Eight days ago when I started packing for this trip I had a feeling it was going to be an unusual experience. Who packs sweaters for a trip in August anyway? Little did I know what God had in store. After two plan rides and over 10 hours in the air I arrived safely in Santiago, Chile expecting God to work as He always does and looking forward to seeing my CLC friends from all over the Americas. Truthfully, I should have realized that one of the primary ways God has worked in my life is to take me out of my comfort zone. Somehow going to Chile did not seem to meet that criterion as I had heard nothing but good things about this beautiful country in the past.
God, however, does work in mysterious ways and began a process of disorientation from the moment we landed on the ground in Chile. My American colleagues and I were directed to a line that we thought was the correct one for immigration. After being directed to another line so that we could pay our “reciprocal fee” of $160 to enter the country when we had been told that it was only $131, we went back to the line we started in. After a few moments, we were politely told by a Chilean who spoke English that were in the wrong line again and that this line was only for people with a Chilean passport. We immediately moved to the much longer line for foreigners and began to wait to move through immigration. After what seemed like a fairly short period of time, we noticed that our line was not really moving that fast and that the other line was almost done. Wouldn’t you know, at that very moment, an official points to us and suggests that we go back to the first line. At this point, I thought we might be part of some elaborate Chilean welcome game or part of a reality show about stupid foreigners. We did go back to that line, got through immigration and went on to baggage claim. It had to get better from here on.
It had taken us so long to get through immigration that all the bags from Miami had been taken off the baggage carousel and were neatly lined up and being watched by airport personnel. As we came over to the bags, they politely asked us if we were on the Miami flight and after we confirmed this information we began to look at this small group of bags that were left. Very quickly our hearts sank after we realized that our bags were not in this group. Apparently our quick change of flights in Miami had resulted in our bags being left behind. Here we were in South America with no luggage and in two cases – no coats – and we were about to experience our first winter in August. I could only hope that the reports about day time temperatures being in the fifties and sixties were true.
After completing our paperwork to request that the bags be delivered to our hotel, we found our ground transportation and left the airport. At this point, I was just glad to find a bed and a hot shower and trusted that American Airlines would in fact find our bags and deliver them some time the next day after 11AM as promised. How complicated could this be anyway?
We met our CLC friends at the hotel and began discussing the plans for the week. Apparently, we were not staying at this hotel for the conference and were going to be going by bus for a tour the next day of some coastal cities and then taken to a remote town for a “relaxing” time together. When I heard that the bus was leaving at 9AM, long before our bags were supposed to arrive , and that we would be walking around outside in a place that was colder than Santiago, I did not feel “relaxed”. Instead, I began to panic and mentally process all the ways our bags could get lost again before I ever saw them.
With very little faith, I grumpily got on the bus the next day and began to share my saga with a friend from Canada who quickly offered me his jacket. I readily accepted it, slouched in my chair and rehearsed in my mind all the reasons why this trip was not going as planned. We quickly arrived at our first stop in Santiago at the very impressive CLC store. As we walked through the doors, I began to notice people on the Chilean team wearing nice black coats with the CLC logo and I became jealous. I wanted one too. Wouldn’t you know, as I turned the corner, there was a huge box of coats being handed out to each of the members of our delegation. I could almost hear God saying –“Gotcha!”.
After a wonderful tour of Vina del Mar and a great lunch, we got to the meeting place in the beautiful town of Olmue and began the conference. Our bags did arrive and things were looking up. Our speaker was a man named Don Hamilton from Trinidad and he spoke about the concept of “Missio Dei” and us being a sent people. He particularly emphasized that God has a grand narrative that He has been orchestrating throughout history. Our job is to understand how our narrative fits into God’s master plan. He made a wonderful statement saying that, “Nothing is wasted with God, not your pain your mistakes or your failures”.
By Wednesday, I was really beginning to think that our arrival in Chile must have been a small “blip” on the radar and that God was done teaching me hard lessons this week. At 6:30 in the morning on Thursday, I was awoken by a shaking bed, a startled roommate and what sounded like a train going by. My roommate jumped out of bed looked at me and said “Earthquake”. Knowing that Chile had suffered a huge earthquake just a few years before which knocked over houses and killed people, I was once again disoriented and asking God questions. Fortunately this was only a 5.0 earthquake on the Richter scale and no one was hurt that we know. God had my full attention now – what was going to happen next?
The meeting portion of the conference ended on Thursday night and we headed back to Santiago for a day of tourism which apparently meant going up into the mountains surrounding the city to see the snow and for some people to ski. What could be more fun? We hopped in the vans on Friday morning and took off, headed out of the city. After getting skis and warmer clothes for some people we began to head up the mountain. The road ahead looked fine. I was enjoying my conversations and trying to ignore the fact that I have a strong fear of heights. Someone in our van casually mentioned that there were 52 “turns” on the way up the mountain that were marked with signs and I thought this would be a good way to gauge how long the trip would be as we passed each sign.
It did not cross my mind that it might be a little unusual to mark each curve with a sign until we hit the first one and realized that each one was a stomach turning, head pounding hair-pin turn on what appeared to be a steep and narrowing road. How was I going to survive 51 more of these? Interestingly, I was not the only one with that concern. Sitting next to me in the middle of the back seat was a Chilean who had apparently not been on this journey before either. Half way up the mountain, he looked deathly ill, said he felt sick, asked for a bag and threw up in the van. We quickly helped him out and waited for him to feel better. I was praying that my normal vomit reflex would not kick in and that we would actually make it to the top of the hill without me being the next victim.
We did make it to the top and what a spectacular view it was. Many of my CLC friends had never seen snow before and they were like little children at recess. After watching people ski for a while, we moved on to a snowy field where bag lunches were prepared and people began to sled. Who knew that sledding in the Andes in August could be so much fun and that adults could revert so quickly to their childlike nature?
God had prepared me all week long for that very moment. I could never have anticipated the incredibly intense feeling of wonder and awe that I would feel. My personal narrative of growing up as missionary kid in the Caribbean, joining CLC as an adult, being the grandchild of the founder of the ministry all culminated in that moment on a mountain side in Chile. I was fearfully and wonderfully made, my life – as short and insignificant as it may be – is part of something so much larger. Mountains created by the voice of God, people from all nations coming to faith through the death of his son and this brave band of servants laughing together in the snow. What a glorious God we serve.