My Mission Trip to Chile
An East Church teen’s experience in Chile
by Stephanie Carlson Flynn
In the Spring of 2006 I participated in a mission trip to Chile. Seven teens, including myself, and three chaperones, from different UCC churches throughout Massachusetts traveled to the Andes Mountains and worked on building part of Centro Shalom. When finished, Centro Shalom will be a camp or retreat center where people will be able to learn about the environment, God and themselves. I am so happy that I could have been a part of building such a wonderful project.
After leaving Boston on Friday, April 14, we arrived in Santiago on Saturday, April 15. At the airport we met Elena, the missionary, who works through Global Missionaries with the Pentecostal Church of Chile. I believe that most of what she does is work with women, but she is also the one who developed the idea of Centro Shalom. We stayed at Elena’s house until Monday morning, and got to take the only showers we would have until the next Saturday.
On Easter Sunday, we traveled to Constitucion for a Pentecostal Church of Chile Youth Congress. We began by parading through the streets of Constitucion with a huge crowd of people, everyone singing and dancing in the streets until we arrived at the theater where the worship service was to be held. The service was held in a theater because there were probably over eight hundred to a thousand people in attendance. During the service, the delegation from the United States was acknowledged, cheered for and prayed for. The service itself was a lot of singing, dancing and praising God, an amazing and new experience for everyone in our delegation. It was so different from services in our home churches in New England because every worshiper threw away his or her inhibitions and just praised the Lord.
On Monday, April 17 we drove over two hours to the Centro Shalom, where we would be staying until Saturday. After driving about halfway up the mountain, the group had to hike the rest of the way to Centro Shalom. It was so beautiful, and a perfect time to become acquainted with our surroundings. When we arrived at the site, we had to get it ready by setting up tents, cleaning latrines or hauling wood. After this was done, we learned how to insulate and board, the tasks that we would be doing throughout the week. In order to insulate, we had to cut down big pieces of Styrofoam with saws, and fit them into the wall. I ended up cutting myself with a saw on the first day. To board, we took individual boards and nailed them horizontally up the wall, to cover the Styrofoam. From that day, I realized that I would be working hard and accomplishing a lot.
On Wednesday, April 19, the group of Chileans from the Pentecostal Church in Chile of Isla de Maipo arrived. There were fifteen youth, three chaperones and two cooks. That made thirty four of us, including Elena, a nurse, an environmental studies major and a carpenter. My first thoughts were: how are we all going to fit in the tents and how are we going to communicate with people who only speak Spanish? However, these fears slowly faded. We had enough tents and the Chileans were very patient with those of us who spoke Spanish. Already, I had been designated one of the three youth "translators" who could communicate the best with the Chileans. I used my Spanish skills more than I would have ever imagined.
As we worked side by side with the Chileans and taught them how to insulate and board, we quickly formed special relationships. I think that we became so close because we were thrown into a situation in which we could not budge. There was no way we could ever think too much about ourselves because we always had to be aware of the feelings of the group. It was hard for the Americans to learn to be without much alone time, and it was difficult for the Chileans to give us the little alone time we had.
From Wednesday until Saturday morning, the group of Chileans and Americans worked on building, went on a hike through the mountains, and learned about Joseph and his dreams. The Bible study for the week was Joseph and his dream coat. We were encouraged to always dream and realize that God would help us reach our goals.
On Saturday, we had to clean up Centro Shalom, so that we could leave to travel to Isla de Maipo. We were attending an anniversary service at the Chileans’ church and then we would be staying with host families. The church service was similar to the one on Easter Sunday, except at this one the group of Americans and Chileans had to sing a song together for the congregation. It was a lot of fun and laughter. After the service, one of the chaperones and I stayed at the house of one of the Chilean chaperones, Patricio. Patricio, his wife Mariela and his daughter Ana Josefa were very welcoming and kind hosts.
Sunday, April 23, we had to leave Chile. Before I left, Patricio and Mariela opened their home to me if I ever returned. It was heartwarming. We went to the church to say goodbye to all the Chileans before leaving for the airport. All the Chileans laid their hands on us while the Pastor said a prayer. It was the hardest goodbye, full of hugging and crying.
It has been difficult to return to normal life after such an experience, but I have adjusted pretty well. I am so lucky to have experienced this and I wish that everyone could have such an amazing mission trip. I thank East Church for all the support I was given.
Stephanie’s experience, which she describes as “life changing,” was featured on the Mission & Justice blog of the Mass. Conference of the UCC in 2012. Please take a moment to read her description of how her trip to Chile in 2006 influenced the direction of her life.