Sunday, September 19, 2010

The end...

As you may know, my three years in Chile has come to an end. It’s a bittersweet moment for me as I say goodbye to a country that has held my heart for so many years and also joyfully return to my home where I can regularly spend more time with family and friends. I have been home for two months now, and as I write this letter on the 200th anniversary of Chilean independence, I realize that I still very much miss being there.

The Lord has blessed me so much and taught me even more in the course of my three years there. I learned how to be a teacher and that I actually like it! I realized that’s the career path that God wants me to pursue, whether I end up staying the States or going out elsewhere. I spent an intense and interesting semester as both full-time teacher and co-administrator of the school, and that was certainly a stretching experience. I learned what I do and don’t like about being in charge, and I learned to take on boss-like qualities that I don’t normally exhibit. I don’t necessarily feel the need to try my hand at being the head boss again.

I learned to trust and depend on God, although I still feel like I have a long way to go in that realm. I often battled loneliness as at times families celebrated holidays without me, or I had to make my own birthday plans so as not to be forgotten, or a family problem caused plans to fall through, leaving me with a lot of alone time on my hands. The time that this loneliness was the most acute was the week after the earthquake as families came together, and I felt particularly lost in the shuffle. God certainly provided a strong network of support through the other missionaries and friends that I met along the way, but life was much different for me there, and there were times that I found myself without the social support that I could usually count on in the States. This is when I learned that I needed to rely more on God, even more than I already was.

Obviously, after three years in South America, I was able to gain a relatively high level of proficiency in Spanish, and I would like to bring my love of languages and culture to students in this country. My last year or two, especially, I was able to get to know the Chileans better and get involved more due to my growing grasp of the language. I was able to worm my way in to one or two families, and I truly miss them.

Probably the most impacting part of my experience was the relationships I was able to form with my students. Honestly speaking, it was for them that I kept extending my time in Chile. They lodged themselves in my heart, and I was equally concerned for their education as well as their spiritual and emotional maturation, to the extent that I felt a burden to be a positive role model and felt greatly saddened when a student acted in rebellion or defiance. I know I was able to make an impact in the lives of several kids and teach them lessons about life that perhaps they had never considered before. I was especially shocked to hear that some students had actually taken my advice to heart!

Now that I’m back home, I’m going to grad school to get my master’s in education so that I can be a “real” teacher. It will take me approximately two years, and I’m hoping to be certified in both English and Spanish. I’ve also found an almost full-time job that provides benefits as well (God blessed me once again by giving me the first job I applied for!). After I’m done with my schooling, I honestly have no idea where God will lead me. My plan is to stay in New Jersey unless told otherwise.

I want to thank you for supporting me so heartily over the years. It was such a comfort to know that I had people praying for me and interested in the ministry that I was involved in. It was especially comforting when so many people contacted me after the earthquake to let me know that I was in their prayers. I certainly needed it. I could not have gone to Chile and done the work God had called me to do without both your financial and prayer support, and I know God will bless you for your generosity and faithfulness. I don’t know how else to express the fullness of gratitude I feel, other than to once again say thank you.

Still serving where I am,

Kelly Wentzell

Monday, March 22, 2010

Rumblings and Grumblings

Well, we had nearly a full week of classes after the earthquake before anything of note happened. We started classes again last Monday, a little over a week after the initial quake. There were still tremors, but the large aftershocks seemed to have calmed down. This did not last long. Thursday morning, around 11:30 in the morning, I was standing in the front of my classroom, trying to give a pop-quiz to my 11th and 12th grade British literature class. Slowly, subtly, the earth started to undulate beneath us and the windows and walls rattled in protest. I stood there grinning at my class as we discussed the intensity of the tremor and if it was strong enough to merit any action. I commented on how I felt like I was standing on a boat (although I was in a brick building with a tile-covered concrete floor). After about 15 to 20 seconds, it still hadn't calmed down, and in fact, the windows seemed to rattle a bit more. So we decided to skidaddle out of the classroom. People seemed to be handling it pretty well, although I heard another teacher admonishing her class that they're the "big kids" so they should remain calm as an example.

Half the school congregated in the parking lot and the other half met in the back field. Since that was supposed to be our emergency meeting spot, those of us in the parking lot headed around the buildings to join the rest of the school. The kids lined up according to grades. At this point I noticed that the elementary far outstrips the high school in their ability to form straight and orderly lines. I contemplated that perhaps the high school should return to a class of rudimentary shapes as their "lines" looked more like clouds, or at the very best, a rope with a snarled, tangled knot in the middle of it. My pointing out this fact was only successful in getting the Jr High to imitate a perfectly straight line. The Sr High students were far too old and important to do something as mundane as lining up according to their teachers' instructions. :o)

After congratulating the kids, we reviewed the emergency procedures with them, laughing that the drill we had planned for the following week was no longer necessary as God provided us with His own "drill." The reminders and instructions were repeated in Spanish and then in Korean, as many students (especially in the elementary) do not speak English OR Spanish...a challenge on a normal day, but throw in a strong aftershock....forget about it! We completed our "head check" and headed back into the classrooms.

As a teacher, disruptions are annoying because it can take awhile to get the kids back on task. The bigger the disruption, the longer it can take. And this had been a pretty big disruption, although I was impressed with how well they had handled themselves. Well, I jumped right back into my pop-quiz, but barely had completed another question when the earth started waving beneath us again. I stood there, again grinning at the class (perhaps with a slight roll of the eyes as I contemplated another disruption), as we assessed the situation to see if we needed to evacuate again. Meanwhile, others, in their attempt to illustrate the effectiveness of hiding under desks as a possible means of protection, proceeded to awkwardly scrunch under the desk, knocking over chairs and thrusting limbs in the aisles. (Perhaps this also attributed to my eye-rolling.) This aftershock wasn't nearly as strong, but it did last quite awhile. So I opened my classroom door, saw another class filing out past me, and turned to tell my students to complete the drill they had just learned.

We headed out to the back field, and the students lined up, or "lined up," depending on the age, once again. The other administrator and I decided to go to lunch 15 minutes early and end class. Since the landline had been temporarily cut short, people were calling out on their cell phones, trying to get a hold of family members. Parents were already calling the school in mass quantities, hoping to see if their kids were ok. The phone lines being cut made this impossible for a little while, though. As we discussed the situation and comforted a few of the elementary kids who were crying after the second shock, there was apparently another one. I, however, did not even feel it.

Some parents came to pick up their kids, which I understood completely although I thought that it would be better for the students to remain in their normal routine to avoid being unnecessarily scared. However, the parents were panicking more than the students were. The problem with panic is that it's contagious. So some of the students, who previously were handling things pretty well, saw their parents freaking out, and so they lost their sense of security and succumbed to their fear as well. It was impressed upon me how much those in charge of others need to squash their fears for the sake of others. And I will admit, that although having the students there made the aftershocks more stressful, I was actually LESS fearful because I was preoccupied with keeping the kids calm and keeping the school running.

Well, we found out that the aftershocks were 7.2 (the largest since the original earthquake), 6.9, and 6.3, I believe. Those aftershocks had their own series of tremors, and the earth moved more that day than it had in quite awhile. That was a week and a half ago, and since then there have been very few large aftershocks, thank God! We had heard that we would need another big aftershock to get the jostled earth back in place, as it were. We're hoping that was the one to do it. We've heard that we're due a few more 7.0 aftershocks, but as yet we haven't received any. In fact, the tremors have calmed down to just 4-5 a day. I check the map frequently (the one that I provided a link for in the previous post) and it's starting to clear up. It only posts what has happened in the last week, so it's been a bit difficult to keep track of how many aftershocks we've actually had. I lost track at around 300!

Thank God that life is almost back to normal and the earth has been relatively calm. I have heard reports from so many people who have gone down south to provide supplies to those who experienced true destruction and loss. They've told me that the people down there are doing pretty well as far as food and other necessities go (people from all over the country are taking truckfulls down), but the real need is for construction workers to go to help rebuild. That is the more difficult problem to fix as it takes longer, but it's getting more and more urgent as winter approaches. Please continue to pray for the needs down in southern Chile, as well as for the emotional wear-and-tear of those of us here in Santiago. The wind rattling my window and people running up the stairs outside my apartment set me on alert, and twice I've woken up with my heart pounding, the sound of the earthquake roaring in my ears, only to discover it was all in my head. It's amazing how much it has affected my subconscious. I've been told that it will take a couple years for a passing truck on the road to stop getting my heart racing! But I've been leaning on God more than ever, and as expected, He's given me more strength than ever!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

More earthquake aftermath

So, last night we had another pretty big aftershock at around 11pm (we had two yesterday...which we haven't had a big one since Sunday, and a medium one on Monday. Nothing on Tuesday besides tremors.) So I decided to look on a map to discover what magnitude it was (although as I've said before, I'm getting pretty good at guesstimating.) The closer an aftershock is (obviously) and the shallower it is, the more things move. The last one was pretty close, so it felt pretty strong. It's a very strange sensation...almost as if I'm on a boat, even though I was just standing in my bathroom flossing.

Anyway, to put things into perspective for you, I'm going to share some statistical data with you. This will show you how shaky my life has been for the last 5 days (and I think it's wearing on me, because I've been very tired today even though I've been able to sleep in decently the last few days, and that last aftershock kind of put me on edge more than the other ones have. It's VERY wearing to always be reminded that the place where you're living isn't necessarily safe and you never know when it will happen again. It's like sitting on a ticking bomb that every once in a while starts beeping after having come out of no where with a preliminary explosion.) Anyway.....

As you know, there was a decent sized earthquake in Haiti in January. It was a 7.0 at its epicenter. Here is a map of it and its 43 aftershocks...

What you may not know, is that about 10 hours before our earthquake here in Chile, there was a decent sized one in Japan that was also a 7.0 at its epicenter. It's still having aftershocks. Here are two maps, one of all of Asia.....
and one of a 10 degree window near the epicenter.....
Notice that in the 10 degree window it shows only 20 earthquakes/aftershocks as of 10pm EST on Wednesday... (this number may change a bit by the time you see this, but the ratio should be about the same). Notice that the map of all of Asia only shows about 61 earthquakes/aftershocks.

Now, our earthquake at its epicenter was 8.8 which I'm sure you know....Here in Santiago it felt like a 7.0 (same as Haiti and Japan). However, the notable difference is in the sheer number of aftershocks (and many of them have been quite large, in contrast with the other two countries' earthquakes). Here is a map of a 10 degree window of Chile (same size as that one from Japan that I showed you)......
Notice, as of 10pm EST on Wednesday, there are ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY SEVEN earthquakes/aftershocks.

Can you even imagine how old this is getting? For a fleeting second after that aftershock tonight I wanted to hop on a plane and get out of here for good and go to safe, little New Jersey where an occasional snowstorm is the biggest of our worries. I'm trying not to have a spirit of fear, but it isn't always easy. I'm VERY glad that I decided to cancel classes until Monday. Who knows how long this is going to go on!!

Well, keep praying. If this is just now starting to get to me, someone who hasn't really been scared at all since that initial 3 minutes of craziness, imagine how the people are faring who've been freaked out for 5 days straight!!

Sunday, February 28, 2010


There have been many thoughts running through my mind in the last 36 hours as I processed and dealt with a new experience—an earthquake. Since many people in my acquaintance haven’t experienced this either, I’m going to try to describe my life for the past 36 hours, as well as share what the foreseeable future looks like. I’ll probably add in some statistical information too. Earthquake news has become my new hobby.

It all started in the middle of the night after a very, very long week of work. It was the first week of classes, and as a full time teacher and part of the temporary administrative team, it was an incredibly busy one. The first couple days were teacher inservice and setup, and classes started on Wednesday. Each day I probably averaged a cool 10 hours of work, easy. Since I knew life would calm down after a couple of weeks, once the beginning craziness calmed down and I figured out how to juggle what is essentially two fulltime jobs, I didn’t mind working like a crazy person for a while. Needless to say, by the time Friday rolled around, I was exhausted and very much looking forward to a relaxing weekend. I took it easy Friday evening, but was so tired that I turned off the movie I was watching and went to bed around 10:30pm (two things I never do, as those who know me well can attest to).

After 5 blissful hours, I slowly awoke as my subconscious told me that the shaking in my dream was actually happening in real life. Having lived in Chile for 2 and a half years, I have experienced a handful of tremors, so I laid there waiting for it to pass. However, it didn’t pass. In fact, it grew stronger and stronger and without even thinking about what I was doing, I ran (or rather stumbled and staggered like a drunken person due to the intense shaking) to the doorframe of my bedroom and held on for dear life. Having accomplished this, I was able to be aware of my thoughts again, and I simultaneously considered a multitude of possibilities, fears, and observations. In no particular order, here’s what ran through my mind: it’s very dark and I’m alone…an older lady lives alone in another apartment here at the school, is she ok? apartment is on the end with no offices underneath, just a breezeway, what if I fall through?...ok, now things are falling over and glass is crashing…Dear God, please let it stop soon! gosh, my heart is racing…oh, maybe I should go stay in the bathroom, no that’s for tornadoes, there are tiles in there that might fall on me…man, this is lasting a long time and getting worse!...i’m barefoot with broken glass nearby…God, please please let it stop…that bookshelf is blocking my way to the exit…what on earth is that annoying sound?...

I think that about covers it. As soon as the shaking stopped, I started running around my bedroom getting things I needed, foolishly trying to turn on lights as I went. Obviously they were not working. I ran to get my slippers so I wouldn’t hurt my feet on the unseen glass; I grabbed my sweatshirt because I knew I’d be going outside; I found the candle in my bathroom and hunted futilely on the floor for the matches. Somewhere during all this the school’s guard ran up and pounded on our doors, making sure we were ok and calling for us to come out. At this, I abandoned my attempts to find light, hefted the bookshelf upright so it would be out of my way (it had fallen and was propped against my kitchen counter, angling across my path to the front door), leapt across all the items scattered on the floor from the bookshelf, and went downstairs with my neighbor.

For an hour and a half we stood outside with our guard, the guard from across the street who we know, and the neighboring pastor and his wife. We swapped stories. Nobody was hurt. The pastor’s dishes all fell and shattered. Some people were able to get a hold of family before the phone lines went down, some weren’t. The guard was in the parking lot when it happened, and he could barely even stay standing. When he imitated his experience, it looked very much like a person surfing on dry land with no surfboard! As we talked, we felt an aftershock and many tremors, but these didn’t really phase us at that point. We had a radio and were listening to updates as we watched helicopters fly overhead and heard sirens from all directions. They were saying it was an 8.5 on the Richter scale (it actually ended up being an 8.8). The pastor’s wife said it felt worse than the big one they had in 1985 (which was a 7.8) and everyone commented on how unusually long it lasted—nearly three minutes as we found out the next day.

Finally around 5am we decided it was safe to go to the apartments and assess damage. We found our candles, figured out what that annoying sound was (a smoke detector that had fallen in the unoccupied apartment next to mine), and took a look around. Things were in disarray in my apartment, but the only broken items were a mug and a blender that was already broken. Just then the electricity came on, which I was very surprised about (36 hours later there are still many parts of the city without it). I grabbed my blanket, pillow, and cell phone (although it wasn’t really working) and headed to my car with my neighbor to try to get some sleep. I was cold and could feel every tiny vibration as I sat still in the car. It was both soothing and freaky. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well. Around 7am I went back upstairs, hoping to sleep for real. It seemed safe enough, although I wasn’t sure I’d be able to calm down enough to sleep, exhausted as I was. I wasn’t afraid, just very much on edge. At 7:25 am, about 15 minutes after I had lain down, we had our first big aftershock (6.9 at its epicenter). I laid there, wide awake, waiting to see if it would get worse. Since it didn’t, I tried to sleep and dozed fitfully for just a couple of hours. Then I woke up to answer the many phone calls and talk to the many people who stopped by to see the damage or use the facilities. We were blessed in that by noon we had electricity, phone service, water, and internet, so we were able to notify friends and family in the States that we were safe.

All afternoon on Saturday I went around the school grounds, surveying damage and taking pictures of the school, righting all of the apartments, and beginning the cleaning of the school. All throughout the day there were tremors, and about five or six times there were decent sized aftershocks. In fact, once I was on the phone with a missionary who lives just a little to the south of the city, and she mentioned the fact that she felt a big tremor. About two seconds later I felt it too. I thought that was quite interesting, as it must have rippled from its epicenter in southern Chile. They move quickly!

Around 7pm last night I collapsed after much cleaning, phone calls, and emailing. Chile is in a state of emergency until at least Wednesday, so classes can’t start until then at the very earliest. So we decided to take Sunday off and have work days on Monday and Tuesday to try to get the school put back together. Luckily there was no structural damage but many floors are covered with books and other odds and ends as bookshelves fell, and the library is almost completely on the floor! I made dinner, watched a movie (all the while feeling rumblings of tremors…almost constantly it seemed), and went to bed utterly exhausted after a very long day.

My goal was to sleep in this morning since church services were canceled. Well, that didn’t exactly happen as I was awoken once again by a large aftershock (6.1 at its epicenter…although felt like a 5 in Santiago) around 8:30am. It was long, but since it didn’t worsen, I decided to go back to sleep…not an easy feat since there were constant tremors for the next half hour. The tremors are much more noticeable as I sit still on a couch or lay in my bed. Any tremors during the night (I’m positive they happened) weren’t big enough to wake me up. I did sleep more and woke up around 10:30 and figured it was time to get up. That brings us up to current time since I haven’t really done much today. Tomorrow and Tuesday will be full of work, so I’m sure I’ll have more pictures of the clean-up process to share (to see pictures of the school and my apartment, go to my facebook page).

I’ll give you some stats, and then I’m going to try to describe what all this earth movement feels like.

The earthquake, on Saturday at 3:34am Chile time (1:34 am Eastern Standard time), ranks at an 8.8 which ties for the fifth worst earthquake in recorded history. The worst one happened in Chile in 1960 and was a 9.5. (Every whole integer on the Richter scale is 32 times more powerful than the previous one.)

The epicenter was a little under 300 miles south of Santiago. Here in the city it felt like a 8.3 on the Richter scale (much stronger than the earthquake in Haiti a few months back which was a 7.0).

The larger aftershocks (those in the 6.something range) have felt like 5.0’s here in Santiago. In the past, those would have felt quite big, but in the perspective of the main one, they’re no big deal!

There have been countless aftershocks, floodings from tsunamis, losses of lives, homes, and entire villages (mainly down south), and tsunami warnings for Hawaii, Japan, and Russia.

Much of the city is still without electricity or water, and HUGE lines are forming at grocery stores and gas stations, all of which were closed yesterday and have limited supplies today.

Here in the city, the main highway is closed as many of the overpasses have collapsed, twisted, or overturned. The airport is also completely closed for awhile as the outdoor elevator structures and walkways collapsed (and who knows what happened inside). The metro was closed yesterday as they checked for damage. I have not heard what they found there.

I went out once yesterday to the little corner store to get something to drink, and the people there were all a bit solemn, but everyone is much more friendly and talkative with strangers than they usually are. It’s like the entire city has been bonded by this experience.

I’ve been told that the big aftershocks will last a few days, but the tremors will last a few weeks.

Thank God that it happened in the middle of the night (although the dark added to the scariness), because the metro was closed, public transportation at a minimum, and children weren’t in schools but at home with their families. Since it was a Friday night, I’m sure many places downtown were still full of people, and I haven’t heard how those places fared.

In my mind, there are three levels of earth movement that we’ve experienced, and I’m going to try my best to describe them. They are the main earthquake, the aftershocks, and the tremors.

The main earthquake—Imagine that you’re cooking something in a frying pan—an omelet, a pancake, stirfry—and you pick up the frying pan and start shaking it quickly back and forth to move the stuff around. Now, imagine that your house is on a huge frying pan and someone picks it up and starts shaking it back and forth. It’s very difficult to walk or stand properly, and furniture starts tipping over and decorations fall off the walls. Now imagine that the base of the house is attached to the frying pan and someone starts shaking it. Just imagine what that would do to the structure of it—the frame, the windows, the ceiling and roof. It all depends on how tall it is, how well it’s built, if it’s going to survive or not.

Imagine that in the dark for almost 3 minutes, and you’ll be pretty close to that first big earthquake.

The aftershocks—Think of those TV shows or movies you may have seen where a small apartment or dingy motel is situated near a subway or train track. (Some of you may have actually had that unfortunate experience!) Think of how the whole place shakes slightly, the things on the walls rattle, the vibrations bounce you around ever so slightly…but nothing falls or is broken, and you could easily walk across the room.

Imagine that about for about 45 seconds 5 or 6 times a day, but add to it the consideration that it you don’t know if it’s going to turn into the frying pan situation, and you’ll be pretty close to how these aftershocks feel. They don’t do any damage, but they do make us all pause in what we’re doing in order to assess if we have to run to safety or not.

The tremors—Imagine you’re in a larger vehicle like a large van or a truck and you’re traveling on the highway. There’s a constant vibrating, and every once in awhile you feel a slight rocking in your core.

Imagine that for anywhere from a couple minutes to half an hour, on and off all day long, and you’ll be pretty close to understanding the tremors. They’re not easily felt when walking around doing things, but are quite obvious while sitting or laying down.

Well, that’s a very long update on my life this weekend. It’s very surreal and has completely changed the outlook of the week for me, but all in all, we were very lucky. Those in the south have received the brunt of it, and we need to continue to pray for those without homes, those who have lost family members, those who are trapped in buildings, those who haven’t been heard from or are missing, and those in charge of dealing with it all. What an opportunity for God to be glorified and His love to be shared with many hurting people here and many watching people around the world.