August 18, 2016

Chilean Drug House Transformed Into Adventist Church

, South American Division

About 800 Seventh-day Adventist young people from across South America are sharing Jesus during the Summer Olympics in Brazil — and among them is a married couple who turned a drug house into a youth-friendly Adventist church.

José and Jennifert Soto, who live in Santiago, Chile, shared their remarkable story on the sidelines of the South American Division-sponsored Circuit of Champions project, where Adventist volunteers are participating in health fairs, blood donation drives, and the distribution of the missionary book Living Hope during the ongoing Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“We want to dedicate ourselves 100 percent to the Adventist Church,” Jennifert Soto said in an interview. “Our desire is to see Adventist youth wake up, have a passion for souls, and to bring other people to Jesus.”

Jennifert Soto didn’t always feel that way. Raised in an Adventist family, she left the church and eventually moved in with José. She said she knew it was wrong to live with her boyfriend, and she often thought about returning to church. Then one day she turned on the Adventist-run Nuevo Tiempo television channel. She heard a preacher seemingly make a personal plea for her to find the Adventist church nearest her home.

Jennifert and José Soto found the church and began attending worship services. They soon got involved in a youth ministries outreach project called Caleb Mission. Then they got married and were baptized on March 11, 2011.

Hoping to share Jesus in Santiago’s seedy Pudahuel district, where they lived, they worked with other Caleb Mission volunteers to open a Vacation Bible School in a rented house. Neighborhood children gathered there in the mornings. A Pathfinder club also started meeting in the house. But they wanted to do more.

“We realized that there was a great need to build a church,” Jennifert said.

José and Jennifert Soto posing on the sidelines of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. (Cárolyn Azo)

The couple found a house with a reputation for being the place to buy illegal drugs. The owner was willing to sell it for 30 million Chilean pesos (US$46,000).

“We did not have the money, not even for ourselves,” José said.

So José, who was 23 at the time and the eldest in the group, put together a fundraising plan. The first step was to visit local Adventist churches, preach there, and then ask for donations. They also approached the leaders of the church’s Chile Metropolitan Conference and wealthy Adventist entrepreneurs.

After much prayer, the young people raised the needed funds and acquired the site in February 2012. The reconstructed church, called Bienaventurada Israel (Blessed Israel), opened about a year later.

But the church’s first new members were already baptized during the construction period. Six people gave their hearts to Jesus at the first baptism ceremony. Thirteen more were baptized at the second ceremony.

“The baptisms took place in a street and in a soccer field because we didn’t have a church building,” Jennifert said.

Currently, the church is overflowing with 80 members, 60 percent of whom are youth. Its leaders are looking to open a second church.

The Blessed Israel church also has its own youth ministry called Los Milagros Existen (Miracles Exist) and comprised of 12 people. Every year, the group organizes a major outreach event in downtown Santiago that attracts 1,500 young participants. The young people give shoppers a car ride home with their groceries, distribute religious literature, pray with passersby, and wash the windows of cars and public buses.

José and Jennifert recently decided to leave their jobs to prepare for church work full-time. José works as an engineer and Jennifert in public relations.

“I want to study theology and Jennifert wants to study education to better serve the church,” José said. 

Watch highlights of the annual outreach effort organized by the Los Milagros Existen (Miracles Exist) youth group in downtown Santiago. Adventist volunteers give shoppers a car ride home with their groceries, distribute religious literature, pray with passersby, and wash the windows of cars and public buses.