By Michelle Bass
Rev. Charles L. Emery, Pastor of Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Gary, can tell you a few things about travel. Prior to visiting South America, Rev. Emery would usually travel to Middle Eastern countries like Egypt and Israel. Later it dawn-ed on him that he had never traveled to South America. Given a grant from the 2015 Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal for Indiana Congregations, Rev. Emery took off for 22 days of discovering South America. With the help of Tribble’s Travel Agency, Rev. Charles Emery departed from Houston, Texas with his brother by his side and headed for the first leg of his 6 country tour; first stop Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In Argentina, he would stay four days. Arriving through customs his first observation would be the similarities of Buenos Aires and New York City. “Argentina is like New York City,” said Pastor Emery. Thirteen million people reside in Buenos Aires, Argentina and when Pastor Emery arrived, the L train was inoperable. He took note of the bustling city while riding down Argentina’s 9 de Julio Avenue, the widest and largest avenue in the world. “There were so many people driving in cars. So many markets and stores up and down the street and every avenue,” he said. One of Pastor Emery’s other observations is the value of the dollar and the entrepreneurial spirit of the people. “Everywhere you would go there are shops and people selling something. Just thousands and thousands of stores. Something you have never seen before,” Pastor Emery said. “The American dollar is equal to 6,000 dollars in Argentina.” The hotel he stayed in was called Tango, named after one of the most notable exports of Argentina. “The hotel was next to the theatre where they would have the Tango performances,” explained Pastor Emery. The performers would dress in traditional Tango costumes and take pictures with tourists.
Rev. Emery had the opportunity to visit the church of Pope Francis. “That was HUGE!” he said. Although able to laugh about it now, he lost his cell phone while sitting outside a restaurant. With his phone on the table, a local man approached him selling socks. The local man placed his items on top of Rev. Emery’s phone. He declined to purchase the man’s items and noticed his phone was missing when the man left. Rev. Emery encountered a language barrier while trying to report this incident to the police. “I had just downloaded an app that would allow me to communicate and now I couldn’t because he had my phone,” he said laughing.
During his travels throughout South America, Rev. Emery noticed the vast amount of Native American people from Argentina to Chile. Many of the locals marveled being called Indians when they weren’t born in India. One local expressed his concern by pointing out a young woman from India and saying, “That is an Indian. We are Native.”
Traveling underground down 180 kilometers to the Salt Cathedral in Columbia was, “a heartwarming and frightening experience,” he said. “I was really praying hard not to panic, turn around and go back because it is so deep,” Rev. Emery said. As they traveled toward the Salt Cathedral, Rev. Emery could see many images depicting the final days of Jesus. Such as carvings of The Cross, The Last Supper, Jesus on the Cross, and Jesus’ Tomb. “It was amazing the things these people had done underground in the Salt Mine,” he said. As the Salt Cathedral was Catholic by nature, there was a dispute with the Government regarding selling the Salt Cathedral to the Catholic Diocese. This resulted in Catholic Priests holding services in the Cathedral, which could hold up to 2,000 people. “The colors in the Cathedral, the reds, blues, lights…it was breathtaking to see it,” he said.
In Peru while visiting Machu Picchu, most of the tourists were given a tea made from coco leaves. These leaves were steeped and served as tea to ease breathing. “Just tying your shoe and you’d want to lie down,” Rev. Emery explained.
His final stop was Costa Rica. His residence was away from the city, up on a hill in a resort area. “You had to walk up a hill…then you have to walk down that hill,” he said. Guarded by security, no locals were allowed into the area. Dangerous at night, Costa Rica is one of the highest sex trafficking countries in the world.
When asked his thoughts on South American churches he said, “Those churches in those areas are really places of luxuriousness. The golds, silvers, murals of the Lord’s Supper…it’s unbelievable.” He was quite amazed at the detail the people put in their churches.
When asked about his next travels, Rev. Emery expressed a desire to see the United States of America. “I would like to get a bus together and take some church members. If people have 5 days…I would like to see Mt. Rushmore and other places in the U.S.”