Eduardo and Susana on their way to deliver clothes to a poor family
A Salvationist offers a listening ear
Two men huddle round the stove for warmth at the Salvation Army centre for the homeless
Some of the homeless men earn a small amount of money through simple skills like welding
Author and photographer: Ruud Tinga
Argentina: Building The Kingdom
by Ruud Tinga
The last of the snow covers the mountain tops and the ski lifts rest after the busy winter season. Spring is on its way in San Carlos de Bariloche, a holiday place for the rich of Argentina. For a few weeks it is quiet before the number of summer tourists increases with the rising of the temperature.
Before Argentina’s economy collapsed, tourism doubled the number of inhabitants of Bariloche to about 200,000. Hundreds of jobs have been lost because a considerable number of hotels have been closed in the past few years. The future is not bright. Poverty and crime have increased. Homeless men and women squat in the empty hotels.
The number of people without a job, without income and without a home gets higher every day. Hundreds of homeless people live in the caves around the city and have to beg to stay alive. Some of them die in winter due to the cold when the temperature drops to -20 degrees Celsius.
Just outside the city centre The Salvation Army rented a simple place from the council where it shelters 20 homeless men. Some of them sit round the warm fireplace, where they drink maté (a kind of tea). Because of a leaking roof, some of the walls are coloured brown. There is no money to restore the wooden house or to install a shower or bathroom. The Army’s main task is to keep the inside dry and warm.
Eduardo and Susana Madel de Nahuelfil are responsible for the Army’s work in San Carlos de Bariloche. Eduardo is from nearby Rio Chico, where The Salvation Army has a church. His mother was a regular visitor to the meetings there but her seven children were not interested.
That was until Eduardo visited a Salvation Army youth camp. Because of the friendship with other boys and girls his view on the Army changed. A few years later, during another youth camp, a Bible message touched him in such a way that he decided to become a Salvationist and wear the uniform. At that time he lived in Bahia Blanca, where he met Susana. They were married in 1977.
In 1990, after travelling between Bahia Blanca and Bariloche, where Eduardo had found work as a bricklayer, they decided to move with their seven children, three of whom are adopted, to Bariloche.
Together with 150 other people, the couple bought a plot of land on which they could build their own houses. Because there was no Salvation Army church in Bariloche, Eduardo and Susana started to have house meetings in which the Army flag had a prominent place.
‘We did not want to lose the feeling of being a Salvationist,’ remembers Eduardo. ‘We went to other churches, but never became a member. Susana started a home league (women’s group). Little by little there was a steady group of visitors. We also started a children’s club because there were many children living in our neighbourhood.’
Their house was not big enough and the plan grew to build a hall. Next to their house was a free plot of land, the ideal place for a Salvation Army church.
All building materials were donated and the city council offered the labour free of charge. Eduardo became the site manager and, after nine months, the new building was opened in May 1997.
The Salvation Army would not be The Salvation Army if it did not try to do something about the social problems. Susana explains: ‘We knew that many people lived on the streets and therefore in 1998 we started the distribution of food and clothes.’ She works part-time at City Hall to supplement the small wage they get from the Army. Eduardo is fully employed by The Salvation Army. Much of their own money is spent on bread and ingredients for simple meals for the people they serve.
‘Once a week the city council donates food, but that is not enough for the men who live in our shelter,’ Susana says. ‘Also, the men on the streets need food. Every now and then we ask companies, neighbours and friends for help, which enables us to distribute coffee and bread several times a week.’
This is a real family effort, and the eldest children are involved. Whenever they can, they help with the distribution of food and also take part in the church activities. There are now 17 soldiers (full members) and three junior soldiers.
Eduardo and Susana plan to concentrate their next efforts on the area’s children because many are not taught about the love of God. These plans include having what they describe as a restaurant for children. ‘We want to start a feeding programme for them,’ says Eduardo. ‘Most of them go to school with an empty stomach and they don’t get a proper meal in the afternoon. In our building we can cook and serve a hot meal.’
They know their dream will become a reality, even though the finances to realise it still have to be found. ‘We never doubted God’s plan with our lives. He has given us the opportunity to do something for the others here in Bariloche and we trust that he will supply us with the money.’
A local radio station has already made a few programmes about the Army’s work and asked the population for financial support.
Eduardo and Susana see that their task is very straightforward: ‘We want to be a lighthouse for people who may drift away because of spiritual or social problems – for people who are desperate. We want to be a sign of hope – a hope that can only be found in God.’