When I was 8 years old, my mother went to Chile through Global Ministries Mission Partnership program. Soon after her return, my mother told me that I could skip school for a day to go to Old Sturbridge Village, a local tourist attraction, to meet teenagers that she had spent time with during her trip. Eager for the opportunity to meet new people, and to get time off of school, I willingly agreed to go.
On this trip, I met the Hechos Group, a theater group from the central Curicó church in the Pentecostal Church of Chile, led by Elena Huegel. Elena was the only English-speaker in the group, as she had grown up speaking both English and Spanish. As a missionary with the Pentecostal Church, through Global Ministries, Elena had begun establishing programs for youth within the church, this theater team being one of them. Every member of this group was friendly and willing to attempt communication with an energetic child. I felt particular connections with two people of the group. The first was Elena, for obvious reasons in that I could easily communicate with her. The second person was a young man who had talent in performance poetry. One particularly touching moment for me came when I was getting ready to say goodbye, and he sat me down and wrote a poem on the spot. Of course, since it was eleven years ago, I cannot remember the exact wording of the poem. I do, however, remember that he said I could always bring smiles wherever I could go.
Being the daughter of two pastors, I heard something quite similar from many people. I was an energetic and happy participant in many church activities, so there had been similar songs sung by many parishioners. This young man knew nothing of my devotion to the church, or my life. I was incredibly touched because this man saw the smiles without the church backdrop. I was determined to see these youth again.
I am a stubborn woman, and that comes from the well-nurtured independence that I was born with. I told my mother of my dream to visit these youth in their own country, and she said that if I saved up, she would help me pay for it. Between the ages of 8 and 10, I saved my allowance every week. Three months after my 10th birthday, my mother informed me that she had been invited on another delegation, and I had shown enough commitment to the cause that the Mission Partnership was allowing me to go as well! After the first trip when I was 10 years old, I made two more trips: one as a 15 year-old in a choir exchange and one with the camp of the Pentecostal Church at age 17.
I made this commitment at age 10, and it had started when I was 8 years old. I was not usually a committed child. I had played soccer, baseball and softball. I had taken art lessons, been in a bell choir and a chorus at church. The only lessons I had stuck with were piano lessons, which I gave up a few years later. This relationship with the Pentecostal Church of Chile had led me into a commitment. I never realized how committed I was until 10 ½ years later. I wanted to walk away from my stressful life that I had built, and I opened my eyes to where I could walk to, my longest-lasting, non-familial, and committed relationship with the Pentecostal Church of Chile. In this loving relationship, I found solace. I became a volunteer at Centro Shalom for 6 ½ months.
This commitment was not the typical relationship. I did not call the other party on a regular basis. I continued my daily life without mentioning the relationship. In fact, it rarely came up in conversation. There were small changes due to my experiences. I chose to dedicate more of my time to my faith, and live a simpler life, similar to those I had seen on my trips. The average person would not have singled me out as someone in a serious committed relationship with the global community. I chose my university and my major with the desire to help the greater good, but not thinking about my greater faith journey. The experiences I had in Chile did not drastically change my life, but it has subtly guided it in more ways that I can understand. For this supporting relationship, I can only sing my praises and thanks.
When traveling home from your visit in Chile, it is important to evaluate your experiences on a broader level. The encounters you have in Chile will enable you to transform your life. These transformations, however, are not forced or imposed. Instead, these changes come out of the conscious decisions that you make based on your experiences. Every day presents choices to you. After your cross-cultural experience, you have been given new tools with which to evaluate your daily choices. Your decisions affected by your trip could be simple decisions, such as deciding to go to church more often, or waste less food. These smaller decisions are equally as transforming and important as a seemingly larger decision might be (such as deciding to take a semester off school to become a volunteer abroad). In God's community, every step in the right direction is an appreciated step. I encourage you, after returning, to begin taking steps in a new direction.
Written by Carrie Prestwood-Taylor
Centro Shalom Webpage
Carrie Prestwood-Taylor, a member of North Hadley Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Ware, Massachusetts, served as a short-term volunteer from January 3 through July 13, 2009, while she serves at the Shalom Center in Chile. She is assisting our missionary Elena Huegel with the preparations for the delegations and retreats that take place at the Shalom Center.