RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Hugo, an ex-convict, was an alcoholic with a red-hot temper. He fit right in with the other residents along Chile’s Quatro Sud (Four South), a road populated by prostitutes, transvestites, alcoholics and drug addicts.
But it was this road, which runs through one of the roughest neighborhoods in Talca, Chile, that God used as a catalyst to transform Hugo’s life.
Chris Burgess, a Comanche native from Lawton, Okla., had served in another South American country, Peru, in 2009 as a short-term student missionary with the International Mission Board (IMB), making his overseas trip as part of Fusion — a full-time, two-semester missions course that couples classroom teaching with real-world overseas missions experience.
God called him back to Peru this past spring, leading Native American students on a Fusion team. But when an 8.8-magnitude earthquake slammed Chile in February, Burgess and a teammate were deployed to Chile to help distribute relief supplies. That’s how Burgess met Hugo.
Hugo lost his home in the earthquake and was living in temporary housing with five other alcoholics on Four South. Through a connection made by an IMB missionary serving in Chile, Burgess was given the opportunity to share his testimony with the men.
Speaking through a translator, he told them how God’s love transcended his anger over his mother’s death and an abusive relationship with his father — also an alcoholic. The story struck a chord with Hugo.
“Hugo just started crying and fell on his knees and was saying, ‘I want to change … save me,'” Burgess remembers. That day, Hugo surrendered his life to Jesus.
Burgess and his Fusion teammate quickly began making inroads with other communities along Four South. An offer to teach English opened the door to start a Bible study with a group of transvestites a few blocks from where Hugo lived. Eventually the Fusion team was leading six Bible studies in four locations along Four South, five nights a week.
“We had connections. We fellowshipped with them. We prayed. And it was just so amazing because God made like a little spark and then BAM — it lit up the whole street,” Burgess says.
But the most amazing thing, he adds, was the transformation he saw in Hugo — the evidence of which nearly cost Hugo his life.
A few weeks after his conversion Hugo got into an argument and was attacked by someone he thought was his friend. The friend was drunk and stabbed Hugo seven times in the chest and stomach. Hugo was rushed to the hospital; doctors discovered that miraculously the man’s knife had missed vital organs.
“It was the enemy [Satan],” Burgess says of the attack. “Here’s this guy, he was without hope but now he’s on fire for God, reads his Bible [frequently], and he gets stabbed!”
Hospital rules prevented Burgess from visiting his friend until he was discharged. When the two were finally able to meet, Hugo’s story blew Burgess away. Even while being stabbed, Hugo didn’t fight back.
“Hugo had an anger problem, so you would assume that he would do something. But he said at that time the Spirit of God spoke to him and told him to put down his fists and just be at peace, so he didn’t react in any way. He just took it,” Burgess says.
“I almost cried when he was telling me this because you could just see he wasn’t mad about it at all — you could see the change in his face. He’s smiling and telling the story and talks about how he wants to go back to the guy who stabbed him and talk to him about it.”
What’s more, Hugo says he wants to move back to his hometown in Chile and begin telling others what Christ has done for him.
“I actually believe he’s going to follow through with it,” Burgess says. “His whole character has been changed by God … it’s just amazing.”
Burgess says he also feels God’s call to continue sharing the Gospel and is considering full-time international mission work, particularly among Latin American cultures, after he completes his undergraduate degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
“I’ve seen and felt the presence of God through the work we did to heal the broken,” Burgess says. “[He] has really used this experience. I love it. I love how it has changed me.”
Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board. Learn more about Fusion at thetask.org. See how Chris Burgess’ service in Peru began at commissionstories.com/burgess.