Multiple blazes torched at least eight evangelical churches, as pastors grieve and bury the dead.
This January marked Chilean pastor Alex Ugarte’s 24th anniversary at Iglesia Evangélica Bautista Esperanza Viva (Living Hope Evangelical Baptist Church) in Viña del Mar, a milestone that prompted him to ask himself if he should transition to something new.
His moment of reflection was short-lived. Last Friday, wildfires started in at least four places across the Valparaíso region. Within hours, they had reached Ugarte’s neighborhood. They soon torched his home and church and claimed the life of his father-in-law, a tragedy that prompted the church leader to reconsider his vocational plan.
“God showing me this tragedy and the needs of His people helped me understand that it’s time to start all over again,” he told CT.
Summer wildfires are not uncommon in this Pacific coastal South American country. This year, however, a particularly intense heatwave has coincided with prolonged drought. Strong winds caused the blaze to spread quickly toward some of Chile’s most heavily populated areas, including historic cities like Valparaíso and the country’s tourism capital, Viña del Mar.
As of February 9, the fires have killed 131 people and damaged or destroyed more than 5,000 homes.
Among the casualties were eight Esperanza Viva congregants, who lost their lives when the blaze reached their residential neighborhood of Villa Independencia. On Friday, Ugarte preached at two funerals, one for an elderly couple and another for two siblings, who were 5 and 7.
“There’s so much pain,” he said. “Many people are desperate because their families are now homeless. But our hearts remain steadfast, looking forward to seeing what God will do.”