By Laura McKillip Wood
Ignacio left the Catholic church long before he began studying at a university in Santiago, Chile. Although he was a self-proclaimed agnostic, a friend from his neighborhood invited him to El Oasis, a student group designed to provide students with a Christian community to call “home” during their college years. Ignacio loved music and discovered that an alum of his university led the band at El Oasis.
Before long, Ignacio was a regular, hanging out with the other music lovers who attended. His interest in the band grew, and he asked to join it. The staff of El Oasis had a dilemma. Should they allow a professed nonbeliever to join the praise band? They decided to allow him to join as long as he understood that the purpose of the band was to lead people to praise God. He readily agreed, and he began practicing and playing with the worship band.
After just a few weeks, the others at El Oasis began to notice a difference in Ignacio. He became interested in spiritual topics. He told the leaders that even though he did not know God, he was glad to be part of something that helped people experience him. He joined a small group, where he had plenty of one-on-one conversations with the leader. After four years of participating in El Oasis, Ignacio decided to be baptized. He has grown to become a key leader in the ministry and is the current band leader.
Greg and Eli Klass worked with El Oasis in Santiago when Ignacio became a member. Greg grew up in Kentucky. At age 17, he dedicated his life to Christ and decided to attend Manhattan Christian College in Kansas. There he joined the soccer team and met the missions professor, who became an important mentor to him. Greg saw in his professor’s life what he wanted for his own: a nice family, a productive ministry, and a solid relationship with God.
Greg began to think God might be leading him to cross-cultural ministry. When he heard about an opportunity to do an internship in Santiago, he jumped at it. After graduation, Greg returned to Santiago to be part of the team. “Coming to Chile, I saw how God had prepared me with different gifts,” Greg said. “I couldn’t speak Spanish at the time, but I developed relationships through soccer.”
Eli (short for Elisabet) grew up in a Protestant family in Santiago, a city that is primarily Catholic. Her parents, former missionaries themselves, raised her with a desire to serve God and share her faith. Her church also encouraged that, but it wasn’t until she went on a mission trip to Peru that she began to understand how different life is for people who do not know Jesus. She saw poverty and hopelessness in Peru, and she returned home with a desire to serve God full-time. Since colleges do not train Christian workers in Chile, she chose to study social work, thinking it would give her a way to live out her faith and also help others.
During her junior year of college, Eli’s brother invited her to El Oasis. She began to learn how to share her faith with her peers, not just with people in poverty who live far away. She grew to understand how God could use her in her own community. In 2012, she graduated from college and began an internship with El Oasis. She eventually took a job as a social worker in order to pay some of her student loans, but she felt God was leading her to a different ministry.
The Klass Story
Eli and Greg met while both were working at El Oasis. They became friends, which developed into a relationship that grew serious before long. Two years later, in 2015, they married. Greg even talked with Eli’s parents before he proposed, a tradition not usually practiced in Chile. “My parents loved it!” Eli said with a laugh. At about the time of their wedding, Greg and Eli committed themselves to serving God full-time. “Wherever you want to send us, we will commit to being missionaries for life,” Eli said.
Missionaries for Life
Early in March 2020, the Klasses moved from Santiago to Vina del Mar, a college town on the coast of Chile, to start a branch of El Oasis. All the team members except Greg are Chilean, and all are former members of the Santiago branch of El Oasis. They know how effective El Oasis can be in the lives of Chilean students because they experienced it firsthand. Their ministry provides a central gathering place for Vina del Mar’s large student population, most of whom either live at home with their families or in apartments (since Chilean universities do not normally provide dormitories for their students).
At this campus house, students gather for Bible studies and worship, but they also play games, hang out, and socialize. “We reach out to students who wouldn’t typically ever set foot in a church and then connect them with a Christ-centered community,” Greg explained. As the students grow, the team helps them transition to a church so they can continue their walk with Christ and grow in community after college.
Eli and Greg and their teammates work with a ministry called Globalscope, which is the international student branch of Christian Missionary Fellowship International, or CMFI. Globalscope has locations around the world, including Spain, Germany, England, Scotland, Thailand, and Australia. Globalscope is planning to launch sites in Latin America, Mexico, and Uruguay over the next five years. They plan to do this by cultivating national leaders who already know the language and culture and can focus entirely on ministry.
At El Oasis, Greg and Eli have found a place to belong, and they are offering that same opportunity to students in Vina del Mar.
Laura McKillip Wood, former missionary to Ukraine, now lives in Papillion, Nebraska. She serves as an on-call chaplain at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha. She and her husband, Andrew, have three teenagers.