Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Chile: Branch Office and Disaster Relief Work

The following is info about the Branch Office in Chile and experiences about coordinating relief efforts during previous natural disasters there.

(Chile Branch Office -pg 367, JW Proclaimers)

By 1919, Watch Tower literature had reached Chile. The preaching supervised by this office now extends from windblown sheep ranches in the south to remote mining camps in the north, from the Andes Mountains to the ocean.

According to the 2009 Service Report there are 70,473 publishers in 827 congregations, and the Memorial attendance was 171,544

Branch Office in Chile (pg 7, 7/1/87 Watchtower)
While the first branch office in Chile was established in 1945, a new, larger branch building was constructed in 1970, when the number of Kingdom proclaimers had reached 7,000. In the next ten years, increased enlightenment from God’s Word touched many responsive hearts. By the early 1980’s further expansion of the branch office was urgently needed.

Thus, in September 1982 a 17.5-acre (7 ha) piece of land on the outskirts of Santiago was purchased. And after much preliminary work, excavation began by June 1984.
It was heartwarming to see how the Chilean brothers, young and old, supported the project by their generous contributions. Thousands of others donated their time and talents. Some with technical training helped with the engineering. Others worked in carpentry, welding, curtain making, and landscaping, or offered plain labor of love by pulling weeds, pushing wheelbarrows, and digging ditches. Indeed, the progressive light of God’s Word has touched the hearts of his people and moved them to offer themselves willingly.—Psalm 110:3.

The unity and willingness did not escape the notice of outsiders. Many salesmen and even university students and professors came to the construction site to observe and to learn. One builder wanted to hire the entire concrete crew to help with a supermarket he was building. A salesman commented on how different the work crew was—no swearing, no loitering. When being told that all were Jehovah’s Witnesses and were there as volunteers, he responded: “One would not see this in any other place. You people are of another world.”

Finally, in August 1986 the Chilean branch staff moved into the new building in Puente Alto. And on October 25, with A. D. Schroeder of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses present, an enthusiastic crowd of 933 voiced their wholehearted support in dedicating the new buildings to Jehovah’s service. The next day, a special event was held at a nearby stadium, and 18,012 added their to the resolution.

Relief Work During Natural Disasters
(pg 25, 12/1/89 Watchtower)
On the whole, Jehovah’s Witnesses today have met tests of their brotherly love in an outstanding way. For example, on March 3, 1985, an earthquake struck Santiago, Chile. Hundreds of brothers lost their homes and possessions. Immediately, congregations organized relief efforts. “Within hours,” report the brothers, “some began arriving with food, clothing, blankets and other useful items.” Contributions also came in from around the world. Similar events have occurred numerous times over the years.

Love Toward Those ‘Related in the Faith’
(pgs 8-9, 6/15/99 Watchtower)
Genuine Christians have a familylike bond among themselves. Indeed, since the first century C.E., they have referred to one another as “brother” and “sister.” (Mark 3:31-35; Philemon 1, 2) These are not just words; they constitute a description of how worshipers of God feel about one another. (Compare 1 John 4:7, 8.) Jesus said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”—John 13:35.

Such love was evident in July 1997 when a prolonged drought was followed by torrential rains and flooding in Chile. Suddenly, many were in need of food, clothing, and other items. In disaster situations, Jehovah’s Witnesses strive to follow Paul’s admonition to the Galatians: “Really, then, as long as we have time favorable for it, let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.”—Galatians 6:10.

Hence, Jehovah’s Witnesses quickly organized themselves to respond. Food, clothing, and the like were collected, sorted, packed, and then shipped to the disaster area. Children even donated toys! One sister was amazed when she saw the Kingdom Hall filled with relief supplies. “I stood dumbfounded, not knowing whether to laugh or to cry,” she says. “It was just what we needed.”

Then, unexpectedly, an earthquake struck a portion of the same area affected by the flooding. Many homes were demolished. To meet the need, more relief committees were formed. Regional Building Committees, which normally handle the construction of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ meeting facilities, pitched in and gave their support. The result? Modest houses—designed and built by the brothers—were donated to those who lost their homes. While these homes were not elaborate, they stood in stark contrast with the ones provided on a loan basis by secular relief efforts and which were without floors and windows and were unpainted.

Some brothers traveled long distances to help out. The chairman of one Regional Building Committee made an extensive tour on two consecutive days—despite being confined to a wheelchair. A blind brother worked arduously, carrying beams to the carpenter who cut them to the desired size. A deaf brother collected the beams and delivered them to where they were needed.

Many observers were impressed with the assistance provided by the brothers. In one town a police vehicle was parked near a sister’s house that was being repaired. The policemen were curious. One asked a brother: “Who are these workers who seem to be so happy, and how much are they getting paid?” The brother explained that they were all volunteers. One of the officers explained that he paid a monthly tithe to his church, yet his pastor had not even visited him since the earthquake! The next day the sister received a phone call from a police official. He too had observed the workers. He said that he was so impressed by the enthusiastic spirit of the workers that he was tempted to join in!

Truly, the relief effort in Chile was a joyful experience for the volunteers and an excellent witness to observers.