‘They’re very close to God’
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The stories aren’t nearly as chilling as…
SANTIAGO, Chile — Dogs in sweaters. I have never seen as many dogs wearing sweaters as I saw in this South American capital.
And it wasn’t just, y’know, uppity dogs. There were some distinctly blue-collar mutts adorned in bright blue getups … and matching blue collars. Even the quiltros (an indigenous Mapuche word that’s come to mean “strays”) get sweaters here. The city’s warm-hearted souls knit them so that no canine goes un-cardiganed.
I wasn’t in Chile just to admire dog sweaters. I came to report on the Venezuelan diaspora in the wake of that country’s economic crisis.
Venezuela has some of the biggest and strongest Churches of Christ on the continent, and the crisis is sending many of the country’s best and brightest church members to Colombia, Argentina, Chile and beyond. The Venezuelans bring with them their zeal for the Lord, and they’re strengthening churches across the continent.
It’s a real “what you intended against me for evil, God intended for good” kind of story.
I have Kelley Grant to thank for pitching me the idea. He’s a former missionary to Santiago who now serves as executive director of Great Cities Missions, a nonprofit dedicated to establishing a “main avenue” church in every major city of the Latin world.
I’m equally grateful to Jonathan Hanegan, a former missionary to Venezuela, who now works with a mission team in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He knows just about every Church of Christ member on the continent, it seems, and he agreed to travel with me, set up interviews and translate.
We were moved by the stories we heard from our Venezuelan and Chilean brothers and sisters. We also enjoyed Sunday worship with the Providencia and Los Nogales congregations. At Providencia I struck up a conversation with Ruby Gonzales, who spoke perfect English. A native Chilean, she grew up in the Church of Christ but wasn’t baptized until she moved to Australia and studied the Bible with missionary Tony Keesee.
I grinned and told her that I had stayed with Tony’s son and daughter-in-law, Kyle and Carley Keesee, while they were missionary apprentices in Australia. Small world.
Jonathan and I parted ways the next day as we headed to our respective countries. I took an Uber to the airport, and the driver insisted that I sit in the front seat. Seemed weird.
Uber “no es legal” at the airport, he told me. So, as he drove, he insisted we practice each other’s names multiple times. If anyone asked, we were just two amigos and he was being a mensch by giving me a ride to the airport. (Forgive me for mixing Spanish and Yiddish there.)
I won’t mention my driver’s name, by the way, lest he run afoul of the airport police. When he dropped me off, I gave him a hug, really trying to sell the whole “amigos” thing. From his reaction, I could tell I crossed a line. There was no warmth there.
I felt like a dog in need of a sweater.
ERIK TRYGGESTAD is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @eriktryggestad.
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