Neil and Jenny Stewart are working for a local church, Iglesia Biblica Independiente, in Santiago, Chile.
Since arriving, they have set up a number of groups linked to the church, aiming to provide services for the community and also increase the presence of the church. Here is a review after six months of service.
Since getting into a full flow of our projects for the community, it has been amazing to see the impact things are already making on the people in the community but also on the church.
The homework club on Tuesdays (for kids under 12) and Thursdays (for kids aged 12-18) has gathered a handful of children from the community. On a Tuesday we have a list of around ten kids. It seems that levels of education are lower than what we expected so being able to help has been great. We have also been able to make connections with the parents and support them with their kids.
For the older kids, we have had three from the community and a couple from the church congregation as well. This is something we have wanted to enable interaction between them. It’s been more one-on-one with the older ones, helping them with Maths and English. We have discovered a couple of fantastic 16-year-olds with nearly perfect English who just want to practise with us crazy Northern Irish native speakers.
Conversation club has been a real hit, with nearly 25 regulars every week. It’s quickly turning into a mini-English school in the church. We have four groups of different levels, with two/three other people from the church who have great English teaching too.
What’s special about this school is that we aren’t only teaching them English, but genuinely wanting to get to know these people on a personal basis. Having small groups and time for tea and coffee afterwards has really helped to build these relationships and already we are getting invited to neighbours of food and cups of coffee!
Calle Cafetería is our street café that we run every Tuesday evening in the street outside the church. This has been a great success too, with many people who are just passing by on their way to work, stopping for a nice warm cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate and we have also had a go at some ‘sopaipillas’, a Chilean-type of bread for frying. They are delicious (though extremely unhealthy) and are a great hit when people can eat them for free on their way home after a busy day!
We have had some fantastic conversations with some regular neighbours who come for a cuppa, and they ask us why we’re doing this and tell us what an impact all the work we are doing is having on the community
As well as running the community projects we have been helping with kids clubs on a Saturday, one for the community in the plaza near the church and another Bible group for teenagers. We have helped the leaders when they have needed extra support as well as run a short training session every week to help them with things such as team work and communication skills. They have done some fantastic work here with the kids and it’s great to be a part of it.
Our mums-and-babies group has been a little slow to start with. We have a handful of mums spread out over the weeks with a number of weeks with none, but we have realised that the culture differences have affected this. We have discovered, firstly, that many mums in this area work during the week so Tuesday mornings are difficult. Also, the mornings now are a lot colder and there is no central heating here, only electric heaters, so 10am in the morning seems to be the time for trying to heat the house up a little, making you not want to leave once it’s finally a little warmer! Bedtime and daily routines for babies also seem less rigid so they may only be waking up at this time in the morning.
For all these reasons and thoughts, we will be trying to run the group on a Saturday morning at 11am to see if this makes a difference for the mums here and whether it’s something that can support them.
The church also has a group for 20-30-year-olds which at the moment meets every other Friday night to have some fellowship and study the Bible a little together. We are extremely excited to start mentoring some of the young people here as well as plan a Bible study which we will run, dividing the large group into small groups. These groups will start in June and we will be studying the book of Luke.
The idea of the groups is to share more openly with each other and discuss what God is doing in each other’s lives, sharing struggles and joys and time to pray together. We will also be meeting one on one with as many as possible to support them and get to know the young people better.