Republic of Chile
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Stretching 4,350 km (2,700 miles) along South America’s Pacific coast Chile reaches from Peru in the north to Cape Horn in the south. Never wider than 180 km (110 miles), Chile lies between the Andes and the sea. Chile covers an area of more than 750,000 sq km (nearly 300,000 sq miles) with a population of over 15 million people. Early inhabitants of the area were Araucanian Indians. In the fifteenth century Incas tried to subjugate the population but failed. In the sixteenth century the Spanish, however, succeeded where the Inca failed. They established mining centers, particularly for the extraction of copper. By the nineteenth century the export of nitrate for fertilizer helped boost the economy as did the inception of export of fruits and vegetables to California, Australia and elsewhere. Chile is one of the most economically progressive of the South American democracies but that was not always the case in the twentieth century. By 1970 President Allende nationalized the copper industry and other major industries. As a result inflation reached 850% by 1973. General Pinochet staged a coup and ruled Chile for much of the next two decades. Though many dissidents “disappeared” during this time economic liberalism and privatization were restored. Democracy was restored in general elections in 1989. Today the Republic is governed by two legislative bodies known as the High Assembly and the Chamber of Deputies.
Chile continues to be the world’s leading supplier of copper and the high cost of copper has contributed significantly to the nation’s economic health. Along with the fruits and vegetables mentioned earlier wine is an important Chilean export.
As expected from a country dominated by Spain in earlier centuries Roman Catholicism is the predominant religious force with nearly 90% of the population adhering to the Catholic faith and traditions. In 1925 a new constitution disenfranchised the Church allowing for more religious expression. Since that time Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, including the Methodist Pentecostal Church, have flourished.
It appears that the earliest traces of Stone-Campbell Movement mission activity in Chile came about beginning in 1949 when American Bertrand Smith and his family arrived in Valparaiso harbor on July 10 of that year. For several years Bertrand had had a desire to build a ministry to the people of South America and thus began language study with the intent of going to Columbia. However, he found after making an exploratory trip that evangelical Christians were then suffering “fanatical persecution” at the hands of Roman Catholics in Columbia. However, in Chile they found a quiet revolution taking place as many began to embrace Protestant sects. Within two months of arrival the Smiths had become acquainted with their new surroundings and had begun to lay the ground work for future missionary endeavors. Public services were first held on September 14 with thirty people in attendance. Enrique Santamaria was the first Chilean convert; he was baptized on October 3, 1949. A stable location for the congregation was secured in 1952 that gave some permanency to the work. In the first several years nearly forty converts were made and the Smiths helped establish a second congregation at Limache; however it was later disbanded. Vacation Bible School and radio ministry proved to be effective tools early in the work in Chile. Later the Smiths began to produce a small paper with bible stories, doctrinal articles and news. Being the only missionaries on the field at the time the Smiths began a home-study plan to substitute for more formal ministerial training, in order to equip local Chileans to assume leadership in the church. By 1960 one of those leaders was able to direct a Bible study in Belloto with Smith holding a preaching service on Fridays. Several other preaching points and congregations were established by Bertrand Smith with the aid of local leaders, such as Esperanza, Villa Alemana, Vina del Mar, Calama and others. In this era younger couples would occasionally join the Smiths on the field, usually going to the north or the south. In the late twentieth century there were as many as 16 missionary families from the US serving in Chile.
In the 1970s, after two decades of Pinochet’s military rule missionary efforts were finally aimed at Santiago, the capital. Craig and Shirley Woolsey are an example of one American couple who went to Santiago and have remained for decades. Out of a series of Bible studies, discussions and personal contacts Metropolitan Church of Christ was launched in October of 1981. By 1998 the church had grown to about 300 people with many coming from the outlying suburbs to attend. Chilean Sergio Diaz attended school at Colegio Biblico in Eagle Pass, Texas and then returned to Chile to minister with Metropolitan.
Another Chilean, Victor Sepulveda, came to understand the simple New Testament Gospel on his own and established a “Church of Christ” in San Carlos. He later came into contact with the Stone-Campbell Movement and later aligned with the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. In addition to having one of the finest buildings of Churches of Christ in Chile the San Carlos Church also sponsors The Tree of Life Elementary School that in 1999 had an attendance of 500.
Indianapolis, Indiana-based missionary organization Christian Missionary Fellowship also has work in Chile. The first CMF missionaries in Chile initially teamed with other missionaries and national ministers in church-planting in the suburbs of Santiago. From those beginnings, established churches were strengthened, new churches were planted, an institute for leadership training founded, and missionary outreach to other Spanish-speaking countries begun and expanded. Churches also have been planted in Ecuador, Peru (see Peru profile), and southern Chile. The churches around Santiago also provide children’s ministries, medical clinics, radio programs, and much-needed schools for this area of explosive growth.
In 1996, a CMF family moved south to Concepción to begin a new church-planting thrust among the middle and upper middle class in the community of Villa San Pedro. During summer 2000, missionaries began outreach among the urban poor of Concepción in Boca Sur. In 2002, they were able to purchase a building from which to conduct children’s programs (Sunday School, youth group, VBS), Bible studies, a women’s group, and worship services. In fall 2002, campus missionaries arrived on the field to start a Globalscope campus ministry to the universities in Santiago, Chile’s capital.
According to Mac Lynn’s Churches of Christ Around the World the second oldest a cappella Church of Christ in South America was begun with the arrival of Evert Pickartz of Ozark, Arkansas in 1958 following a four-month missionary journey to Santiago. From Santiago, missionaries prepared by Pickartz have gone to establish Churches of Christ in all Spanish-speaking countries on the continent. Pickartz lived in Santiago for ten years, establishing the Domeyko congregation.
In 1967 Gary Lutes and Jack Speer began a church in Santa Rosa that in five years grew to have an attendance of 200 before a Pentecostal influence divided the church resulting in the beginning of a separate congregation in Sebastopol by Gary Lutes.
In the years that followed several Americans from the a cappella Churches of Christ served as missionaries in Chile as both long-term and short-term workers. Thomas Hook led an evangelistic group to Santiago in the 1970s. Ron Roberts and Don Henson also worked in Santiago for several years in the 1980s, leaving in 1989. Several American congregations, predominantly in Texas, sponsor the work in Chile, including the Golf Course Road church in Midland (see website for their work in Chile at: http://www.gcrcc.org/110221.ihtml)
In 1989 there were an estimated 25 a cappella Churches of Christ congregations with about 550 members, mainly centered in and around Santiago. By 2000 that number had risen to 35 congregations with approximately 800 members with perhaps 14 missionaries serving in Chile. The Center for Christian Studies located in Santiago serves as educational institute and resource center for Churches of Christ in Chile.
The initial involvement of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Chile came about in 1983 and is largely directed through the Pentecostal Church of Chile (IPC), providing financial support and occasionally the placement of Common Ministry personnel. The Ohio Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gave a significant gift to purchase 250 acres of land near the community of Vilches for the development of the Shalom Conference Center. U.S. Disciples have also provided financial support for Ecumenical Center “Diego de Medelin,” Evangelical Theological Community, Foundation of Social Assistance of Christian Churches and other ministries. Through relationships with Disciples in Paraguay several Chilean youths over the last few years have had the opportunity to attend the Leadership Training Course at the Jack Norment Camp in Caacupe, Paraguay. Among the American personnel who have served in Chile are the Revs. George and Jane Sullivan-Davis and Elena Huegel.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
For further historical reference:
Churches of Christ Around the World, Lynn, Mac, 21st Century Christian Publications, Nashville, TN, 2003.
The Church Abroad, Lora Banks Harrison, Southern Christian Press, San Antonio, TX, (USA), 1960 (second addition).
Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1101 19th Avenue, South, Nashville, TN 37212-2112 (USA)
Telephone: (615) 327-1444
Website: www.discipleshistory.org (provides links to other historical sites and databases).
Online catalog: ALEX
For online directories of a cappella Churches of Christ see:
For a list of many Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (in the United States) missionaries/ministries see:
Mission Services Association
7545 Hodges Ferry Road, Knoxville, TN (USA) 37920
Telephone: 1 (800) 655-8524
Fax: 1 (865) 573-5950