Before coming to Chile, I was told that it would be a life-changing experience, and I believed it. That being said, I was in no way prepared for the depth of the impact this trip would have on my life and on my faith. My walk with Christ was challenged, deepened, and expanded by my exposure to believers and nonbelievers in Chile, and the experiences I was able to have. I found that my view of God and His church was profoundly changed in ways I could never have predicted!
Some of the most provocative moments I experienced in Chile happened in the weekly meetings with my Chilean mission mentor, Lorna. I had given them little thought before arriving, but they became an integral part of my spiritual growth throughout the trip. I found that the people in Chile were incredibly direct- something that took time for me to adjust to- and Lorna is no exception. She had no hesitations about asking deep, probing, personal spiritual questions. It was strange at first and a little uncomfortable, but I quickly realized that it was something I desperately needed. I was not prepared for how difficult my walk with Christ would be during my first weeks in Chile, and at times my faith felt almost detached from the world I was living in. Lorna helped me realize that a great deal of my faith had been built on a foundation of familiarity and that God was using my situation of complete unfamiliarity to build a foundation based solely on Christ. It was a simple but profound lesson, and in the process of learning it I was reminded of the importance of admitting my weakness to other believers.
One of the most beautiful things I was able to experience in Chile was worship with other Chileans. I had heard about the body of Christ spanning the globe, but to actually experience fellowship with other brothers and sisters in another language and to share our walks together (despite the differences in our nationalities and cultures) was absolutely incredible. Realizing the connection I had with the Christian Chileans made me appreciate the familial status that all believers share all over again. When common ground was sometimes hard to find, I was able to rest in the knowledge that I could view the other believers as family. And what a common ground that is! And it seemed to be a high value among the Chileans I met as well. All of the pastors I spoke with, and Lorna, talked about the importance of the body of believers living and loving as one family. What spoke most, was that their actions always followed their words as they embraced us with affection. They may never know how special that love and acceptance was for me, but it played a huge role in my ability to settle in comfortably during my time in Chile.
One incredibly challenging and immensely convicting characteristic of the evangelical church in Chile is their boldness. Oftentimes in the U.S., I have felt that sharing my faith with others is something to be done carefully, almost covertly. Faith is a deeply personal, often touchy subject, and discussing it with unbelievers tends to make me nervous. However, there didn’t seem to be such timidity among the Christians in Chile. Chileans tend to be much more direct in their discussions, but I still was not prepared for the complete openness I witnessed among many of the believers. With these courageous Christians, I was able to be part of profound, fruitful, and sometimes tear provoking conversations with complete strangers. Their actions were not disrespectful or pushy. Their conduct was simply honest, considerate, and intentional. The New Testament is full of such boldness, and the early church blossomed with it, and it was beautiful to see that same power was at work in the churches in Chile. Watching the actions of other believers made me realize just how timid my faith has become, and it inspired me to pray for more courage in my walk with Christ.
My travels in Chile also taught me a great deal about purpose. I have, to my shame, spent a bit of college worrying about missing God’s calling for my life. Before leaving for Rancagua, the Veritas group had a meeting during which we were reminded that God had placed us where we were, at that moment, to fulfill a purpose that He had for us. Those words were incredibly refreshing. So many times I feel like I am in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing or saying the wrong things. I tend to forget that God will see through the purpose He designs for us! Then, later in the trip, I was again reminded of that purpose, and how God will see His plans to fruition even if we are completely unaware of it. I was able to share my journey from disbelief back to faith with a girl who I had previously assumed was a grounded Christian. She had had an incredibly difficult life, and I felt that I had nothing of significance to offer her, but I watched tears fill her eyes as I talked. I found out later that she too was struggling with returning to Christ. Without any effort on my part, God crossed our paths. It was yet more reassurance that as long as I am pursuing Christ, God will see His purposes fulfilled for His glory.
In the midst of all this lesson learning, I began to see how off-base my perspective of mission work had been. Though I am embarrassed to admit it, I viewed missionaries as people who traveled to spiritually impoverished areas to give knowledge and guidance to people who would otherwise have no faith to stand on. However, after traveling to a foreign country (not necessarily as a missionary, but with a mission-minded perspective) I received more spiritual knowledge from the believers in Chile than I knew what to do with. I worked alongside Chileans, not for them. I was also reminded that no matter where I am, I am called to missions. It’s something I’ve known for a long time, but until Chile, I had failed to implement it as diligently as I had wanted.
Traveling and doing mission work in Chile opened my eyes to the possibilities of what I can and should do at home. I have no idea where God will call me in the future, but wherever that may be, my mentality should be that of a missionary. I could write pages and pages about everything I learned and am still learning from my time in Chile. The people I got to know, especially my mission mentor, had a profound impact on my view of Christ, His people, His mission, and His deep irrevocable love. The Church has opened up for me on a global scale, but at the same time I’m now more conscious than ever of my own call to serve Christ right where I am.
I love words, but I have found that I have trouble capturing the beauty of the experiences I had in Chile on paper. All I can say is that I was incredibly blessed to have this opportunity, and I hope that God can use it continually to change me into who He sees me as. May He be glorified!
Written by Jenna Stanford from Mississippi State University.
Photos by Murphy McCollough