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In Chile, Adventists Offer Spanish Classes to Haitian Refugees

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Local church steps up to help integrate newcomers into their new country.

As thousands of immigrants and refugees from Haiti have been arriving in the South American nation of Chile in the past two years, members of a local Adventist church decided to step up and do something to help integrate them in their new country. The Casablanca Seventh-day Adventist Church in Casablanca, Valparaíso Region, is doubling as a classroom every week to provide newcomers with Spanish language instruction.

The project was launched in October 2017 as Haitian refugees settled in various towns across Chile, including Casablanca. Casablanca is a town located between Santiago, the nation’s capital, and the coastal city of Valparaíso.

  • In Casablanca, Chile, Adventist church member Hilda Caro Bustos, a retired teacher, volunteered to teach Spanish to newly arrived immigrants and refugees from Haiti. [Photo: Christian Villalobos and Noelia Zúñiga Reyes]

  • A group of about 38 Haitian immigrants attend classes at Casablanca Seventh-day Adventist Church in Chile to learn to read, write, and speak Spanish. [Photo: Christian Villalobos and Noelia Zúñiga Reyes]

Among the newcomers were French-speaking Adventist members, who soon began to attend the local Spanish-speaking congregation.

As local members discussed what to do to support them, a businessman in the town contacted church members with a request. “I have hired many of the Haitian immigrants, and they are now working in my company,” he said. “The problem is, we can hardly understand each other. Is there anything you Adventists can do so they can learn Spanish?”

Local church leaders said that the businessman’s request encouraged them to move from ideas to a definite plan. Hilda Caro Bustos, a church member, had retired after teaching for four decades, and she accepted the challenge of launching Spanish-language classes in the church building.

Orientation Sessions

Before classes began, local church leaders received a call from the town Social Welfare Office. “Do you have any current project to support the Haitian immigrants?” the social welfare coordinator asked. “Some social workers from Valparaíso University are willing to support the Haitian community by providing them information sessions on the working conditions in the country, how to buy and sell, and so on. I thought you could host those sessions,” he said.

With church members receiving yet another confirmation of the appropriate timing of the their initiative, lawyers and social workers came to the Casablanca Adventist church and offered three information sessions. The sessions attracted the Haitian community to the church and served as an introduction to the Adventist-led Spanish language classes.

Church members reported that so far, dozens of classes have been offered to a group of about 38 immigrants. “Caro has been a willing and perseverant language teacher,” organizers said. “We feel God’s hand has led us in this initiative on behalf of our Haitian brothers and sisters, and our actions have also become a witnessing opportunity to the larger Casablanca community.”

Now the plan is to bring this first series of Spanish language classes to a close with a graduation ceremony, and then invite students to begin Bible lessons in Spanish for all those willing to enroll.

Organizers shared that they feel it an honor and a privilege to get involved in this type of outreach.

“We thank God for the opportunity of helping others,” they said.


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