Chile: Project Longaví - or - The First Gringo

Posted by djaspersen on Thursday, October 16, 2014 Under: Chile

KW Editor's Note:  Seth Hansen has been a volunteer in Chile since July 2014. He and his fellow volunteers are serving, sharing the gospel and teaching English in Linares, Chile and the surrounding communities.

It’s been done all over the planet. English as a Second Language classes open doors for community outreach, providing an innovative free-market twist to 21st century evangelism. Asia in particular has had success with this work.

But how does this approach function in South America? The new partnership between Kingdom Workers and Longaví, Chile aims to take that winning ESL strategy and apply it on the southern edges of the confessional Lutheran world. I call it Project Longaví. A Kindergarten class at Los Cristales, Logaví. They are learning colors and how to say "auto" in English. It's adorable and satisfying to hear them already using the vocabulary in the parking lot. Third-grade classroom at Los Cristales. Luckily, these kids didn't judge my off-key rendition of the Months in English too harshly.

My name is Seth Hansen. I am from Michigan and am just an average millennial with a pretty great job— helping out with the mission work of Unidos por la Fe Lutheran Church in Linares, Chile. Translated to “United by Faith” in English, this group of hardy Lutherans currently runs the southernmost congregation in the entire CELC family. We are the last outpost out of thousands of churches around the world! Pretty exciting, right?

As an outreach of that frontier mission, I recently began teaching at impoverished public schools in the nearby comuna (think “county”) of Longaví this past August. My colleague Arron Landgraff began teaching in the town of Longaví itself in April, as well as in the neighboring communities of La Sexta and La Tercera. (He is also teaching private classes in Linares, providing an in-demand service and raising the church’s profile in two comunas at once.)

The idea is rather simple: Arron and I are training local educators how to teach English. We help with pronunciation, grammar and drawing up lesson plans to teach children K-8 the fundamentals of English. We help both in the classroom and out, with our experienced colleague Chelsea running a training workshop on Wednesdays for some of the local English educators. It seems that one can’t get away from Lutherans in Longaví these days!

The government of Longaví and most school officials I talk to are very grateful for this partnership with Kingdom Workers. Rural Chile often has a hard time attracting native English speakers; salaries tend to be low here, and the cost of living is high for Latin America. The Lord is using Project Longaví to give opportunities to many at-risk kids who otherwise may have never had the chance to learn English from a native speaker. This makes the two Michigan boys teaching in their schools a point of pride for the area.

Longaví is getting a jump on what will soon be a mandatory requirement: within the next 2 years, Chilean schools will be mandated to teach English starting in Kindergarten. Chelsea, Arron and I are helping these teachers prepare and become a stellar example of a public school English program. If it keeps going well, the Kingdom Workers program could easily spread to neighboring comunas in and around Linares.

So how does any of this help with mission work?  

Simple: Grace and Novelty.

We step into these towns and become anything but average 20-somethings. I am the first native English speaker, the first American and likely the first Lutheran to ever teach at the public schools in the little towns of La Quinta and Los Cristales. The first gringo in a town’s entire history…how fast can you say “instant attention”?  At this point, every kid in La Quinta knows Tío Seth and his black windbreaker on sight. They also know the telltale Luther Rose attached to his backpack…

La Quinta: school serving a rural area about 40 minutes away from Linares. Might as well be on the moon - except for the smartphones and One Direction stickers.

So what’s this like?

Terrifying. Exciting. Life-Changing.

Most of these kids have never even heard of Lutherans before. Seriously. Some of the faculty haven’t either. Most of my students and co-teachers have never met an American before. Ever.  

They mostly want to know why I’m here, and after I say, “to teach English,” it’s easy to name-drop the Iglesia Luterana in Linares. In a short time here, God has given me the chance to have dozens of conversations about who we are and the hope that we have as Christians. The message of grace is something so simple and elegant, yet it astounds in a nation where many folks don’t really dig into their Bibles much. Explaining the Luther Seal on my backpack often leaves kids and adults alike wanting to know more. Unidos por la Fe Iglesia Cristiana Luterana: The Southern Cross in the CELC galaxy.

Most of the faculty members we chat with actually live in Linares and commute south each morning. Thus, name recognition for Luteranos and the church here has definitely spiked in both Linares and Longaví due to The Project. When 8th graders are asking me how to spell “Lutheran” so they can Google it in English, I know I’m doing two things right.

In conclusion, Project Longaví is just beginning and already the opportunities here are abundant in the shadow of the Andes. The work continues in earnest at the chilly Chilean edge of the CELC. Kingdom Workers hopes to keep to keep the project going into the future. From Sept. 1 -  Dec. 1, 2014, donations to the Kingdom Workers Chilean Mission Projects will be matched dollar for dollar: kingdomworkers.myetap.org/fundraiser/chilemissionprojects/

There are plans to decorate the property wall at Unidos por la Fe with a superb Bible verse (Ephesians 2:8, thanks to a congregational vote on a great suggestion by future pastor Paul Bourman). Also in the works are plans for a steeple and a larger sanctuary—right now some Sundays see the building close to bursting with attendees! As the congregation gets ready for these major building renovations, and the English programs march on, we ask that you keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

May the Lord bless the work here and bring His light unto the ends of the earth.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God,” – Ephesians 2:8


In : Chile 

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