A Young North American in ChileAugust 23, 2010
My sixteen year old nephew visited me for the Summer and wrote this newsletter below. Enjoy! Elena Huegel
This past Monday I was invited to go to the school where Martha Espinoza works and do a small presentation for the kids in English. Because I needed to be there early for the flag ceremony, I left on Sunday afternoon to Curicó, where I met up with Martha, and took a bus from there to Sagrada Familia, which is on the way to Villa Prat. We arrived at her house around four in the afternoon, and ate a wonderful once/lunch meal that her mother prepared (they send their greetings and blessings).
After eating we drove to the church, but there was no one there. Apparently they were having a preaching in the street event, but by the time we got to the event it was over. So we marched back to the church (with everyone that was at the event) singing and well, singing. When we arrived there, I found out that this church separates men and women during the service, so I sat with the guys. After an initial prayer, there was a brief period of time to greet everyone. A deacon of the church came up to me and asked me where I was from, and I responded saying I was from the U.S. His eyes opened as wide as dinner plates. He then asked me if I would like an "opportunity", which I respectfully declined (next time I´m accepting if it gets me out of what came afterward) even though I have already taken many "opportunities" even speaking during Richard´s birthday party (the brothers and sisters in Tutuquén Bajo send you many greetings and blessings as well). He said okay and started to walk away when he turned and asked me to come and sit up front behind the pulpit. So not wanting to be any more disrespectful, I accepted. It was awkward. I was the only one up there besides the worship leader, because the guide was not there, and the other guest was not given the chance to sit up there. Furthermore, I had not consulted with Tía Elena over the protocol of being up front, so I felt like a fish out of water, and everyone was watching me. I had to go off of intuition and off of what I had seen other people up front do. Although it is a place of honor, I honestly felt like I did not belong there, because not only did I not make any special effort to be there, nor did I even know I was going to be there. So there I was feeling like everything I did was being watched, and standing at least a foot and a half taller than the person who was leading the service. I was sticking out like a sore thumb. I was relieved when it ended.
We (we being Martha, her father, her mother, and I) returned back to the house where we dined, not on soup as one would expect in the middle of winter, but ice cream. I proceeded to take a shower and go to bed, but their dog decided to give me quite a few wake-up barks during the night, and it was like listening to Johan Sebastian Bark all over again. The following morning I woke to get out of bed and practically freeze. It was cold. Through much determination and perseverance, I changed. After having a light breakfast, Nicole, Martha´s younger sister, and I took a bus to the school. We went inside to the courtyard where we were greeted by the director, and taken to his office where I waited (Nicole had some things she had to accomplish in town) until Martha came. Between the three of us (Martha, the director and I, for those of you having trouble keeping track of all the characters) we discussed what my schedule would look like. Afterwards we went outside and Martha introduced me to a few of the classes. Around nine thirty we attended the flag ceremony, which takes place every Monday. The kids raise the Chilean flag, while singing the national anthem, and then perform many different patriotic songs, poetry pieces, skits, and dialogues. All this was done outside, so we were all standing in the cold morning air and I was freezing (if I was freezing you can imagine how cold it was). I did take some pictures, but the camera´s battery died. Thankfully (for you guys) Martha took pictures on her cell phone, and I should be able to send them to you here pretty soon. At the end of the ceremony, the director introduced me to the entire school, which consisted of roughly one hundred students from pre-K to eighth grade, after which I gave a small speech in English. The looks on the kids´ faces were hilarious, because they had no clue what I was saying, but they all laughed when they realized I spoke Spanish as well. When I finished speaking, the kids swarmed me and flooded me with questions from what the U.S. was like to how do you say "cat" in English. Martha finally came to my rescue about half way through their morning recreation period (it is about twenty minutes long I think) to introduce me to the rest of the teachers. The English teacher was thrilled to have me there, because they had never received a visitor from any English speaking country. I then went to the English classroom where I was going to give a small presentation about high school, and what it was like in the states. The first presentation I gave was to the sixth and fifth graders who watched with rapt attention as I showed them pictures of my high school (most of which were leeched from Facebook, therefore had very few photos of me) and what it was like there. They asked me plenty of questions about prom, football, baseball, grades and other high school activities. Even though the presentation was supposed to be entirely in English, I did my own translating for the kids. For the second presentation the second and the sixth grades were present (the sixth grade teacher is the English teacher for the school). This time they did not pay as close attention, but I think they still enjoyed it. After the second presentation, I got a chance to talk with the English teacher, and she said that she appreciated the fact that I came out there to spend time with the kids, while encouraging them to continue to learn English. She also was impressed with my Spanish. Unfortunately, I had to leave to go back to Talca around one so I went to all the classes to say my goodbyes and to give them some more encouragement. Nicole was outside waiting for me when I left the school and we soon caught a bus and went back to her house where her mom had prepared a wonderful meal. I then went, with Nicole, back to Curicó were I said good bye and left for Talca.
When I arrived in Talca, I took a colectivo (a taxi cab with a route and set fee) from the bus station to the house. While I was getting my backpack from the trunk of the colectivo, the driver got out and confronted me. He said that I was a disrespectful jerk, because I had "slammed" the door and that I needed to be more respectful towards Chileans and quite a few other things that I don't remember or didn't quite get. I simply during his entire fifteen to twenty minute speech said sorry and that I wouldn't do it again. He said that sorry wasn´t enough (I was tempted just to give him the five hundred pesos that were in my pocket to get him to stop but it was probably better I didn´t.) and gave me a firm shove to get me away from the car. Thankfully he just drove off after that.
It´s interesting to travel and be recognized as an American, because as an American you can either be treated like a king, or be treated harshly. Both trains of thought are not healthy for either the people who receive you or yourself. In the case of being treated like a king, that puts you on a pedestal for everyone to see, and you almost feel like an exotic animal at the zoo, that everyone comes to stare at. Not only that it puts you in a high ranking place in a culture that we often know little about so the chance of messing up is much higher. Even though I have been in the Pentecostal Church of Chile before, there are still many things I know little about, for example, how one is supposed to behave when he or she is placed at the front of the church. It also places many stereotypes on you and it does not let you be who you are. Now please understand being treated as an honored guest is not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it just goes overboard. How do you know when it´s too much? I have no clue. How do you respond? I´m still trying to figure that out, but it is something that as Americans we need to be aware of. Obviously being treated harshly is not good for you either, because you can come to harm, but also it prevents you from entering a relationship and ministering to that person. As one travels to different places in the world, one must expect for things like this to happen, and one must be prepared to respond appropriately. Tia Elena and I have been watching a TV series called Joan of Arcadia (it´s about a girl who talks to God and the different suggestions God gives her. It presents some very interesting theological topics to discuss) and it put me to thinking about how our actions affect people. So when I look back on my experience with the colectivo driver I honestly think there was no better course of action that I could have taken. Since I know Aikido when he pushed me I could have put him in a submission lock, or I could have used my Taekwondo or simply pushed him back, but how would that have shown him the grace of God? As an American I know when I travel there is always the possibility I will be put in situation where I will be treated with hostility, but as a Christian, I know how I will respond as well, and that is with the same grace and love that the Father has shown me.
I hope to write about some more of my adventures, but I have to go get ready for church so you´ll have to wait until then.
16 years old
Elena Huegel is a missionary with the Pentecostal Church of Chile (IPC). She serves as an environmental and Christian education specialist.
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