By Craig and Shirley Woolsey
After graduating from Ozark Christian College, we worked for almost three decades in the capital city of Santiago, Chile. When we left the United States, the oldest of our five children was just entering his teens, so we moved into a middle-class neighborhood in Santiago and looked for Chilean schools where some English was spoken.
We found a school, but of greater importance, we realized few of our neighbors had any connection to a church. The higher classes in Chile might have been called an “unreached people group” in the 1970s!
Craig began making contacts, and Shirley began opening our home. It was a time of heartbreaking upheaval in Chile, just five years after a military coup had removed a Communist president. People wrestled with hostilities and hate, and as they searched for answers, they were willing to consider the Scriptures.
Several couples received Craig into their homes, and together they opened the Bible and talked about life and faith and disillusionment and crises. From those initial contacts, a retreat was organized, and the people themselves asked to continue meeting together. It was 1981 and the beginning of a church plant in the eastern section of Santiago.
It takes time to earn people’s confidence and trust in Santiago, so we stayed in one area, deepening friendships and just “doing life” with people. God opened doors for us, through our children in the Chilean school, and through an unexpected pregnancy and the birth of our “very own Chilean.” God also opened doors through a natural disaster (a year of major earthquakes in Chile) and a health crisis (Shirley’s lungs stopped working, and for three agonizing months she was not expected to live).
Shirley’s physical recovery included a mixture of spiritual awakening and renewal for others. We used a program called Marriage Encounter to reach out to people. We started community Bible studies in Santiago to help people deepen their knowledge of the Word and their daily obedience to the Lord. Many young people from the Chilean school became followers of Jesus. The church continued to grow, in faith and hope and love. Chilean church leaders worked at our sides.
An Important Question
Years went by and we began to ask, “What do missionaries do as they face later life?”
The “faith-promise” system for supporting missions had not included a retirement package, but we knew we needed to hand off leadership of the various ministries to younger ones—to Chileans. And we did, deciding to return home to the States and our married children and our grandchildren. Still, we wondered about our reentry, and we were concerned whether we would have adequate income.
Admittedly, this might be any mission story up to now, a “generic sort of story.” But it is here that the story takes a different turn. The Chilean church we started in Santiago decided to help with our retirement, to the tune of $1,000 a month.
Ignoring our protests, the church in Ñuñoa has been sending us that amount every month for the past seven years. (That’s $84,000 so far, as of this writing.) The Chilean church made the decision and then announced it to us in front of the people, saying simply, “You have given us the best years of your life and have taken nothing from us. It is our turn, now, to give to you. You cannot refuse.”
During the years since our return, we have taught classes at a community college and purchased small condos for rental purposes, but every month our hearts are lifted to the Lord and to his people in Chile, as we are notified of the arrival of a Western Union wire. Another thousand dollars.
Missions giving? Yes, but in reverse. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given you.” We are one missionary couple who gave . . . and now find ourselves on the receiving end, as others give.
Craig and Shirley Woolsey live in Tulsa, Oklahoma.