Chile's Ninth Region – Araucania – is its poorest. It has the largest population of the Mapuche people of any region. Bishop Abelino Apeleo is a Mapuche and is assistant bishop of Chile. He also oversees the rural bible institute in Temuco, Araucania's capital. Here he sets out the challenges of training church leaders for some very remote communities.
There are around 40 Anglican churches in the Ninth Region of Chile. There is great diversity in socioeconomic and housing terms among the churches in general and they tend to be isolated from each other.
Every year the archdiocese of Araucanía sets itself the great challenge of training leaders for the current times. The objective is to strengthen pastoral care in these individual congregations which are usually at long distances from urban churches. Urban churches have not found it easy to offer such pastoral support.
We recognise that the stable churches which continue to grow are those with their own pastor, or at least with a trained leader. On the contrary, others are in danger of stagnation or even closure because they lack the support of pastoral care.
For this reason we run an annual training course and invite mature leaders with sufficient experience in their local churches to attend. Participants need to be settled in their own community and secular jobs, to inspire confidence and be respected in their roles. They are generally eventually ordained to the pastoral ministry.
It is a worry that many of our brothers who were appointed to the task of rural leaders over long periods of time are now elderly. Others, sadly, are insufficiently educated, making it more and more difficult for them to relate to the younger folk. As we carry out our training course for potential new leaders we are able to focus on in-depth training, which seeks to ensure future ordination.
How do we select candidates for training?
We visit churches throughout the year, looking out for faithful brothers with a desire to serve the Lord. It has never been easy because candidates are normally married and working to support their homes and families. So we must be able to ensure financial help for them, approximate to their current earnings, which would enable them to undertake full-time training.
Meet this year's students
José Luis Curamil is the student who travels furthest of the three. He is from Repocura, around 100km from Temuco. There is a bus from his community once a day, but it is difficult for him to get there from the height of the distant hills, a long way from the bus route. José Luis has taken on a great challenge, leaving his wife and children, and travelling home just once a week. He is staying in a rented apartment in Temuco.
Roberto Pichiñan is closer, at about 30km from Temuco, but equally he lives in a rural community where travel is slow, and has to travel daily with waterproof clothing as it rains a great deal at this time of the year, until the end of August. He also leaves behind his wife and children.
Omar Quinchaleo lives in another city around 30km from Temuco, and again travels every day. He has three children and needs to take care of their education and other needs .
All three have been leaders for several years in their respective churches and have been tested in their ministries. They do need a more systematic training in studying the Word of God. It is more than likely that at least some of them will be ordained in the medium term.
Classes are held Monday to Thursday, so that bus travel home can be coordinated. However, the four days are intense, and the students are regularly expected to work on demanding research projects set by each lecturer.
We thank the Lord that we have enough pastors studying varied subjects at the Institute, and can share pastoral experience, so that God’s call on each candidate can be tested.. It has been a most enriching experience for us, pastors and lecturers too, as we have got to know the candidates well and are able to encourage them in their calling.
The call in action: PRAY
- Each student has had to leave their family and their secular work, accepting the fact that their income will be lower than previously. Pray that wives and families will continue to offer faithful support.
- It has not been easy to find students willing to give up their jobs to study each year. We ask you to pray for new candidates to come forward for 2017.
- Raising financial resources to cover many bursaries and other expenses for the institute are among the challenges we face each year. Please pray that we will have the means to continue training more students.
- The life of the church in the rural sector continues to be a hard reality in aspects of life. Pastoral help is very scarce, and most churches are led by lay members. We trust that IBR (Rural Bible Institute) will be able to provide pastors. Please pray for more pastors to be raised up for ministry in the rural churches.
- The struggle of the indigenous people in the IX Region of Chile has always been a very complex topic in relation to government authorities. There have been instances of burnings of community buildings, heavy machinery and even Evangelical and Roman Catholic churches by the more violent protestors. Some Mapuches have taken part in violence and have accused the church of being ‘traitors’ to their people. We would ask for your prayers for Mapuche Christians who live very close to this situation.
Bishop Abelino is a local partner of Church Mission Society.