Engaging the Unreached through Firewood

What do cutting wood and church planting have in common? Apparently, more than I even dreamed.  We work with the Mapuche people in Southern Chile.  Many of them live in the rural areas off muddy roads that wind through the mountainous countryside.  They are a people group that has been marginalized by society.  Their land was aggressively taken from them, and then they were assigned small plots of land that are scattered over less than desirable areas.  They don’t live in villages but in remote clusters of 2 or 3 meager houses.  The winter months are long, cold and wet. Inefficient wood stoves allow for cooking and heating the humble, wooden homes.


We enter a new community through the introduction of a friend or family member.  The people are not overly trusting of outsiders.  The Mapuche word for foreigner is “Winka” which means thief…that doesn’t instill a lot of trust.  So trust must be built.  We talk about crops, family and health.  We learn from them about their culture and needs.

One such need is often the need for firewood to make it through the long, wet winter.  We want to show the love of God and to gain trust so often we cut and chop wood.  We often find elderly people or widows who don’t have the strength for such work.  If there is a “man of the house”, we find time to cut the wood together.  It is an effective way of connecting with them. Men often don’t talk much, and trust is gained through a simple act of hard work.

Later, we gather at the table to share bread and maybe a bowl of hot soup. The meal is simple but the table is set with the best they have to offer.  We eat and laugh.  Then the mate cup is pulled out with the metal straw.  This cup of hot herbal tea will be passed around the room to each individual. Each person drinks while the rest enjoy the conversation.

In time, we can turn to deeper matters of the heart and how Christ has effected our lives. Often they are very open to prayer for their health, crops and animals and allow us to share the Gospel with them.  After several visits we may be able to start a Bible study where we can teach them to study God’s word for themselves.


This life on life evangelism is very different from the “one week campaign” method which is commonly used in Chile.  We find most church leaders unsure and resistant to this new strategy.  Unfortunately, traditions are hard to break.  It appears the “one week campaigns” were successful in the past, but Mapuche society has changed and a more personal strategy is required.  We discussed how to change the method of sharing the gospel without changing the message.  “Unreached” or “Unengaged” people are not reached with the gospel because they are difficult to reach.

We began to think outside of the box.  Firewood was a need, cutting wood was something we could do.  A bridge was made, a door opened.  At one such opportunity, a man arrived at the home of his parents and found our team cutting wood.  A little frustrated, he asked, “How much is this going to cost?”  We responded, “Nothing. We want to show God’s love.”  He began to cry. “Never has the church shown us God’s love in such a practical way.  Usually, they tell us how bad we are; that we are sinners.”  Too often the church fails to humble themselves to serve and learn.


God is moving in the muddy back roads of Chile.  Leaders are catching the vision to serve, to listen and then share the good news of Jesus.  People
are responding.  Some that would never attend a church are opening their DSC_6115homes with their neighbors to study God’s word.  Just like splitting wood, it
takes time.  Sometimes your axe gets stuck, and you need to try again in another area.  But at the end, the wood is cut, and the home is prepared for the long winter ahead.

We have faced obstacles and have had to readjust and restart in new areas.  Firewood is being chopped, but much more importantly leaders are being equipped and lives are being transformed with the Gospel of Jesus.

By: Ruthanne Lynch, Serving in Chile