Chile Congregations Reaching Out to Help Neighbors

TOMÉ, CHILE (March 18, 2010) – Two Covenant Church of Chile congregations are helping provide their communities and others with education, trauma counseling, food and water as the country struggles to help its citizens following the February 27 earthquake.

“While there are many services being carried out by Chilean government agencies, large numbers of people are ‘falling through the slots,’ and many do not know how to avail themselves of aid,” writes David Mark, the Evangelical Covenant Church Department of World Mission regional coordinator for Latin America. Although no one from Covenant churches was killed, many of their homes were destroyed or heavily damaged.

The 8.8-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck Chile last month killed 700 people and caused damage estimated at nearly $30 billion, according to the government.

“The worst effects were not the direct result of the quake, but of the tsunamis that it produced,” says Mark, who has been in contact with Luciano Silva, pastor of the church in Tomé. “In one town near the location of one of the Covenant churches, over 800 homes were destroyed by the flooding. While homes will eventually be rebuilt, progress is slow and the cold winter months (summer in the U.S.) is not far away.”

Patty Shepherd of the Department of World Mission said Chile churches decided that despite their own needs, other people suffered even worse consequences, and helping them was considered more important than focusing on their own concerns.

The Concepción church is partnering with a government-sponsored home for some 117 children by providing post-trauma counseling along with spiritual, emotional and educational support, Mark says. Seminars and post-traumatic counseling programs developed by the church are being offered throughout the region.

The educational support is necessary because many schools were destroyed, Mark says. The church will offer classes for elementary and secondary children in several subjects over the next six months to a year, or until schools are rebuilt and functioning.

Temporary classrooms – one of them a large tent – that are being set up by Covenant churches also are enabling the government to distribute food, Mark says. Authorities had planned to use schools to get the aid to affected people, but that was not possible in areas where buildings were destroyed. The government has officially “recognized” these classes and allows their food sources to be distributed to them.

The top photo shows one of many volunteers helping construct towers associated with wells and new water supplies, while residents are seen receiving food supplies (center photo) and organizing their lives around tent living (lower photo). See additional photos here.

The Tomé church is working in conjunction with the government in more direct relief programs, particularly focusing on food, water and clothing distribution, as well as constructing shelters and temporary schoolrooms. “The government has given them authorization and passes to work in the most severely affected areas, and they have responded with nearly around-the-clock services,” Mark says.

The government instituted a plan to deliver safe water in the area around Tomé, Mark says. They have dug wells and put in piping and large water distribution infrastructure. But the government has not been able to build or connect the larger structure to toilets or shower facilities, so they have given much of that task to the Tomé church, which offered to complete the projects.

The ground continues to rattle nerves and worsen existing damage. A magnitude 6.7 aftershock struck south-central Chile Monday night. A 7.2 quake struck last week.

A new Covenant relief fund has been created to assist residents of Chile who were devastated by the recent earthquake. Some funds already have been sent to assist the Covenant churches in their relief work.

To donate online to the new Chile Relief Fund, click here. To donate by check, make gifts payable to the Evangelical Covenant Church, designate the gift for the Chile Relief Fund, and mail the check to the Evangelical Covenant Church, 5101 N. Francisco Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60625.

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