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From the flames

A mission opportunity awaits in wildfire-ravaged Chile

A man who lost his house to a wildfire in Villa Independencia, Valparaiso region, Chile on February 4 Getty Images/Photo by Javier Torres/AFP

From the flames

More than a hundred wildfires devastated a wide swath of south-central Chile in early February. Within one week, the remaining flames were safely contained, leaving thousands of survivors to rebuild their lives from the rubble. Over 131 people have been confirmed dead with 300 more missing.

Relief workers are finding an opportunity for one-on-one mission work with locals who are in shock as the adrenaline phase passes.

Diego Traverso directs international disaster relief for Operation Blessing—a ministry founded by broadcaster Pat Robertson and affiliated with the Christian Broadcast Network. Traverso’s team has distributed aid from what he calls “ground zero” of the fire’s devastation for nearly two weeks. “All around us,” Traverso said, “whatever you see in 360 [degrees] from where we are is fully burnt.”

Traverso said the death toll is increasing daily, as people continue sifting through the ashes. The fires started in what Traverso called “the perfect storm:” intense drought worsened by a warming El Niño weather system. “People were not able to escape because it was too fast,” he said.

Operation Blessing has partnered with another ministry, Youth With A Mission, to run a food truck, providing around 400 meals a day for locals. Traverso is also running a soup kitchen with Vineyard Church, producing another 500 meals every day. Sibaros, a local brewery, has also switched from canning beers to canning fresh water for disaster victims. “As of today, we’ve distributed over 15,000 cans of water,” Traverso said. “The beer company is actually joking around, saying ‘Oh, we might stop our business and just do water because it’s selling better.’” Medical volunteers are running a door-to-door clinic, treating people for burns and other injuries from the fires.

Teams have begun construction on 10 homes for members of a local church and are working on rebuilding small businesses. But Traverso said the most important service volunteers provide is simply listening to the survivors. “They just want to talk and kind of go through this trauma they experienced,” he explained. “We've been able to pray for a lot of people and sit with them and listen to them mainly, which has been super powerful.”

It’s during conversations like these that Traverso and his team share the gospel with locals. “It’s not about distributing 15,000 liters or cans of water or producing 1,000 meals a day,” he tells volunteers. “Take the time to go one-to-one. Listen to the people, sit with them, eat with them. … This is an opportunity.”

Traverso requests prayers for families who experienced loss from the fire, as well as for strength in volunteer relief workers.

Christina Grube

Christina Grube is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

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