Stories from the Mission Field

September 2023

Patagonia: God cares

It is lonely in the almost endless expanses of Patagonia: Esquel, a town with a population of just over 30,000 in the Andean foothills of southern Argentina, is already one of the larger centers. There, Pedro and Noemí Boretsky have been coordinating church planting efforts in the region for about 30 years. They tell of how God always followed the Mapuche woman Esperanza and found her faith.

There are sometimes many hundreds of kilometers between the villages in Patagonia. This special stretch of land, marked by the ice-covered peaks of the Andes and vast steppes, is home to a special population. The indigenous Mapuche people lived here long before European settlers came and displaced them. Patagonia is increasingly popular with tourists who appreciate adventure and the beauty of the landscape. However, large segments of the population, whether Mapuche or of other roots, live in poverty. This brings social conflicts, crime and alcoholism. Pedro and Noemí Boretsky are convinced: Through God's love, healing can happen, and through His power, families can find their way back to each other.

The church plants therefore take care of people's everyday needs and serve a wide variety of groups: PEPE preschool projects and schools provide a loving environment for children to play and learn. There are offerings and Bible study groups for women, men and families. Self-help groups open the space to talk about needs. Prayer and pastoral care are offered everywhere. This conveys hope even in hopeless situations.

Violence and loneliness

The story of Esperanza, a Mapuche woman, seems in some parts almost as if from another world. Boretskys tell how God pursued her and her family found faith.

Esperanza recalls a childhood heavily influenced by her parents' addiction to alcohol. They lived in the countryside, on the banks of the Lepá River. Esperanza had five brothers and sisters. Food was never enough, they froze, and they endured the regular outbreaks of violence at home with great loyalty, as children of addicts often do.

One day, her father put Esperanza - then five years old - and her youngest sister on a horse and forced them to cross the river, which was swollen by rain. She had never been on a horse before. Looking back, Esperanza suspects her father would have liked to drop her in the river to get rid of her. "God gave me the strength to control the horse," the woman is convinced today. Sometimes the father left the children alone far from the house, but neighbors found them and brought them back. For a few months, the siblings lived with another family, but then they moved together with their biological parents to Gualjaina, to a modest house made of mud bricks. It was right next to the church.

First changes

Esperanza and her little brothers and sisters attended church services and children's groups. There she felt comfortable and safe. In her home, things were different: On holidays like Christmas or New Year's Eve, the children were always afraid of violence because that's when people drank a lot of alcohol. The siblings witness their mother being thrown out of the house on a cold night. Afraid of their father, the little ones hide in the shed and sleep on old blankets. At one point, Esperanza's father is in prison.

At the age of seven, the brave girl attends a children's camp - it took a lot of persuasion from the church to wrest permission from her parents. There Esperanza found Jesus. Her greatest wish was that she could have a family where there was neither alcohol nor violence. "God always took care of us and was with us," Esperanza knows today. In fact, it took a few more years of time, but God brought about change in Esperanza's family.

Healing happens

The girl did not stop praying for healing and peace. She learned to forgive her parents and firmly trusted in God's faithfulness. Esperanza's parents eventually found faith, were baptized and joined the church. Today, Esperanza is married, the mother of a seven-year-old daughter, and still part of the community she moved next to in the small mud hut many years ago.

When she speaks to the children and youth of the community, she joyfully repeats one thing: "God is faithful and hears our prayers - even when you feel that no one loves you, not even your parents!"

Esperanza has experienced God's love and faithfulness - and is happy to share her life story with others. She knows: people need God's love and His healing.