The Gift of Hope in Chile

By Kristen Burke, With Reporting by Steve Starr   •   December 2, 2005   •   Topics: , , , , , ,

For travelers from Chile’s centrally located capital city of Santiago, the journey to the mountains in the north or to the frigid far south will likely begin at the downtown bus terminal. Travelers in the bustling station play video games, grab a quick meal at the food court or shop for luggage and shoes in one of the many stores in the station’s mall.

For a week in October, shoppers at Belén Shoe Store could also receive a free gift–hope through Jesus Christ–as they watched Mi Esperanza on DVD in the store’s front display case. The store’s owner, Cecilia Quinchel, greeted the shoppers eagerly and gave them handmade invitations to watch the broadcasts on television Oct. 27-29.

An Opportunity

Quinchel’s daughter Cecilia Salamanca wasn’t surprised by her mother’s actions.

“That’s my mom,” Salamanca said. “[She] was diagnosed with late-stage leukemia a year ago. It was very sudden. … In the hospital, while taking chemotherapy, mom covered the walls of her room with verses from the Psalms. Every time a nurse came to draw blood, she asked for a minute to pray. Every time a technician brought a laboratory report, she praised God.” She even gave Christian books to her doctor and her oncologist. In May Quinchel left the hospital and gave God thanks for healing her.

“The Lord was glorified through my cancer,” she said. “When the chemotherapy stopped and the cancer went into remission, I knew I wanted to serve God more, to preach to the people more.”

Soon she had a chance to do just that.

“When my pastor announced the Mi Esperanza project, I saw an opportunity,” Quinchel said. “I asked for posters and a DVD of the program. I wanted the posters for my store in the bus station. I wanted to play the DVD in my store. I wanted to pass out invitations.” She asked the mall manager if she could play the programs each evening in the food court, and he granted her permission.

Quinchel’s efforts were characteristic of many of the Mi Esperanza hosts.

When Jesus Talks Without Words

“I got into deaf ministry after my own experience with my son Omar,” Pastor Patricio Moya said. “By the time he was 2 years old, we knew something was wrong. He was deaf.” This realization was the start of a long struggle for Moya, then a pastor in the northern city of Arica.

“I was suffering,” he said. “I was preaching. I was a pastor, but my son could not hear the Gospel.” In order to find better schools and treatment for Omar, the family moved to Santiago. Moya began taking sign language classes and learning from deaf people so that he could communicate with Omar. He soon planted a ministry among the marginalized deaf community of Santiago.

As Omar sat in services at his father’s church for the deaf, he slowly began to understand the Gospel. Then at age 14 some deaf Christians at the church described their experience when they received Christ. He finally understood what his father desperately had been trying to communicate to him, and he accepted Christ.

The deaf, Moya says, need more than just translation–they need pastoring.

“Caring for one deaf person is like caring for 12 [hearing] people,” he said. “In Chile 87 percent of the deaf people live in extreme poverty. Only 5 percent get help. [The rest] have no hope, no future.”

When Moya heard about the Mi Esperanza television project, he asked the project’s national leaders if they could offer deaf interpretation. Although there was no budget for such a project, God provided a sign language specialist and a cameraman to help produce tapes and DVDs for churches such as Moya’s.

Armed with a sign language translation of the broadcast, Omar, now 21, and his grandmother Caizman began planning their own Mi Esperanza party for their neighbors and several of Omar’s deaf friends. They canvassed their neighborhood in the Villa Libertad suburb, inviting people to watch the broadcast. Then, just before the first broadcast on Thursday, they went shopping at the graffiti-covered corner store for potato chips and orange soda.

“I will be happy if three of my deaf friends come tonight,” Omar said before his guests arrived. “They are from the neighborhood. I have been sharing my testimony with them, but nobody has received Christ.”

Omar hoped that his friends would feel God in their hearts the way that he did–without words.

“It’s very special, because it’s a communication from inside. I know that God knows my thoughts, so I can talk to Him with my thoughts. It’s different, but in some ways far more deep.”

The Holy Spirit responded to Omar’s prayers: Six of his 13 guests came to faith in Christ during the party, including four deaf friends.

“Many people treat me like a stupid man,” said Victor Millan, one of Omar’s deaf neighbors. “Now … I don’t feel stupid. I feel like Jesus and the people here treated me with respect.”

Eduardo Osses, another deaf inquirer, agreed.

“I felt happy seeing the program in my own language,” he said. “I felt Billy Graham was talking to me. I could understand the woman translating very clearly. I feel Jesus loves deaf people.”

The New Face of the Church

The Harvest Sunday service at Iglesia Bautista Cellular on the Sunday following Mi Esperanza could best be described as a youth explosion. The building was packed with happy, celebrating youth. Many of these youth were involved in the television project from the beginning when they spent several weeks at the Mi Esperanza warehouse, helping to package and mail project materials across Chile.

But their involvement didn’t end there.

Youth such as Adolfo, Daniela and Javier Opitz also hosted their own Mi Esperanza parties, resulting in scores of commitments to Christ. Nearly 40 youth packed into their home in a working-class neighborhood. Eight of them made first-time decisions for Christ, and 12 recommitted themselves to following Christ.

So many youth from Iglesia Bautista Cellular hosted parties that the church hired two buses just to bring the new believers and their hosts to the Sunday evening service.

Youth pastor Luis Munoz said that he had a growth “problem” before the broadcasts, and now he says, “I can’t train leaders fast enough to disciple all the young people coming to the Lord.”

His youth group’s growth was obvious once the service began. The building pulsed with energy and praise as the youth thanked God through music, dance and mime for how He moved through Mi Esperanza. The scene is one that Christians are hoping will continue, so that the Church can pass on a solid heritage to the next generation.

“[Iglesia Bautista Cellular] is a good example of all the young people coming to the Lord in Chile,” said Pablo Sanchez, BGEA’s national representative. “Here the Church used to have an old face. Now that face is changing.”

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