Guest speaker relates experiences of mission work in South America

Lyon students had a unique experience during regular chapel services in the Small Chapel in Brown Chapel Thursday. Rev. Sarah Henken, regional liaison for the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the Andean countries of South America, including Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, delivered a sermon as guest speaker and also helped conduct parts of the service in both English and Spanish with Lyon Interim Chaplain Bill Branch.

Henken’s sermon focused on a central theme of what it means to truly embody the word of God.

“We must be doers of the Word. Not just hearers. What does that mean for us as it relates to applying it to our daily lives?” Henken said.

She related some of the experiences she said have helped her put her faith into action even in situations that can be frightening at times. One such experience was visiting with a community of rural farmers who had been violently displaced from their homes, an all-too-common occurrence in Colombia.

“The land that they had chosen as their new home had recently become desirable, and these farmers found themselves once again being squeezed out of their home,” Henken said.

Despite their tragic situation, Henken said it was a delight to see the human contact occurring in the midst of such a difficult situation. Those who were going to be able to keep their homes were inviting their neighbors to stay with them. The people were enjoying the fruits of their labor from their crops as much as they could before bulldozers arrived to destroy their homes.

“We were there to support them in what small way we could and to show that we are part of one family and to share in that experience with them,” Henken said.

Henken also discussed some of her experiences in Venezuela where a large population is infected with HIV or AIDS. The widespread infection is often due, Henken said, to miseducation.

“Some people there think you must be gay to get this disease. They’re simply misinformed,” she said.

Many of those infected have also met rejection at their local churches.

“They are told they must be terrible sinners if God afflicted them with this horrible disease and that they [the church] don’t want anything to do with them,” Henken said.

She was able to witness missionaries reach out and provide support and education to those who were infected.

Henken, who primarily works out of Colombia, will be the coordinator of the Young Adult Volunteer program in Colombia and encouraged students interested in dedicating a year of service to helping those in that country to talk with her after the service. She said there was work for anyone regardless of their degree focus.

Henken is a native of Los Angeles, Calif. She earned her bachelor’s in music and Spanish literature from Occidental College in Los Angeles and is a 2010 graduate of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago with a Master of Divinity degree.