by Sarah Myntti (from her sermon at Athol Congregational Church)
At the beginning of last summer , I told my mom I wanted to go on an adventure; I wanted to do something exciting and experience something new. A few days later my mom jokingly mentioned that our pastor, Reverend Beverly, was going to Chile and I should tag along with her as my adventure. My mom didn’t think I would take that suggestion seriously …but I did. It sounded perfect. I approached Reverend Beverly about it and she along her friend and coworker Elena Huegel, Global Ministries missionary to Chile, worked so hard at figuring out my travel arrangements, my schedule, and where I would be staying for the next week. So I owe so much thanks to them both. I set out to visit our sister church, which is part of a program of the Massachusetts Conference. We are partnering for three years with a church in Chile that lost its church building in the earthquake of 2010. We will pray with each other, communicate, and our church will raise money to help them rebuild.
On our second day Beverly, Elena, and I traveled to a city called Talca. I was shown around the city by a girl named Daniella. I speak very little Spanish and she spoke very little English so it was a bit of a challenge to communicate. As I was walking down the street with her, it kind of hit me all at once how far I truly was from home...as if the 13 hour plane ride didn’t give me enough of a clue. Daniella and I were doing some shopping and I began to have a little bit of an uneasy feeling as I realized a few things. I had no idea what the girl on the phone in front of me was saying because I couldn’t understand the Spanish. I had no idea what the street signs said or what the store names were, or I didn’t even know what was around the next corner. Everything was so foreign to me. Daniella had to order for me at the restaurant because I couldn’t read the menu or communicate with the waitress.
It was such a strange, uncomfortable, and confusing feeling to be somewhere that was so different to me and having to give all control over to someone else, and to depend on someone else wholly to guide me. I didn’t like feeling that way, but it’s something I never want to forget because I would never want someone else to feel lost like that either. I definitely have more compassion now than I ever did for people just coming into our country because even as I tried to learn more Spanish, picking up a new language is not easy by any means and neither is figuring your own way around foreign land. These thoughts and feelings were really eye opening to me and nothing I ever considered would happen to me on that trip. I knew I was going to have an amazing adventure wherever I ended up, but I didn’t anticipate a feeling of helplessness along the way.
On Thursday evening I was going to part ways with Reverend Beverly and stay with Pastor of our sister church and his family for the next four days in a town called Vichuquen. I admitted to Beverly - it finally hit me I was getting a little nervous to go to their house because of the communication issue. As we were talking and she was giving me some advice, I glanced down at the floor and right by feet I saw a penny. During worship, a choir member, Jason has talked several times about finding a penny when he was lonely or afraid, and he said it meant a guardian angel was watching over me. I couldn’t have found it at a more perfect time. As I showed Reverend Beverly I got a huge smile on my face and there was part of me that felt a little better on the inside. I put it in my pocket for the rest of the trip. But I quickly realized, I really had nothing to be nervous about. The language barrier was challenging but Pastor Luis and his wife, Pastora Mari, and their two children Fernanda and Luis Jr were so patient with me and so kind. They welcomed me with a huge cake Pastora Mari’s friend made for me. We sat in the living room that night eating cake and drinking tea while Pastor Luis played the accordion, Luis Jr played the guitar, and Fernanda sang and played the mandolin. They made me feel so comfortable. After that Luis Jr took my hand and showed me the bed I was going to sleep in. I slept in his bed, while he slept on the couch. Already I could tell how truly kind this family was and I felt extremely humbled to be there.
Over the next few days the family showed me all around their town, we went sight-seeing, to the local wood crafter’s shop, I made pottery with Fernanda, we went to the beach, out to eat, and I visited Fernanda and Luis’s school. They also took me to the site where their church got destroyed by the earthquake. It was so sad to see. Everything was completely gone and so far in the three years since the earthquake all they’ve had the money for to rebuild was the frame of the church. So until it gets done they travel to another Pentecostal Church about an hour away and use that building for their services. It’s a small building with no windows and little decoration, but filled with some of the most high spirited people I have ever met. Seventeen people make up their congregation and each of them greeted me with nothing but smiles and blessings. Everyone was so friendly and warm. As Pastor Luis was preaching two of the men had tears in their eyes and the congregation repeatedly shouted AMEN. Without even speaking the language, you could tell how much they praised God. It was beautiful to witness.
At the next service the following day, the English teacher from the school, also named Daniella, agreed to come to church with us so she could translate for me. And I also got to address their congregation too, telling a little bit about myself, my family, and our church. I received a blessing from Pastor Luis that night, and tears filled my eyes. It was absolutely great to be able to communicate with them with Daniella there. I truly feel like I have a new family with their church, which means we all do. They are all so humble and look to God with all aspects of their lives and have complete trust in Him. They don’t have nearly as much as we do here but they are so grateful for what they do have. Pastor Luis says he prays every night that their new church will come together soon. And these people really deserve it.
I’m so happy I went on this trip with Reverend Beverly and the people I met, the connections I made, and the beautiful land and sights I saw are things I will never forget.
Photos by Beverly Prestwood-Taylor: Author and traveler Sarah Myntti; Pastor Luis and Pastora Mari in their church, destroyed in the 2010 earthquake.