'Suffering makes us equal': Disaster, spiritual relief in Chile

Chile, South America Region

Chile faces frequent natural disasters because of seismic and volcanic activity. These include earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and mega-fires.

In 2010, a violent earthquake triggered several tsunamis, and in 2014 the country experienced a string of more than 300 earthquakes in one week. In the past 30 days alone, the country has experienced 45 earthquakes of varying magnitude.

“Suffering makes us equal,” said Alessandro Polonio, holistic ministry coordinator for JESUS Film Harvest Partners in Chile. It is during those times the church has to manifest and express the love of God towards our brothers and sisters in the faith, but all people in general."

But retaining people’s attention after a disaster is a challenge.

“Many times a society will respond to a catastrophe, but two days later something bigger may come up and they will forget about the disaster," Polonio said. "One of the responsibilities of the church is to help at all times, not just when the news is big and when it first comes up. We need to be there during all of their suffering.”

The Chilean church is working with Nazarene Compassionate Ministries in collaboration with other ministries to provide relief during difficult times and “more than just giving temporary relief, we have a transformation message,” Polonio said.

After a disaster, there’s often no way to communicate via telephone or email, and travel to the disaster location is necessary. JESUS Film teams are often already in place across the country and are able to provide support through their equipment and access to the location where the disaster occurred, often via JFHP-funded motorbikes.

“JESUS Film teams’ motorcycles are able to help us reach those places in a fast way," Polonio said. "Even though the terrain of roads will be difficult to access due to earthquakes, motorcycles are able to get to where vehicles may not. That allows us to have firsthand information from people and also quickly coordinate help.”

Risk prevention, medical, and communications personnel collaborated alongside the Church of the Nazarene to develop disaster relief kits as a way to demonstrate the love of God in a time of disaster to Chileans.

The kits include items such as first aid supplies, a radio, a flashlight, and a blanket. Polonio said they also try and include a Bible in every kit in order to make spiritual aid available to people. Most recently, the kits were used in the early winter wildfire that decimated more than 300,000 acres of forest across the country.

Polonio said one of the kit's strengths is their adaptability. During the wildfire, they were able to pack the kits with burn treatment ointments and creams at the government’s request.

The church is able to connect care and resources with the people and area in need.

“We have a district coordinator; many times all churches in the country gather resources and send it to where the disaster is happening," Polonio said. "We always do it through the nearest local church because the vision is there would be follow-up."

The Chilean church has been living out what it means to bear one another’s burden. Polonio said the church can pray for Chile in several ways: receptivity to the message of Christ, wisdom in how to share the good news during a disaster, more workers, empathy, and protection for leaders.

His final request is “for more doors to open for the gospel.”

--JESUS Film Harvest Partners

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