Christian LivingMinistry

Ministry In Chile – Interview with Pato Oyarzun

Having trained originally at Moore College, Pato is now the head pastor of Iglesia La Trinidad de Reñaca and leads a city movement in Viña del Mar, Chile. The ACR spoke to Pato to hear about his ministry journey over the past two decades.

Pato, can you tell us a bit about yourself, who is in your family, and how you came to follow Jesus?

Dagmar and I have been married for almost 25 years and we have four wonderful children, aged 11–18. I heard the gospel because of Anglican missionaries who, compelled by the love of Christ, left the comfort of their home countries to teach at a school in Southern Patagonia – which in lots of ways could be considered ‘the ends of the earth’ – even in the days of a military dictatorship. 

I grew up in a typical Roman Catholic family so at first the teaching of these missionaries sounded familiar. But over time I began to understand that they were sharing a very different message and, through the Spirit’s work in my heart, I heard the life changing concept of grace. I was also really struck by the lives of these missionary teachers: they genuinely loved those around them.

When I was 14, one of these teachers – the school chaplain – tragically lost his baby daughter when she was only a few weeks old. I felt compelled to go to the funeral of his little girl. I was amazed that my teacher, even on this terrible day, was pleased to see me and was even able to articulate his confident hope in the gospel. He was certain that his daughter was safe with Jesus and that he’d meet her again.

That’s when I realised that this message was something I really needed to consider, and I became a Christian a month later.

How did you and Dagmar end up moving to Sydney to study at Moore College?

I never planned to become a pastor. My life plan was to follow my father’s footsteps into business and then to fund gospel ministry. In Chile, it was (and is) social suicide to become a pastor because it means becoming poor and living under the suspicion that you are a pastor because you couldn’t do anything better.

The Anglican Diocese of Chile really needed a Bible college, and the Diocese of Sydney made a generous offer to train faculty for the Chilean college at Moore College. The Bishop of Chile asked if I’d consider going to Sydney to be trained. I really wasn’t interested at first, but I couldn’t find a non-selfish reason to decline, so I ended up going. On top of that, the bishop persuaded me that I would only need to be a visiting lecturer on my return and I could continue work as a businessman. So Dagmar and I moved to Sydney in 2001.

Despite my intentions, after two years in Sydney and through the example and encouragement of many godly people in Sydney – not least my wonderful wife – my heart changed and I became willing to return to Chile as a pastor and church planter.

Can you tell us about the ministry context and roles you returned to in Chile? And what is the state of the church in Chile?

With the support of CMS, we returned to Chile in 2007. My first role was as a lay assistant pastor in the main church in the second biggest city in Chile, ViñaDel Mar, while I lectured at the Bible college. Sydney had given me a great awareness of the need for church planting but our diocese wasn’t keen on planting new churches. I was only allowed to plant an evening congregation. And so, with great sadness, I left the Anglican Church and in 2013 I planted a Presbyterian church, Iglesia La Trinidad, also in ViñaDel Mar. In God’s kindness we were then able to plant another church from this in 2019, and another in 2022.

In Sydney I had also been encouraged (by Col Marshall) to take MTS to Chile, which I honestly didn’t think would work. But it did! We started Fundación Generación to raise up a new generation of pastors and leaders, and it really helped fuel the new Bible college by providing it with good students who were tested as suitable for ministry. Now almost every single student at the Bible college has been through the apprenticeship programme. By God’s grace, we are now supporting pastors and apprentices in Colombia and in Cuba.

In the context of Fundación Generación, in 2011 we began a two-year diploma in church planting, initially with about 40 pastors from different denominations and from all over Chile which raised awareness about the importance of church planting.

In 2006, I was involved in starting City to City Latam in order to encourage, asses and train church planters. From there, we began a city network, Evangelio360, which works across denominations to plant churches in ViñaDel Mar, and right now our network is in the process of planting four new churches in our city while we train apprentices together. We have just begun a ministry among the 90,000 students in our city.

What are some encouragements from the past 20 years of ministry in Chile?

There is now such gospel clarity in the Diocese of Chile, and that is thanks to the Bible college. Where there was previously confusion, the Anglican church is now thoroughly evangelical because the pastors are well trained.

It’s been such a privilege to have a role, by God’s grace, in raising up the next generation of ministry leaders and to see a growth in understanding that a healthy church raises up its own leaders and pastors, not just for the sake of maintenance but for gospel growth.

The City Network has been a huge blessing, too. In many ways you need to live it to understand it, but the partnership we have with other pastors in the city is so wonderful. Our families get together to pray and spend time together. I’ve loved mentoring several pastors. And we’ve seen miracles happen. It’s so encouraging and so exciting to see even an archdeacon leaving the comforts of the established church to plant churches … and next year will have the other archdeacon of our city doing the same! There’s been so much gospel fruit.

How can we be praying for you and for the church in Chile? 

There’s a need to begin campus ministry in Chile. It’s the missing link in the ministry ecosystem here. We do now have someone from the City network lined up to be a campus planter – please pray for him as he begins that role, and for finances for that.

For our family, please pray for our oldest daughter who’s about to move to Sydney to do Year 13 (the Youthworks gap year programme). Please pray for our whole family, too, because we will all miss her so much.