CHILOE, Chile - Although YES teams sent by Eastern Mennonite Missions often serve all together in one location, the five-member 2014-2015 Chile YES team is discovering greater impact through dividing the team to serve in several island communities in Chiloe, a region of southern Chile.
The team arrived in Chile in late September and lived together in Achao, a small island in Chiloe. They quickly engaged with the local community, learning Spanish, playing volleyball with students at the high school, and traveling to Quemchi, a town on the main island of Chiloe on the weekends to help with a kids club there.
But over time, the team members realized that their role could expand. "Many of us thought we were coming to a well-established mission," wrote Gretchen Garland in a November blog post. "However, we have discovered that our role here in Achao is to be more of a pioneering team."
Ryan Durbin, EMM discipleship training coordinator, and Juston Wolgemuth, EMM discipleship intern, visited the team in November to offer training and strategic planning. Durbin, Wolgemuth, and team members met with Janine Frey, an EMM long-term worker in Chile who is serving as a mentor for the YES team.
As they met together, it became clear that they needed to consult with local leadership. Durbin explains, "We as EMM don't want to start our own thing unilaterally but to connect with the needs and interests in the communities where we serve. That led to this team connecting with Don Osvaldo."
Osvaldo Ruiz Santibanez, a superintendent for the local schools and a key figure in the community, agreed to give the team an in-depth orientation to Achao.
After touring the island and learning about opportunities for ministry in the wider area, Frey consulted with Durbin, other EMM staff, and other long-term workers in Chile about what direction the YES team should take. Following prayer and discernment, the team has spread out into three different communities.
Eliot Nofziger and Anna Nissley will remain in Achao, living with host families and continuing the work of relationship-building, connecting to local school programs and activities, and teaching English.
Gabrielle Acker and Hadassah Stoltzfus will move to Tenglo, a small island about three hours from Achao, to live with and assist Ricardo and Eliana Ibaceta, a Chilean couple who are pioneering sexual abuse education and prevention work in the region. Acker and Stoltzfus will also work on developing a Christian retreat center that was recently renovated on the island.
Gretchen Garland will be going to Quemchi, a town on the island of Chiloe, to serve and minister with Frey and other EMM missionaries living there. She will focus on relationship-building and working with a kids club on the island.
The team will meet together periodically with Frey for training and reflection. Durbin said, "Janine's done an incredible job as a mentor for this team. She was on a former YES team in Chile, and she has energy and a clear passion that's really contagious. So it's been easy for the team to jump on board with her and her vision for YES Chile."
Although some aspects of their work are uncertain, team members are focused on building the kingdom of God slowly and steadily.
"During our short time here, it is unlikely that we will start any programs that will magically and instantly bring peace, love, and harmony to Achao," said Garland. "Yet, through our presence here, we are hoping to be a catalyst for future teams and missionaries that may come here after we leave."