The 2019 demonstrations in Chile were the result of simmering resentment over decades of escalating inequality, rises in costs of living, increasing privatisation and corruption. Politicians enrich themselves and their business cronies while most Chileans increasingly struggle to make ends meet. The president (a billionaire) and the government struggle to revive the economy. It was the worst civil unrest since the repressive era under Pinochet (1973-1988). Chile’s reputation as a stable and prosperous Latin American nation has been deeply damaged, and the impact of Covid in 2020-2021 made the situation even worse. Pray for an end to the unrest and for sustainable solutions that bring economic progress for all.
Social changes in Chile reflect the shifts in life and belief in this traditionally conservative nation. Liberalization yields both positive and negative effects. Divorce was only recently legalized; before that, the number of marriages performed dropped by 45%, and 60% of children were born out of wedlock. One out of seven Chilean women is a mother by the age of 14. Crime, drug abuse and materialism are all on the rise. Many are disaffiliating themselves from traditional religious structures, with large numbers leaving both Catholicism and Pentecostalism. Pray that the positive aspects of traditional social structures would be affirmed and strengthened.
The Roman Catholic Church has recently declined in many ways:
- The perception of irrelevance. The more dynamic and fast-moving evangelical groups have seized initiative with programmes and ministry for and on behalf of the poor. The same can be said of the upper classes, drawn to the success mentality of Pentecostals.
- Major losses in affiliates. The explosive growth of Pentecostalism and the equally rapid increase of non-religious (or non-affiliated) sentiments have seen Catholicism decrease in just 20 years, from 82% of Chile's population to 62%. The majority of those remaining in the Church treat Catholicism as a traditional identity rather than a deliberate life of faith. Only 12-13% of Catholics regularly attend mass. Pray that Catholics may adapt to a new era. Pray for Bible reading and reform to take place on a much deeper level, so that many might find their faith renewed and discover the living Jesus.
Evangelicals face unprecedented opportunities as well as challenges. They are poised to exercise a pivotal role in Chilean society. The danger remains that goodwill and respect may be eroded by failures and squandered opportunities. Pray about these key issues:
- Nominalism and traditionalism. Long-term growth and consolidation have generated a more formal Pentecostalism that is often without spiritual gifts and true revival. Pentecostal nominalism is rife - less than half attend church weekly, and one-third do not attend regularly at all. Outdated leadership models and ministry patterns only enlarge the problem. Pray for a new Pentecost and revival amid these thousands of churches.
- Poor leadership development manifests itself through inadequate training, lazy theology, legalism and replacement of solid biblical exegesis with personal opinions and visions. Pray for TEE (SEAN, FLET) programmes and the various theological institutions addressing this widespread need, such as the National Bible Institute of Chile, with 1,000 students in the capital and throughout the regions. Interest in training for pastors and laity is thankfully increasing.
- Isolationism. Of the 18.4% of the population that are evangelical, almost 90% belong to indigenous groups that have reached many, but they do not work together locally and have no links with the global Church. This leaves the door open to theological error and abuse, and it stunts the potential for mission and ministry.
The upper strata of society have traditionally avoided evangelicalism, but this is changing. There is a notable shift toward identifying with non-Catholic Christianity. This is particularly true for denominations originating from outside Chile. Baptist groups, CMA, Anglicans (CMS), AoG, CoN, SIM and others have made some progress in planting churches among them. Pray for this group to experience the life-changing gospel in a dramatic way and for their influence to affect the nation for God's purposes.
The Chilean Church lacks missions vision. Its contribution for its size is very small, with little concern for world evangelization. The country's geographical and spiritual isolation and political upheaval all contribute to this deficiency. By setting up missions' training programmes, COMIBAM and locally based mission agencies (OM, YWAM, CMA, CENCAMI, SIM, WBT and others) have influenced the Latin American missions movement and stimulated some interest in missions.
Student witness needs strengthening in the 54 universities and colleges and among the 500,000 students. There are now 25 GBU(IFES) groups, up from 14 in 2000. Cru (16 full-time workers) has some impact in secondary schools and some universities. But Chile's evangelicals need to focus much more on reaching and discipling young people. Systemic inequalities and underinvestment in education prompted massive student demonstrations in 2006, which in turn forced government reforms. Pray for students to find their identity in Christ and not in the many other alternatives they face.
Christian radio and TV programmes are widely available, with more than 60 Christian radio stations. Radio's influence on the spread of the gospel in Chile is massive. The first national evangelical TV channel started in 2008; pray that TV and the Internet would be used to grow and build the Church and to reach non-believers.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.