Karen Anderson is an ELCA missionary in Chile working with Educación Popular en Salud (EPES). Inspired by a vision of quality and fairness in health care for the poor, EPES was founded in 1982, during Chile’s years of military dictatorship, as a project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile. Over the past 30 years, EPES has grown from a small emergency-response team to a leader of community mobilization for health services, awareness and empowerment. Today, EPES annually reaches over 145,000 women and their families in poor communities with innovative strategies and tools for collective action. To support Karen and her work with EPES, or another of the ELCA’s 225 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.
As EPES celebrates its 30th year, our staff in Chile is filled with deep emotion and gratitude for the countless friends who have accompanied us on this journey for health, justice, dignity and wholeness. It is an important year for us — in November, leaders of ELCA Global Mission, Lutheran World Federation, members of Lutheran congregations in the U.S., and friends and family of EPES staff will travel to Chile to join hundreds of community health workers and EPES staff and families, members of the emergency camps, public health workers, members and leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile, local human rights advocates and other friends to celebrate EPES´ three decades of work. We hope you can join us either in person or in spirit. We would love to receive a greeting from your congregation to our staff and the health teams on this special anniversary.
A book I read this year, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion” by the Jesuit priest, Gregory Boyle, made me think so much about our ministry. So many times his reflections on his work with gang members in the states reminded me of the work we have done with the poor and excluded in Chile. In the introduction, he says that a fundamental challenge of his stories is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than others.
It reminded me immediately of our Mother´s Day gathering last year with poor women from fishing communities along the coast affected by the earthquake. During the celebration, one of the women turned to Lautaro (the doctor who directs our team in the south) and said, “We have been wanting to ask you all year, why does EPES care about us so much, don´t you know that we are nobodies?”
Lautaro, one of the most compassionate people I have ever met, wept on the phone telling me that story. Our work, like Gregory Boyle´s, aspires to broaden the parameters of our kinship. Boyle says, “Our common human hospitality longs to find room for those who are left out. It´s just who we are if allowed to foster something different, something more greatly resembling what God had in mind. Perhaps, together, we can teach each other how to bear the beams of love, persons becoming persons, right before our eyes. Returned to ourselves.”
I thank you for walking with us on this journey — for helping broaden the parameters of our kinship and for caring about the lives of the poor in Chile.
Que Dios les Bendiga,