The following was received March 31, 2021, from Karen Anderson, an ELCA missionary in Chile. St. John’s helps to support her ministry.
Dear Supporting Congregations,
I wanted to send a quick update about the situation in Chile and also share a brief reflection I wrote on the text John 13: 1-5 for the Lenten devotional of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Wells, Minnesota. You can take a look at my reflection: Washing feet during a pandemic included here below my letter.
It is hard to believe this will be our second Holy Week in a pandemic. Across the world, we have all faced so much suffering, uncertainty and in many cases the death of loved ones during this global Covid-19 crisis.
Amidst this all, research shows how gratitude can enhance our immune system, improve our ability to handle stress and help us get through the pandemic. We are grateful for all the front line health care workers who have risked their lives to care for the sick, and for the farmworkers, delivery people, grocery store personnel and cleaning staff who make sure food is distributed and people have safe places to quarantine. At EPES, we also feel an immense gratitude towards you, for your ongoing love and support that fills us with hope and community. Your zoom calls, kind emails, financial support through the ELCA, prayers and concern have helped us make it through this first year of the pandemic.
Although Chile has been getting very good international press about its vaccination program, we are actually facing the worst moment of the pandemic so far. As of last week, almost the entire country is back in strict quarantine (16 million out of more than 18 million people).
After returning from summer vacation at the beginning of March, the numbers of people with Covid-19 started skyrocketing. In the past days we have had 7,500+ newly infected people each day and the ICU beds are almost completely full. Last night in Santiago there were only 146 available beds, for a population of more than 7 million.
While the vaccination process has been massive, efficient and fair, almost everything else the government has done has been a disaster (opening schools, theaters, casinos, indoor dining, leaving the border open and letting people go on vacation with little to no organization). The April 11th elections for mayors, city council, governors and most importantly, the constituent assembly to write the new constitution, have been postponed. The public health experts say that in the next few weeks things will get even worse. I am thankful my youngest daughter Elisa decided to move to my apartment for a few weeks to be in lock down together.
At the beginning of March, when things hadn’t yet gotten so critical, the EPES staff was excited to be going back to the office. We went in small groups, only one person to an office, no shared meals, abundant hand sanitizer and masks available. It was so great to see each other! But now we are all back in quarantine and, like last year, we are getting concerned about how people will be able to feed their families with such a strict lock down. We have already heard that the community soup kitchens are opening up again.
Through these trying times, the work goes on! Yesterday we held an online webinar to launch our study about barriers that Haitian immigrants face while trying to access health care in Santiago. Among many other initiatives, we are working with the Coady Institute in Canada to organize our second Women’s Leadership Course for young women in Latin America, planning an online reunion with our International Training Program graduates, as well as meeting online with the health teams and the community gardening groups.
Thank you again for your love and support. We pray that God keeps you safe and fills you with hope this Easter Season.
ELCA Global Mission Personnel in Chile
Washing feet during a pandemic
Karen Anderson, ELCA Global Mission personnel in Chile
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
In a year in which we have been incessantly washing our hands and staying distanced from one another, it is interesting to reflect on this text of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet and to think about what message his example has for us today in the midst of a pandemic.
We know that washing feet was a task relegated to slaves or women and so when Jesus quietly poured water into a basin and washed the dust and dirt off the feet of his disciples, he was radically subverting the social norms of the day. In this humble act of kindness, of love and selflessness, Jesus modeled a ministry of self-giving love and mutuality that he wanted his disciples and us to follow.
In Chile, where I have worked with the EPES health care ministry for almost 40 years, poor communities have been hit especially hard during the pandemic. Increased unemployment made it difficult for working-class families to make ends meet and put food on their tables during winter months of strict quarantine.
In response, our staff and the community health promoters we train, helped launch community soup kitchens, taught bread making and community gardening online and accompanied many families with prayers and support as they faced the death of family members due to Covid. I was so moved by the community health promoters who put aside their own fear of infection to help prepare food for hundreds of people who received their only hot meal from the soup kitchens. Our technology-savvy, younger staff members spent many hours helping the community health promoters learn how to get connected to zoom with their cell phones so they would not be isolated and could connect to group meetings, classes and gatherings. We also denounced a health system that so unfairly provides excellent care for the wealthy and substandard care for the poor.
As Christians we are called to be co-creators of a more just future, especially in the midst of the suffering and uncertainty ravaging our world since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although social distancing makes it impossible to literally wash someone else’s feet today, I think our examples of feet washing are the actions we take to walk with the most vulnerable and marginalized communities and families in need; in loving our neighbors and having the courage to stand up to systems that discriminate and oppress.
During this Lenten season, may we ask ourselves who are the most vulnerable in our community and how can we support them both in their immediate needs and in the long-term work to create a more just society.
God of mercy and self-giving love let us serve you by taking concrete actions to walk alongside the communities and families most in need during this time of pandemic.