News Articles

Baptist relief efforts still touching Chileans’ hearts

SANTIAGO, Chile (BP)–A year ago, one of the most powerful earthquakes on record rocked Chile. Since then, working in Baptist quake relief efforts has led missionary Alfredo Valencia to many suffering families.

But he’ll never forget one family in particular. Valencia found them living in a partially collapsed home on a hillside in Cartagena, Chile, a coastal town hit hard by the 8.8-magnitude quake that shattered central Chile early Feb. 27, 2010.

The family with eight children — ranging from ages two months to 17 years — “were living in really, really bad conditions,” recalls Valencia, an International Mission Board missionary in Santiago, Chile.

It was months after the disaster had struck, and Baptist quake relief efforts were drawing to a close. By then local officials had deemed the family’s house uninhabitable and had asked them to move out. But the family had nowhere else to go.

When Valencia saw their urgent need, “I said, ‘God, You’ve got to provide for us to be able to help this family.'”

God’s answer came when Valencia’s cell phone rang. It was a member of a team of California Baptist volunteers heading to Chile to build “mediaguas” — prefab temporary shelters — for quake victims. Valencia told the volunteer about the family.

The two discussed options for helping and agreed the family needed more than a 10-by-20-foot temporary shelter. The volunteer said his team was willing to rebuild the house.

The California Baptists spent seven days — working from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. — reconstructing the house with the help of Marcos, the father of the family. When their work was completed, the group celebrated with a thanksgiving service. During that service, Marcos prayed to receive Christ. Today, he and his family are studying the Bible at a Baptist mission congregation in Cartagena.

“The eight kids in this family will grow up one day, and they will have a story to tell about how they survived the earthquake — and what God did with their house,” Valencia said. “They will remember us as those who came to their house with the Gospel, because God allowed us the time and resources to rebuild.

“But what God really rebuilt for that family was their lives — their hope. And He used us to help them understand they truly mattered to God.”

Since the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that claimed the lives of 524 people in Chile, hundreds of Chileans have received that same message through Baptist relief efforts. Together Chilean Baptists, Southern Baptist volunteers and International Mission Board missionaries have met countless physical, spiritual and emotional needs in Jesus’ name.

A total of $722,000 in Southern Baptist disaster response funds helped finance the relief effort.

“As we mark the anniversary of this powerful earthquake, we are eternally grateful to Southern Baptists for addressing the human needs of people around the world, particularly here in Chile in light of this disaster,” said IMB missionary Charles Clark, who headed up Southern Baptist quake relief in Chile. “We appreciate so much the many Southern Baptists who gave sacrificially of their time and money to meet the needs of Chileans. And we are equally thankful for our Chilean Baptist partners who we joined forces with to meet the immediate needs of those most affected by the quake.”

During the relief effort, Baptist volunteers shared the hope of Christ while building about 350 temporary shelters used for homes and schoolrooms and while serving at least 150,000 meals prepared in field kitchens. Besides financing these projects, Southern Baptist disaster relief contributions also funded the training of 3,000 Chileans in crisis counseling techniques to help survivors cope with post-quake trauma.

Dick Price, a Southern Baptist missionary to Chile and a former U.S. Air Force psychologist, led the training. His work also paved the way for volunteers from Madison Hills Baptist Church in San Antonio, to lead recreational activities and team-building with a Gospel message for about 500 children and 30 teachers in the quake zone.

Price said his training sessions underscored “the importance of talking about our experiences, our thoughts, our feelings and the impact in our lives of emotionally traumatic events. In every talk, a clear statement was made about God’s promise in Romans 8:38-39 that nothing, not even death, can separate us from His love in Christ Jesus. It was a God-ordained opportunity to meet an identified emotional need while having an opportunity to share the Gospel.”

Baptist quake relief opened many other doors for sharing the Gospel across the disaster zone. One of those was in the small town of Botalcura, where the public primary school was heavily damaged. When Clark heard about the need from local officials, he arranged for California Baptist volunteers to construct 10 temporary shelters for use as classrooms so students could begin the new semester on time. Several fathers of school children and some Chilean military personnel worked alongside the team in the construction.

Southern Baptists provided a Bible for each classroom and a Bible storybook for each child. Tennessee Baptist youth donated school supplies. Volunteers from Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover, Ala., delivered the items along with a gift of socks — with a Scripture verse tucked inside — for each student.

Clark and his wife Karen, who live about a three-hour drive away in Chile’s capital of Santiago, developed a relationship with one of the Botalcura school families who hosted volunteers in their home. They shared the Gospel with them and gave them a Bible. “They are very open to the Gospel and have even offered their home for a Bible study group to meet there,” Karen Clark reported.

Asking Southern Baptists to pray that God will lead some Chilean Baptists in the region to start a church in Botalcura and surrounding communities, she noted, “There’s a real hunger for the Gospel there.”

Across the disaster zone, God also opened doors through the operation of Baptist feeding kitchens and the construction of mediaguas used for homes. In the town of Talca, for example, several Chilean families who received Baptist aid now are attending Iglesia Bautista El Sembrador (Baptist Church of the Sower), where a feeding kitchen was set up. Church leaders also are making home visits to follow up with other seekers whom Baptists met through quake relief.

The relief project also paved the way for future cooperative ministry among Chilean Baptists and Southern Baptists. Because of needs their volunteers saw in Chile, several Southern Baptist churches have formed partnerships with Chilean Baptist churches. Through these three- to five-year partnerships, they will work together in evangelism and church planting in the quake zone and among unreached population segments in Chile.

In addition, Southern Baptist relief efforts built bridges between IMB missionaries and their Chilean Baptist partners. “We are exploring opportunities for closer partnerships and joint training to be able to respond more effectively together in future disaster relief and community development projects,” Clark said.

Besides these results, the relief project brought opportunities for evangelism even beyond Chile. Before the quake, a team of Chilean Baptist young people from Santiago had been praying about how to share the Gospel during an upcoming mission trip to Uruguay. When the team traveled there a few weeks after the disaster, “what opened doors for these young people was the opportunity to tell Uruguayans the story of the earthquake in Chile,” said Valencia, who serves as a global missions mobilizer among Chilean Baptists.

They told about their experiences serving as volunteers in the Baptist quake relief efforts and gave God the glory for how He had meet the needs of Chileans. They were interviewed by numerous Uruguayan media outlets and spoke in many schools.

“God used them in a mighty way,” Valencia said, adding, “It’s one of the many ways God used the tragedy of this earthquake for His purposes.”
Maria Elena Baseler is an International Mission Board writer living in the Americas. Tristan Taylor, also an IMB writer in the Americas, contributed to this story. Churches interested in partnering in Chile may contact Jerry and Paula Bowling, IMB catalytic connectors for Chile, at [email protected].
— Pray for Chilean families who are still coping with the quake’s aftermath. Many Chileans still live in temporary shelters and don’t have work. Pray God will provide them the necessary resources for rebuilding their lives.
— Ask the Lord to help several Chilean Baptist congregations who lost their church buildings in the quake. Pray God will help them find the means to rebuild while they continue to minister in their communities.
— During quake relief, Baptists found a number of small towns where no evangelical church exists. Ask God to give Chilean Baptists a vision for reaching these towns.
— Ask the Lord to help some Chilean Baptist congregations who lost their church buildings in the quake. Pray God will help them find the means to rebuild while they continue to minister in their communities.
— Pray about the possibility of your church forming a partnership with a Chilean Baptist church. This three-to-five year commitment provides opportunities in evangelism and church planting in the quake zone and among unreached population segments of Chile. To learn more, contact IMB missionaries Jerry and Paula Bowling at [email protected].

    About the Author

  • Maria Elena Baseler