Fighting the fires
LU Send Now Team constructs two homes in Chile
LU Send Now sent a team of eight students and two leaders to Constitucion, Chile from March 25 to April 2 to build two prefabricated houses for families who lost their homes in the January and February wildfires.
NPR reported the wildfire as the worst in Chile’s history resulting in 2,300 million square miles being burned, which is nearly equivalent to the size
In January, more than 40 people were detained for being suspected of arson, but an article from BBC concluded some fires were started by arson and some by accident.
Many families in Chile are now without homes and jobs as lumber was the area’s primary industry, according to Vince Valeriano, the LU Send Now participant coordinator.
The two families LU Send Now helped were both in need of help in addition to government aid, Valeriano said.
One of the families was going to have their special needs children taken away by government authorities due to lack of space in the new house being built for them.
The other family had not been provided enough resources to rebuild their house that burned down only a week after the dad finished building it himself.
The entire face of this region of Chile was changed by the fires.
Mountains that had once been green were now charred and barren, junkyards were filled with new cars that had been burned and become useless overnight, and the only remaining evidence of the buildings that had once stood there were black squares branded into the ground.
Serving in Chile in this context was a unique opportunity because LU Send Now has never responded to a wildfire before, according to Morgan Ulmer, the LU Send Now logistics coordinator.
“In floods and tornadoes you see everything, but it’s all ruined and you see it as you grieve it,” Ulmer said.
“We’ve always done clean up, we’ve never done rebuilding, but there’s nothing to clean up after a wildfire. There’s nothing to say goodbye to because it’s all been taken.”
Valeriano said they nailed floorboards, put up the prefabricated panels, painted and dug trenches among other tasks.
Paige Dickerhoof, a junior business project management student who went on the trip, said this work is a way to provide for the physical needs, but the main reason she joined LU Send Now was to participate in the service of sharing the Bible.
“To see the work of the Lord in the midst of heartbreak and devastation and the hope the Lord can offer will blow your mind,” Dickerhoof said.
Brooks Weygandt, a senior health promotions student, said this devastation results in darkness, but being in darkness makes it easier to find the light.
People are more willing to listen, Weygandt said, because tragedy can take away what people lean on for purpose and hope.
“They are left in the wake with nothing, realizing that what they had trusted in was temporary and falters,” Weygandt said.
“This can open them up to the gospel. There’s no secret formula. It’s just treating others how Jesus would treat them.”
Living out this service in a foreign context did come with challenges throughout the week.
However, as opposed to getting discouraged, Weygandt said the obstacles brought the group closer together.
“Having a common goal and coming around that goal showed what a kingdom-minded community can look like,” Weygandt said.
“Since we had the same goal, love for God and desire to show that love, we became super close friends and kind of like family.”
This type of unity is a common occurrence on service trips, Ulmer said.
Ulmer said this intense fellowship should not be limited to week-long service trips because this experience is a glimpse of how God created Christians to live in community.
“That’s why it feels so good and why you love the people immediately because the Lord created us to live not as a church as an institution but the church as a body of believers,” Ulmer said.
“He created us to serve him and communities. That’s what they’re experiencing — the fullness of joy when you’re living in obedience.”
Valeriano said Christian hospitality was also demonstrated toward the group by a local Chilean church the group interacted with throughout the week.
“We had different cultures and were from different places, but because we have Christ, that unifies us and we were able to work together,” Valeriano said.
“There was a tangible love that unified us and that was because we are family.”
Churches and all of Chile will need to continue to support one another as the area has a long road of recovery ahead, with an estimated 15 to 18 years needed for enough trees to fully grow back and support the lumber industry again, Valeriano said.
PRICE is a news reporter.