• Gustavo Driau

What does it mean to be called "The Good Samaritan Congregation"?

The "La Faena" neighborhood, part of the Peñalolen commune, was from its beginnings in the 1950s, a community of self-management, struggle, and resilience, with a solidarity identity and promoter of community development.

The Congregation was established in 1969, firstly, as a mission of Trinity Congregation, and with the support of Lutheran missionaries.

Diakonia (the social action of the church) has been the characteristic of the Congregation. In difficult times, neighbors and members of the Congregation have known how to give effective and supportive responses with consistent diaconal actions.

In 2019, the Good Samaritan Congregation turned 50 years old. The members recalled the significant role of the Congregation in favor of justice and dignity in times of dictatorship, and its entire existence.

In 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic puts life at risk again. Once again, The Good Samaritan, together with the neighboring community, organizes and helps in the emergency, mobilizing their knowledge, energy, and resources.

The number of COVID-19 cases is growing rapidly in Santiago; there is a risk of collapse due to a lack of beds for intensive care. The city has 8 million inhabitants, has been under quarantine for two weeks, and is the epicenter of the pandemic in the country. The most vulnerable sectors in the neighborhoods of Santiago protest and shout: "If the virus doesn't kill us, hunger will do it."

In Chile and other Latin American countries, quarantine batters, especially the poorest, those who earn their daily wages. With the lack of work, hunger and discontent grows. Confinement forces people to do not work, and then there is no income; and also, overcrowding, job insecurity, and poverty make quarantine compliance unfeasible for many residents. The situation is critical, because many people work in construction, at fairs and markets, in restaurants or shopping centers, but these activities are closed.

In some neighborhoods, people broked the quarantine and the barricades and confrontations with the police return. Neighbors say, "This level of need for food has not been seen since the years of the dictatorship."

After three months of confinement, residents feel the economic effects of the pandemic strongly. Many people have exhausted their resources: there is hunger, and there is nothing to eat. From the impotence, before the inaction of the government, the neighbors protest, and they also resort to self-management to cover their food survival needs.

As in the time of the dictatorship, residents associations, sports clubs, cultural groups, and youth organizations install "ollas comunes", which are soup kitchens managed by the residents of the neighborhood.

A "olla común" is a self-managed and independent activity and program, based on community participation of the neighbors for their food survival. The "olla comun" is established when hunger threatens life and in social contexts of poverty and unemployment. In the "olla común," the neighbors organize themselves to cook and distribute the food at home.

Doña Marcela, is one of the neighbors of the area where the church is and is a member of the Assemblies of God. Doña Marcela took the initiative and visited the pastor Izani Bruch to propose a "olla común" based in the church, which coincided with the previous reflection of the members of the board of the Congregation to contribute with some response to help survival in the neighborhood.

The Good Samaritan olla común distributes around 100 rations, which are made by volunteer members of the Congregation, and a larger group of neighborhood volunteer members cook and distribute food. The olla común has shifts of 5 volunteers per day, on a rotating basis. Volunteers rigorously observe biosecurity regulations to prevent COVID-19.

Photos and information research by Cristian Muñoz.

The team of volunteers from the olla común keeps track of those who need help, gathers basic food, and cooks in the Congregation's facilities. Finally, volunteers deliver food to the homes of people in need, respecting social distancing.

At first, The Good Samaritan "olla común" operates on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Menus include protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables in each serving. The basic food to prepare the meals is gathered from the neighbors, and through contributions of money to buy food. But the diaconal action of "The Good Samaritan" also includes an Emergency Clothing program, where donations of warm clothing, blankets, and footwear are allocated to those who suffer the cold winter weather.

Responding courageously to the challenges and anxieties of COVID-19 is one of the gifts that God has given to this Congregation since its founding 51 years ago. Testimonies collected on the 50th anniversary recall the commitment with diakonia:

"Being called" The Good Samaritan "was the product of our reflection on how we wanted to constitute ourselves; that name is chosen for a very specific matter, of identity, of service to the community. That sense of a church at the service of the community, which is a phenomenon of that church, that feeling part of its social environment, is worth gold to me."

(Taken from the testimony of pastor Pedro Zavala Merino, published in the book El Buen Samaritano Congregation. Statements of Community Life. 2019. Editorial Taburete, page 71).

"The social work of this Congregation is undeniable. I have known it since my father was the spokesperson for the Peñalolén Camp. There the church accompanied people in their just struggle, as in the 1970s for the coup d'etat, in the dictatorship, and constant search for justice and reparation for the victims. I am here because, during his 50 years, he has put himself on the right side of history: that of the oppressed."

(Taken from the testimony of Cristian Muñoz Roa, published in the book El Buen Samaritano Congregation. Statements of Community Life. 2019. Editorial Taburetel, page 36).

The volunteer team of the Good Samarintano Olla Comun is:

- Hortencia Ramírez

- Iris Cayuqueo

- Delia Uribe

- Ariel Aguilera

- Cecilia Vergara

- Danitza Díaz

- Carol Rodríguez

- América Romo

- Nicolás Torello

- Yessika Mariqueo

- Margarita Carrasco

- Izani Bruch

- Cecilia Vergara

- Scarlett Zapata

- Patricia Banda

- Marcela Rain

- Cristian Muñoz

Photos and information research by Cristian Muñoz.

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