‘The people who walked in great darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined’ (Isaiah 9:2).
Advent is a time of waiting for something to happen, a time of hope. Isaiah’s prophecy fills my soul with the spirit of the Advent season. It’s a hope that things will change no matter how difficult they may look. There is a better future ahead filled with the mystery of God. God uses that which we may have never dreamed as worthy of our thoughts and attention to manifest God’s glory, love and grace for all creation.
Latin Americans and Caribbeans are people of Advent. “Living in great darkness” describes life for the majority, who experience poverty and lack access to a life with dignity. But they always expect God’s miracle. Hope for a better future is embedded in their daily life. The strength to make that happen comes from a deep faith that God will once again use that which was no longer considered a vessel of God’s love to transform sadness into joy, death into life and scarcity into abundance—abundance of life.
God constantly transforms people and uses them to change others. Take Soledad Puebla, a health promoter living in Chile. Strong-willed and intelligent, Puebla had strong leadership skills. But like other women in Chile, she lived on the outskirts of possibilities for a life with dignity. Although she had little formal education, Puebla dreamed of a better future for herself and her community. Her faith in God led her to believe in justice. When she married, she and her husband found a job cleaning and taking care of a Lutheran church’s property. To satisfy her natural curiosity and desire for study, she learned more about the Lutheran church and EPES (Popular Education on Health), a diaconal organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile that receives support from the ELCA and Women of the ELCA.
EPES trains health promoters to provide basic care and education in marginalized communities. EPES also promotes community organizing since it’s fundamental to have the whole community’s participation in health prevention. Working mainly with women, health promoters help them become transformed and to serve as agents of transformation.
Puebla became a leader in EPES and her community, fighting for human rights amid a military dictatorship. She led movements to request laws that provide health care to people in marginalized communities. She found a way to finish high school. Today she’s an important leader in her congregation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile.
Her transformation doesn’t end there. In March, this mother and grandmother will graduate with a degree in social work from one of the most prestigious universities in Santiago. She forgets neither her humble beginnings nor that EPES helped her to not only dream but to know that she could reach the sky. So she’ll continue to work for the most marginalized people, bringing them hope that they’ll see the “light shine” upon them.
In Chile, God’s mystery of grace and transformation is becoming manifest for so many women who hope and wait in the spirit of Advent.
(A Spanish-language version of this article is available.)
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers