Waiting for the earthquake
‘To be a Chilean is to face a global pandemic in the midst of drought with a government that is collapsing after six months of social unrest … and all the time to have somewhere in the back of your mind the knowledge that at any moment there could be an earthquake.’
This tweet seems to sum up something of the Chilean attitude to a national crisis. There is a kind of pride in being able to face earthquakes, volcanoes and the occasional tsunami with a shake of the head, a shrug of the shoulders a wry smile that says, ‘these things happen.’
But beneath the grim humour and beyond the memes spreading through social media, there is palpable sense of anxiety and uncertainty. The last twelve months have been a time of traumatic change as long simmering social tensions broke into civil unrest. This time last year the capital opened a new metro line that had been dug deep beneath the city. Its glass lifts and soaring ceilings seemed to be expressions in metal and concrete of the promise of progress, prosperity and self-sufficiency. A few months later many of these stations lay broken apart and burned out.
The strict lockdown brought by the pandemic has put a lid on these protests for the time being. But the crisis has made even more evident the inequality that provoked the unrest. As plans are put in place to lift the lockdown the hope of respite from the pandemic is coloured by a fear of renewed unrest.
How are Christians to live in the midst of such uncertainty? The Centre for Pastoral Studies is an Anglican Seminary in Santiago the capital of Chile. It seeks to train up Christian leaders for gospel ministry in Chile and beyond. As our students today seek to face the challenges of tomorrow, we seek to remain true to the legacy of left by gospel workers nearly two hundred years ago.
In the middle of the nineteenth century Allen Gardiner sought to reach the indigenous people at the southernmost tip of the continent. Whereas other Anglican ministry before him served the colonial population of merchants and seamen, Gardiner longed to see the gospel proclaimed ‘unto the very ends of the earth.’ In his final expedition to the islands of Tierra de Fuego, Gardiner endured bitter cold, attacks from the local people and finally the failure of supplies. As illness and then starvation took hold Gardiner and the six men with him died.
When their encampment was found, Gardner’s hands were holding a diary and that diary held his final words to his son:
‘…take the Word of God as your guide, and consult it diligently, with prayer to the Holy Spirit to open your understanding; for it is not the mere knowledge of its contents, however enlarged, critical, or clear, that will carry you safely through the snares and temptations of this evil world, but when it is received as the sincere milk of the word, by which our souls are daily nourished and strengthened: then and then only we grow thereby, and are prepared for the cares and trials of life, and are renewed in the inward man: thus we are enabled to adorn the doctrine we profess, and become gradually meet for that incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that fadeth not away, reserved for all those who live by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.'
As Christians, we long that Word of God be that guide for our students and the church families that one day they will lead. While governments, and economies as even the earth beneath our feet may tremble, as Christians we set our eyes on the unchangeable and unshakeable inheritance promised to us in Jesus.
To be Chilean may well be to face a global pandemic and political protests, and all the time to have somewhere in the back of your mind the knowledge that at any moment there could be an earthquake. But our prayer is that the Centre for Pastoral studies might raise up ever more Anglican ministers who know that to be a Chilean Christian is to face these things by faith in the Lord Jesus, in the hope of his promised glory and with love for the people whom he came to save.