Manuel and Norma have been a part of the Iquique church since its inception in the living room of one family's house, seven or so years ago. Originally from the Chilean city of Coquimbo (about 18 hours south of us), they arrived in Iquique seventeen years ago but finally have come full circle and are returning "home." Last Saturday, our church family gathered for a "despedida" (literally, a "farewell" or "goodbye") to honor them and wish them well in this next stage of their lives.
These two are true servants, offering their time and talents to the church and to brothers and sisters in Christ. Nearly without fail they would be at church whenever the doors were open, and Norma could always be found serving with the ladies in the kitchen or taking attendance each Sunday morning. Manuel would often observe needed repairs in the church and on his days off would stop by the pastor's house for the church keys so that he could attend to those needs quietly and without desiring recognition.
Norma is very sweet and "motherly" and truly caring of those around her. The two times I traveled alone to Haiti, she made sure to have Pedro and the older kids over for a meal to ensure they were being fed properly! Pedro discipled her son Alex and they became good buddies, so she pretty much treated my husband as another son. In fact, we chuckled later because in her speech to the church she addressed all the other pastors by their title of "Pastor So-and-So" but Pedro she simply called "Pedrito" (an affectionate nickname/diminutive of his name.)
For the record, a get-together at our church is never complete without food and this event was no exception! There is something about eating together that seems to inspire fellowship and companionship. Part of it, I think, is just Chilean culture with its warmth and traditional family gatherings around the table for almuerzo (big lunchtime meal) or a rico asado (yummy cookout.) As you can see from the picture below, Ian and Alec are quite in favor of this tradition and know how to dig right in! :)
I shouldn't neglect to mention that Norma is also our resident hairdresser! In fact, the picture above also reveals how overdue we were for haircuts but as of two days ago our entire family of seven is neatly trimmed into shape (at least in terms of our hair!) She even makes home visits, which works great with busy toddlers and a houseful of kids. Yet another reason we will miss our dear friend and sister in Christ.
The despedida was a time of smiles and tears, as all good farewells are. We are thankful for the privilege of knowing this dear couple and being blessed by their example of faithfulness and service. We know they will continue to be a blessing in their new surroundings and we trust God will lead others in our midst to follow their example for His honor and His glory!