by Heidi Smith, SAMS Missionary to Chile

Twenty-nine years ago, I met a young woman named Carla at the beginning of the new school term. Carla happened to be our son Joshua’s new kindergarten teacher. We were living in Villa Alemana, Chile, where my husband Russ was serving as pastor of San Esteban, the Anglican parish there. I would often see Carla at school and it wasn’t long before I discovered that she was a ‘disillusioned Mormon.’

As Carla related some of her story to me it was clear she was struggling. She had left the Mormonism of her childhood because of the inconsistencies she had witnessed – people saying one thing but doing another. She clung to the idea that if you could be perfect, or at least look perfect, you would be ok. Appearances were everything to her.

Carla with Kindergarten Class in Villa Alemana

One day I invited her to our ladies’ group and she seemed to really enjoy it, especially when we talked about God, about answer to prayer, and about the difference Jesus could make in your life. Later on, Carla had told me that our ladies’ group had reminded her of her Pentecostal grandmother whose robust faith she had seen firsthand when living with her during college. Her grandmother had impressed upon her how real her faith was to her. Her grandmother had never stopped praying that one day God would bring Carla out of Mormonism and bring her to Christ.

Soon afterward Carla asked to meet with me to talk one-on-one. When we met, I had the chance to share the Gospel with her. “But,” Carla objected, “God can’t accept me because I am not perfect.” “None of us is,” I told her, and she insisted that I was. I explained to her that that was definitely not the case!

I told her, “The only perfect one is Jesus, and He died to take the punishment we deserve for our sins. His death makes it possible for us to be forgiven and to come into a relationship with God through Him…. would you like to receive Jesus into your life?” She said, “Yes, I would.” As she began to pray, she acknowledged her sin and asked Jesus to come into her life. She told Him that she renounced anything she had been taught in the Mormon church that did not agree with God’s truth. That was the beginning for Carla.

She started coming to church and doing Bible study and growing in her faith. The church family received her with open arms as a single mom. A few years later, God blessed Carla with a husband, a Christian musician named Pablo who loved her and her little son, married her, and received 3-year old Andres as his son. Soon after, little Daniela came along.

A few years later, we moved from Villa Alemana to a city 500 miles to the south. Carla, Pablo, and their kids moved 1000 miles to the north when Pablo found work in the mining industry. Carla was able to find an even better teaching position there. Now we were separated by 1500 miles, and other than seeing each other’s news on Facebook, we didn’t have much contact for more than a decade.

Ironically, it was the COVID pandemic that brought us together again. Chile was very locked down. Gatherings of any kind were prohibited including church services for over a year and a half. Zoom meetings became the way to connect, and we reached out to people we had known over the years who we thought might be interested in joining us for an online prayer, worship and, study.

Carla joined the nightly women’s prayer meetings and once again we were involved in each other’s lives. It was an amazing time, but not without difficulties. Carla went through what she later described as “a huge storm in my life.” She told me that she would not have made it had it not been for the support of our nightly prayer group. By God’s grace she did persevere, and a new chapter in her life had begun.

As the pandemic ended the Prayer Group began meeting weekly. The relationships forged during those months were too strong to just let go. Last October, at one of our weekly prayer times, I announced to the group that Russ and I would be traveling to the U.S. for our bi-annual time of visiting supporting churches.

Out of the blue, Carla piped up, “I want to go with you.” “Right,” I replied jokingly, “Just hop in my suitcase and you can come.” But Carla wasn’t joking. She not only wanted to come, she believed that God wanted her to come. As the days went by, I realized she was serious. I spoke to Russ about it because in all of our 37 years in Chile, we had never had someone from Chile join us on our home assignment. To my amazement, Russ thought it was an interesting idea.

I told Carla that our home assignment was not a vacation and there wouldn’t be much time for tourism. She had never even left Chile, much less visited the U.S. I asked her why she wanted to come. She said, “I want to go with you to visit the churches that support you. I want to see what you do.” I asked if she would be willing to share her story to which she responded with an enthusiastic “YES!”

Heidi and Carla at O’Hare Airport

Everything came together, as it does when God is in it, and on a record-breaking frigid night of -22 degrees in Chicago, Carla arrived at O’Hare airport. Twelve hours later, she was by our side, sharing her story in the church we were visiting that morning. She got choked up as she read it. (She had it written down to be sure she got the English right.) I put my arm around her and got teary too. And then I noticed that people in the congregation were tearing up. Afterwards, people came up to her and told her how her story had touched them.

Besides talking about how she had met us 29 years ago, Carla included the following in the story she shared with 10 groups of people over the next 17 days she was with us:

Russ and Heidi gave me a beautiful testimony of Jesus. They taught me about a loving God. I didn’t have to be perfect for God. And that was amazing for me!! I learned that God loved me just as I am and that Jesus had died for me. They invited me to meet this God of love and hope. They shared their light and joy with me.
And so, one day when I met with Heidi, I asked Jesus to come into my life. I came to understand that God has a purpose for my life, and I told myself with great conviction in my heart: Surrender! Stop fighting! Surrender to Jesus! And so, I did. On that day I took the step, the step of faith. I started to live just one day at a time. I felt His hope renew me daily. Recently I have had to go through a great storm in my life and definitely… I am not the same. I started having a plan, a little plan, making every day count. Having a daily purpose, just a small purpose, and little by little I have begun to advance because I’m not alone. Finally, I understand I can’t go back and change the beginning, but I can start from where I am and change the ending because God is with me. Over the years, I have shared my faith with others. I too have invited people to meet Jesus.
I thank God that one day Russ and Heidi decided to begin this walk as missionaries, and that that decision was a life-long one, because their testimony changed my life forever. I love them with all my heart.

Carla with Heidi and Russ sharing her testimony to the congregation

It seems there were words of truth and encouragement in her story for many people to hear. God brought her with us as the “good fruit” of our ministry in Chile all of these years, as well as to be an ambassador for Him. It’s a testimony of how He can bring light out of darkness. And about when we go through “a great storm,” God does not abandon us. Our Way Maker is making a way for us to encounter Him and others. “Even when we can’t see it, He’s working. Even when we can’t feel it, He’s working,” and as the words of that song say. “He never stops, never stops working.”