar. I told them that the women of Massachusetts were praying for them as they dreamed their dreams and that the prayers of the women were woven into the shawls they had sent as gifts. I took pictures of all the girls, so that the women who had prayed for them could see the faces of the ones who would receive the prayers. As I placed the shawl on each girl, I prayed a blessing for her gifts and dreams. Each girl was profoundly touched by the thought that women from halfway across the globe cared about them, and were praying for them. Afterward, they clutched the shawls around their shoulders, clinging to the warmth of that love and the power of those prayers.

We are once again connected to each other, we from Massachusetts and they from Chile. All of us from Christ. Our prayers and hopes and dreams are all woven together in the fabric of the cloth of Christ. The weaving is a mystical restoration and healing of past wounds. The weaving is a miraculous affirmation of joyful future possibilities.

Beverly Prestwood-Taylor
Beverly Prestwood-Taylor is the coordinator between the Massachusetts Conference and the Pentecostal Church of Chile.