Gross State of the Union Address: 1 Year
One year ago, we arrived in Chile during the weekend of the Copa America finals. We drove down to the town of Linares (our soon to be home), threw our luggage in a newly rented house, and headed over to a member’s house to watch the big game: Chile vs. Argentina.
I had no clue what anyone was saying on the TV or in the room with me. I did not know any of the players, not even Sanchez or Messi! (I actually think that was the first full game of soccer that I have ever watched). I ate my first completo and tried very hard to cheer or boo when everyone else did.
When Chile won, I remember Jon and I having a very serious conversation as to whether or not we should go to the plaza where we heard the celebration would be. It was dark, and we were so nervous that we would get lost.
Fast forward to one year later:
- The member whose house we went to that night is now one of our very dear friends whom we have shared many laughs, bible studies, and adventures with.
- This year, Chile played Argentina AGAIN in the finals of Copa America AND WON! This time around, we couldn’t take our eyes off the screen and could scream and chant with everyone else.
- After Chile won, we OF COURSE headed to the plaza to celebrate. We now know exactly where it is… on the only main street in the city! (seriously, you should never get lost in Linares)
Well, here we are.
I simply cannot believe how fast the time has gone! I also cannot believe how hard it is to express what this last year has felt like and meant to us.
1. Our Brothers and Sisters
If you ever have the opportunity to visit our little congregation in Linares, I hope that you are blown away by the pure love and joy that the members share for each other and for service – just as we were and still are!
However, after a year, the faces of our congregation now have much deeper meanings. Instead of only smiles it is now easier to see different faith walks, various joys and struggles, high hopes and big fears. These are real people, real sinners, and real loved/redeemed children of God. They are so much more than just a happy photo or a special service. They are our brothers and sisters in faith and people we truly love, respect, and appreciate.
2. Our Roles
Shortly after arriving here we quickly dubbed our role for the first year in Chile as a “Ministry of Presence, Happiness, and Support.”
We are very conscientious of the fact that our roles are NOT positions of leadership. We desire to support and encourage church members as the church transitions to independence. The goal is to encourage Chilean leadership and to provide assistance to “new believers” who are currently without a permanent pastor.
So what in the the world did this look like for the past year?
- Building relationships: It’s hard to support others when you don’t know them! Deep and trusting relationships can take years to develop and a big part of this year (and hopefully many years to come) was a personal push to be consistent, reliable members and to spend as much time as possible with others!
- Encouraging on-going activities: Some activities that were already in place, however not consistently, were bible studies, youth group, and a summer Vacation Bible School. This past year we have been able to be a big part of these activities by encouraging them to happen regularly and by providing resources.
- Guidance: Imagine the questions that might arise from members that did not grow up in the Lutheran church: What church season are we in? What does a Good Friday service look like? How do you chose the hymns for Sunday? Where do you find the correct liturgy for a specific service? What should we do for VBS? We felt very blessed to be able to help answer these questions and more throughout the year.
- Participation: Jon participates in church services by reading liturgy and assisting in communion. He also meets with the church president for bible study every Tuesday night. Before class they usually talk about any rising questions, concerns, or services. I have been able to participate in church services by working closely with the youth to plan special church celebrations. I also have been able to play piano on some Sundays. There are currently two members who are very interested in learning and playing for future services! A big dream of mine is to improve my playing so that I can teach them soon.
- Awareness: Through blogs, photos, social media, and presentations, we hope to make other church families aware of the Linares congregation! Our members appreciate any support whether it is through prayers, words of encouragement, or donations.
What a roller-coster of a ride our Spanish learning has been!
- Month 1-2: We had little to no Spanish background when we arrived in Chile, and for the first several months everything sounded like gibberish around us. (Chilean Spanish is very fast and many words/phrases are specific only to Chile) Everyday we came home exhausted from brain overload.
- Month 3: This was the “light bulb” period when suddenly the gibberish became words and sentences!
- Months 4-6: Some days we came home really excited about the conversations that we were able to have throughout the day. On other days, we came home frustrated because our brains just couldn’t seem to function that day. (these bad days slowly started to disappear)
- Months 7-10: The golden age! We no longer had to “gear up” or “mentally prepare” for get-togethers, events, taxi rides, going to the store, etc. We were finally becoming comfortable with the language enough to truly enjoy conversations and not see them as big tasks.
- Months 11-12: Phone conversations with strangers are now possible…not easy… but possible.
Sometimes it is easy for us to get down on ourselves for our Spanish levels, but looking back at the year we have been so blessed to come a long way. We might not be able to speak perfectly, yet but we can speak! We are working hard to continue studying/improving every day.
4. School: Teaching English
Our role as assistant English teachers in two grade schools in Longavi has been such a blessing for us! Our jobs not only help us with our living expenses, but they also allow us to serve the community and to build relationships and friendships with teachers, parents, and students.
When we arrived, we joined our schools during the second semester (August). Both Jon and I have been able to stay at our same schools this school year as well! Staying in the same schools for almost a year now means that we know the general routines, the names of our students, and overall we fit in much better because we are seen as more permanent members of the faculty. We are both blessed to work in wonderful schools and have developed great friendships with the people there.
I don’t know if I would say that we had serious culture shock during this past year. Chile, however, felt more like logistics and language shock.
I already talked about our language barrier experience, but the logistics part of Chile is where I think we had some of our hardest moments. Visa and insurance paperwork was a long, tough process. Other things that were challenges included figuring out internet, how to pay bills, gas heating, finding a new house to rent, etc. Thankfully, our struggles in these areas lead us to some AMAZING friends who so lovingly and willingly helped us out.
In order to stay sane with the many transitions, Jon and I took advantage of the cheap bus system and our camping gear to “brain relax” whenever there was an opportunity. Jon especially got really into trail running since it helped his mind settle after a day of Spanish. Chile is an incredibly beautiful place and I cannot believe that an hour or two ride can get us into the Andes Mountains or to the Pacific Ocean! We also were blessed with tons of visitors this year which we LOVED and gave us a reason to see a little more of Chile.
A year and a half ago, Jon and I read a devotion book and felt the push to make a change in our lives that would encourage our personal relationships with God and our relationships with His people. God let the Chile opportunity fall in our laps and has blessed us with an amazing year. We have been comforted time and time again that He is in charge and He is at work even when we are unsure of our words/actions.
We truly love serving in Chile and know that He is in control of whatever the future holds!
*If you are interested in hearing more specifics about the Chile mission, we will be presenting at Zion Lutheran Church in Hartland, WI on Sunday 10th July at 9:15. It would be great to see you there!