As a new follower of Jesus Christ in my early 20s, I was drawn to missionaries when they visited my church. A short-term mission trip led to a discipleship training program which led to meeting my husband of 30 years, Michael. We decided to divide the first three years of marriage by living six months in Chile and six months in Richmond, Va. As our family grew, we chose to plant ourselves in Puerto Montt, Chile.
I had envisioned the “missionary anointing” falling upon me as I entered the “foreign mission field,” but quickly discovered that I was going to be in the posture of a learner for what looked like a very long time.
Thirty years ago, southern Chile was a developing nation and so different in comparison to what I was accustomed to in my U.S. suburban lifestyle. We moved in with a Chilean couple and their two young daughters for six months. My hostess was a meticulous housekeeper. She taught me the ropes of floor polishing and waxing, daily walking to the market to shop for food (and then cook from scratch), as well as washing laundry by hand. At the time I thought I was “becoming” Chilean, but in reality I was learning humility and obedience to do what was required.
Hearing God speak
When our firstborn, Deborah, was ready for school, we decided to homeschool. Our closest friends were concerned for our children’s socialization skills. One friend had some strong words of disapproval for us, but we felt secure that God had spoken to us as a family. Homeschooling gave us the flexibility to travel together as a family to the islands and later to the mountains. As a result of traveling, each of our children developed the ability to relate well to people of all social classes. They learned the customs of the different regions of Chile. That one disapproving friend, 20 years later, told us how he admired the results of homeschooling our children. We had just been obedient to what God had called us to do.
Struggling with language
As one who leans more towards being an introvert than extrovert, plus with the focus on homeschooling young children, learning Spanish was a tremendous struggle for me. I became comfortable and satisfied in the “behind the scenes” part of missionary life in Chile, happily allowing Michael to do all the talking and make all the friendships. I became comfortable in my limited Spanish until Fernando, a good friend’s brother visiting from Spain, blurted out to me (with emotion typical of Spaniards) during a small home meeting, “Why don’t you know Spanish? What are you, prejudiced?” Those words hurt me terribly and caused me to examine my heart, where indeed I found I still had a bit of prejudice lingering. I repented and soon thereafter began my Spanish language acquisition with a new zeal and love. At the same time, God gave me a deeper love for my Chilean friends. Michael and I visit with Fernando and his family in Spain and can look back and laugh on that life-changing evening. In Spain, we are readily welcomed as Spanish-speaking Americans coming from Chile!
As language developed, so have friendships. Many of our Chilean friends are first-generation Christians and are learning about the Lordship of Jesus and their own personal identity in Him. There was a time that I thought I had to become Chilean, but over time I realized the Lord is simply asking me to become more Christlike and obedient. And that is a lifelong process in whatever country or culture we find ourselves in. mm
Nancy and Michael Hostetter, along with their five children, have served with EMM in Chile since 2005. They are the parents of five grown children and are the grandparents of four.