The day I arrived in Chile I realized I was a stranger there. I was about a foot taller than all those around me and found it easy to watch a parade even when standing behind a huge crowd. One day as I walked down the sidewalk some little kids walking toward me stopped and stared and one commented in Spanish, “What a giant!”
I could do nothing to change the difference in height in my desire to be as one as possible with the Chilean people, but it did turn out to my advantage. Since I am not only very tall, but also very slim, I have a distinct likeness to the geography of Chile. The country is only on the average of 100 miles wide, but in length it is about the same distance as New York to Los Angeles. It was no surprise, then, that soon I would receive the name “Señor Chile”. I then enhanced my new title by sharing with them other aspects of my similarity to their land.
Punta Arenas, Chile is in the Antarctica and is the southernmost city of the world. We were able to schedule evangelistic meeting down there and when we arrived it was January, the middle of summer, yet we nearly froze just hurrying down the stairs of the plane to the door of the airport . When we asked the taxi driver if they ever had summer there his reply was, “Summer? Oh that was yesterday.” I could relate to permanent cold because my feet are always cold just like south Chile.
Santiago, the capitol of Chile is located in the central valley where all kinds of delicious fruits and vegetables are produced. That valley is known as the breadbasket of Chile and my breadbasket is also located about the middle of my stature.
The north part of Chile is desert and the grass does not grow up there. At about 29 years of age I went bald and nothing grows on the top of me either. Both children and adults enjoyed my similarities to their country. Later when back here in the USA on furlough both children and adults enjoyed my graphic lesson on the geography of Chile and when I visited the churches again four years later the children would still enthusiastically tell me the geography of Chile.
Another aspect of my condition of being a stranger was that I could not speak Spanish and they could not speak English. However, that problem had a solution. Of course it meant many months of serious study of the language and practice in using it.
The lady who owned a small grocery store near us was a great help. Rather than just trying to understand my broken Spanish, she would take time to explain to me how I should say it. I would carefully memorize her every correction and one day as I entered the store and responded perfectly to her greeting with a difficult Chilean idiom she hugged me and cried out, “paisano”, meaning “fellow countryman”. I was no longer a stranger in Chile.
In another sense, the day I received Jesus Christ as my LORD and Savior I became a stranger on this earth. I was 19 and had been drafted into the Navy and sent to Texas for electronics training. A fellow sailor invited me to a Bible Study in the base chapel where I heard the Gospel for the first time and realized that gaining salvation by my own works was impossible. Jesus died to save me from my sins and rose again to give me His perfect righteousness. That night I asked Jesus to come into my heart and change my life. Joy flooded my soul and I spent every night in the chapel studying the Word of God.
I had tried to read the Bible before, but it made no sense to me. Now it was filled with meaning and I began writing to my family and friends everything I was learning. My parents were not happy with my letters, but felt that in the Navy I could have gotten into worse things. My sister began to read the Bible. My girl friend thought I was getting too religious and so sent me a “dear John” letter suggesting that we “date around” a bit. Obviously, I had become a “stranger” in this world.
Over the months I continued to write them all the wonderful truths I was learning in the Scriptures and when I was discharged from the Navy they even went with me to a good, Gospel preaching church. One by one they all came to know Christ as their Savior. Then the five of us gave testimony of our salvation and were baptized during the same church service. We had all become pilgrims and strangers in this world, but citizens of heaven, waiting for the coming of our Savior who will take us to our heavenly home.