Heated Dispute Burns Path for the Gospel in Chile

May 16, 2013

While fires blaze in the heated ongoing dispute over land between the Chilean government and the Mapuche Indian tribe, a slow, steady flame is burning in the hearts of Mapuches who are turning to the Lord for their sustenance amidst unbearable poverty and discrimination.

“There is a tremendous conflict between the Mapuche people and the European descendants,” reported Jose, leader of Chile Evangelical Mission, which is reaching the Mapuche tribe with the gospel.

“In recent months the forest was burned and people died in the conflict. Despite the difficulties, our missionary in this area is sharing the gospel and winning souls for the Lord.”

According to news reports, the Chilean government has accused the Mapuche people of setting a number of forest fires, including one that killed seven firefighters last year.

The Mapuches, who number about 600,000, are concentrated in the La Araucania area, where they have been campaigning since the 1990s for the return of their ancestral land from logging and forestry companies.

However, many deny having anything to do with setting fires, the AP reports.

A Forgotten People

Admired for its lush, poetic scenery–from the tips of the Andes to the glaciers in the south–this long, narrow country east of Argentina harbors a forgotten people.

Impoverished, brushed aside and offended by the way Europeans moved in to take their land years ago, the Mapuches strain to gain territory. For years they have encountered government after government giving and taking the land they consider their own. Today´s portion, in their eyes, just isn´t enough.

The Mapuche people live in isolated rural communities and endure living standards far below South American norms: no electricity or running water, no access to medical care, and unheated homes in frigid mountain climates. Many turn to alcohol and drugs to find relief.

But God has not forgotten them.

Slowly but Surely

As indigenous missionaries with Chile Evangelical Mission reach out to these poor, tribal communities in remote areas south of Santiago, desperate hearts abandon their addictions and find new life in the Lord.

One life at a time.

“It is not like winning thousands in a big crusade,” said Rosa, spokesperson for the ministry. “They are not so number-oriented, but rather they focus on one-on-one relationships and discipleship, which is appropriate to their culture. The people turn to Christ slowly but surely.”

To plant a witness for Christ among the Mapuches, missionaries live among them and identify with them.

This is no easy task. The distance is great between neighbors. Without public transportation, gospel workers may walk two hours to reach the next community. Thanks to contributions sent through Christian Aid, they now have a much-needed vehicle and can cover more ground, reach more families and follow up with Bible study. They even use the vehicle as an ambulance.

While conversion to Christ comes slowly, it´s happening.

Missionaries share their own testimony of how their lives were transformed by the power of Christ. A living change, noticeable and unexplainable by any other way, speaks mightily to the Mapuche people.

The Mapuche tribe is steeped in a culture of witchcraft and idol worship. Perhaps Catholicism has reached them. They simply substitute the name of a saint for the worship of the earth, sun, moon, thunder, volcano or sea.

Missionaries show them there is only One worthy of worship, and they cannot substitute Christ Jesus for a moon or sea or even a saint. They must abandon all idols and worship Him alone.

Bible studies follow, grounding them in the Word of God and setting them free.

“I shared the gospel with Hugo, a man who used to be a drug addict,” wrote Marcelo, who serves as a CEM missionary. “He received Jesus as His Savior and the Lord delivered him from addiction. Now he is an enthusiastic believer.”

Addictions are broken in the name of Jesus. When a Mapuche experiences freedom from addiction, whole families turn from their idols and believe.

“Many have lost everything, so there is a high rate of poverty and people are living in tents,” related Cecilia, a CEM missionary.

“I shared the gospel with a man who used to worship idols and Catholic saints. He received Jesus as His Savior and the Lord transformed his life and family. He is helping me to evangelize.”

Children find hope, too.

“Most of the families I serve involve broken marriages,” reported Gregorio, a missionary with CEM.

“One young boy was having serious behavior problems to the point that he was expelled from school. I shared the gospel with him and he received Jesus. Now the Lord changed his behavior, and his parents have received Jesus through his testimony. Moreover, he is now helping at our congregation with the worship ministry.”

Change comes one life at a time. But it only takes a fire in one heart to spread through a tribe. So while flames blaze angrily over land issues, the burning love of the Lord leaves a lasting impression.

On Mission

Chile Evangelical Mission began in 1984 when native missionary Jose and some fellow believers saw the need to train Christians to take the gospel where the Word of God had not been preached. They reached out to tribal villages, isolated islands and fishing communities.

They found a people in desperate need, almost totally unreached by the gospel.

Poverty conditions have caused hundreds of Mapuches to migrate to cities in search of better lives. Yet unemployment is rampant there, and many end up homeless, turning to drugs or prostitution to feed themselves.

CEM missionaries take practical action to share the love of Christ with the Mapuches. In both rural villages and major cities, they provide food, clothing and medical supplies to the poorest tribal people and children.

So far seven churches comprising over 500 believers have been planted in Mapuche tribal communities. CEM trains believers to reach their own people.

With additional help sent through Christian Aid, they could do so much more.

A missionary with CEM can be supported with $60 per month.

A needy Mapuche child can have his or her basic needs met with gifts of $25 per month.

Those who sponsor a missionary or child will receive the name, photo and brief description of the person. One hundred percent of designated funds go to the ministry.

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