Gather Around the Table
Family in Chile extends beyond the boundaries of the home. It welcomes neighbors, colleagues, and people you see at church. I remember when my husband and I first arrived in Chile, we hardly knew anyone. Yet when church members Ariel and Erika came to welcome us, we immediately felt like part of their family.
A dear friend and colleague of mine understands that deep personal connections bring community together. While I am programmed to look for outcomes and always am on the move, she reminds me to savor the moments we have with others. Her favorite saying is, “Let’s gather around the table.” She has taught me it’s “around a table” that authentic conversations happen which help us grow together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
As part of our Health and Wellness Support program here in Chile, we have Wellness Circles. These support groups meet to encourage one another in their efforts to live a healthy life physically and spiritually. Their conversations deepen their bond as members of God’s family.
Photo from a group event for Wellness Circle participants in 2019.
When the pandemic hit and everything moved online, I worried about our Wellness Circles, about everyone’s physical and spiritual health. But God is good, and the program participants welcomed the opportunity to create quality time, even if it was through computer screens.
As the months went by, we adjusted to the rhythm of lockdown life. We learned about habit change, read the Bible, did workouts, and practiced healthy cooking strategies through Zoom. We also talked about how much we missed seeing everyone in person. It wasn’t always easy, we felt uncertain, we craved hugs, and we longed for the days when we could sit across from each other and hear the room echo with laughter.
Then, in December, God gave us one of the sweetest Christmas gifts. Thanks to low COVID numbers and warm summer temperatures in Chile, we were given permission to host our annual Advent celebration at a park in the center of our city, Linares. While we were limited to only 50 people, separate family tables, and pre-packaged meals, we certainly were not restricted in our joy.
It was such a blessing to see people again face to face. We sang songs together, shared a meal, and listened to the story of Jesus’ birth. When the event was over, people stayed, talked, and laughed until the government workers came to clean up the park.
Everyone was all smiles at the December 2020 Advent celebration.
One of the Wellness Circle participants, Camilia, told us later that this celebration was the “Crown of her Christmas.” Another, Viviana, told me she wanted to be a Coach for a Wellness Circle. And the woman who helped us to translate the program told us she shared the message at her aunt and uncle’s table in their home.
The Advent celebration this year was like a glimpse at what I think Heaven might be like. When we will be able to gather together with the people we haven’t seen in a long time. When we’ll be united with our Savior. When we can rest from the struggles of this life and simply gather together around the table.
Elise Gross is the Chile Program Coordinator. She grew up on the island of Antigua with missionary parents and studied social science and culture in college. After spending four years in Milwaukee working with city ministry, an opportunity to serve in Chile opened up and she and her husband jumped at the chance to serve in another country. Elise hopes that the program in Chile will continue to impact lives and change people’s hearts as they grow closer to their Savior through conversations about healthy living.