This report is a follow-up to Olivia Hoeppner’s article in the July/August 2019 edition of Canada Lutheran. She is a University of Alberta student in the faculty of education and an active member of Ascension, Edmonton.
“I go because I love it. The people of Colombia fill my heart.” With these words, Olivia Hoeppner gets to the core of her experience teaching English at a small Lutheran school on Colombia’s southeastern plains.
Although Hoeppner has personal connections to Paz de Ariporo, the town where she taught, she’s quick to point out that “anybody can do it.”
“I had things arranged through the two Lutheran synods — in Alberta and in Colombia — and they were able to connect me with Pastor Maria Elena in Paz de Ariporo, who kindly billeted me for my time there. The rest was just a matter of arranging my flights and getting there. I felt so supported throughout the process, and I am deeply grateful for the help I received.”
Hoeppner was kept busy teaching both students and teachers at one of four schools called Colegio Evangelico Luterano de Colombia (CELCO). “Native English speakers are a bit of a rarity in rural Colombia,” Hoeppner said with a laugh. “I was able to put my education training to good use.”
The help Hoeppner provided for the local community was appreciated by each person she encountered in her travels. She has warm memories of the townsfolk she met. “People would stop and talk to me on the streets of Paz de Ariporo, always with big smiles on their faces. And twice I accompanied Pastor Maria Elena to her other congregation in the nearby town of Trinidad, where I was made to feel equally welcome.”
Despite much of the news about Colombia we get in Canada, Hoeppner felt perfectly safe throughout her journey. She was mainly in small, peaceful cities or in the capital of Bogotá, which is as safe as any other large city.
Hoeppner closed the interview with a strong endorsement of her experiences and the people involved. She observed, “The relationship between our synods is much more than just a financial one, rather it is one of personal and spiritual connections. These connections are about relationships; they are about the relationships that we have built during the multiple trips to Colombia and the relationships we continue to build. We pray for each other and want the best for each other.
“When I was in Colombia this year, theprincipal of the CELCO school told me that I was an answer to their prayers. This was fascinating to me because I did not know that I was an answer to anyone’s prayers, nor did I know I even had this ability. But the strong relationships that we have with the Synod in Colombia puts us in a positionto answer each other’s prayers.
“We often talk about the benefit that we have on the people in Colombia and what we can do to help them,” Hoeppner continued. “But rarely do we talk about the benefit that the Colombian people have on our lives. I feel that the Colombian people with whom I interact enrich my life far more than I feel I could ever do for them.”
“The experience that I had in Colombia in May was life-changing for me, and I hope that anyone who wants to do something like this does. And I am pretty sure they would feel the same support that I experienced.”