Carolyn Albright, Whitehall
As we packed our suitcases for a two-week stay in Chile, the three largest bags, filled with donated clothing for the people we would be visiting, tipped the scales at the maximum weight limit. Many questions filled our minds as we prepared for this trip. What are the people of Chile like? What are their needs? Will we know enough Spanish? What is it like living below the equator? Why do we still feel so unprepared? We prayed, “Open our hearts and our minds, Lord, to your work in and through us.”
In Chile,12-year-old Samuel needed a winter coat. His parents had no money to buy him one. Their entire family had been praying for several days that God would provide a coat, Samuel wanted a gray one. Faviola, his mother, knew that God would give Samuel just what he needed.
Upon our arrival in Viña del Mar, the clothing was delivered to Tabernacle of Christ Church and sorted by a group of women. Each item was carefully designated to each church member. When Faviola unpacked their family’s bag, inside was a gray coat exactly the size that Samuel needed! She immediately knelt down, thanking God for providing a coat and a reality to shore up her son’s wavering faith.
In addition to providing for its members the Tabernacle of Christ Church, along with three other churches in the Chilean Assembly of Evangelical Churches who are en emerging Franconia Conference Partner in Mission, is going beyond its doors. While leadership for these churches is provided by pastors Alfredo and Emma Navea; several youth and one pastor, Francisco, lead worship services each Wednesday night in a small, overcrowded house church called Puerta Abierta (Church of the Open Door). The church is open to all people, but especially to forgotten, marginalized, or ignored members of society who hear the simple news that Jesus loves them. At Puerta Abierta, people with disabilities are loved, listened to, and made part of the community. Francisco’s vision for this church is to begin programs for people with disabilities to obtain vocational training, as well as spiritual, physical, and emotional care.
The Naveas and these four Chilean churches are currently involved in an unprecedented church partnership with the Chilean government. In order to expand Puerta Abierta, officials have cleared the way for permits, an area of land, and promised social workers to help with determining specific needs of the people who attend Puerta Abierta. During our time in Chile we met with two of these officials, outlining plans to help people with disabilities.
The new location is near a feria (open market), a bus stop, and is just across the street from the Navea’s house. This is an excellent location for community awareness and the long-term goal of changing society’s attitudes toward people with disabilities. Currently, our partnership involves raising funds for a building, but this is only the beginning.
Puerta Abierta may be the only outreach of its kind in Chile. The opportunities for helping and sharing Christ’s love with brothers and sisters who need spiritual, physical, and emotional encouragement seem endless. In sending us to build relationships with these Chilean churches, Franconia Conference knew few specifics of this Puerta Abierta project. They knew nothing about Samuel’s gray coat. But they knew that God works wonders when we open our own hearts, minds and doors to the Spirit.