When Leonel picked me up from the airport, I noticed that there was an Evangelical Pentecostal Methodist Church a few streets away from his house. He told me that he had visited a couple of times during the week to take guitar lessons. According to the sign out the front, the church held meetings every Sunday mornings and most weeknights. Being keen to join a local church, I decided to check it out when I got a chance.

The first Monday after I returned from the south I planned to attend an evening meeting but things got off to a bad start. Running five minutes late, I rushed up to a side gate and turned the lever but it was locked. On the other side of the high fence, I could hear people singing and guitars so I knocked on the gate, hoping they accepted latecomers. A man and a woman, dressed in a suit and a plain, long dress, came around the corner, gesturing to the main entrance that I had missed in my haste.

Inside the small chapel were about 25 people, all dressed formally and singing an old dirge of a song. Almost two thirds of them were off to the side, either playing guitars or singing along. In the congregation itself, there were only three or four people, singing along out of battered old hymn books. Up the front, three solemn looking men in conservative suits sat on large chairs covered in a bright blue cloth. The pulpit and the communion altar were adorned in the same material. Wearing sneakers, cargo pants and a polo shirt, I felt out of place.

The meeting lasted for about an hour and included three offerings, a tonne of announcements and housekeeping matters and a sermon from the oldest of the three men up the front who I found difficult to understand. After the service, I was greeted by another of the men who sat out the front and a couple of other people. I didn’t feel very welcome and after five minutes of hanging around, I made an exit.

Although I hadn’t been impressed, I decided to return the following Sunday. According to the sign out the front, the Sunday meeting was at 10.30am but when I turned up at 10.35, the main entrance was locked and there was no noise coming from the other side of the fence. In frustration, I knocked on the gate but no-one was there. Perhaps that was they had been announcing.

Not wanting to return home straight away, I started to walk around the block. Leonel’s girlfriend, Yeniffer, had told me there was a new church on another main road nearby but Leo said he thought it was a Mormon group. With no other options, I decided to check it out but Leo was right. So I kept walking. Around the next main corner, I saw another church but it didn’t look promising so I continued in my walk.

Approaching the next big intersection, I saw a sign that said Monte de Dios (Mount of God) Baptist Mission Church. It looked as if it was closed but then I saw a man with a bicycle enter and I decided to cross the road and take a closer look. The sheet of paper on the front wall said there was a service starting at 11. I looked at my watch. It was 10.50. I opened the door.

The small church was very plain. It had about 50 chairs arranged in two columns on either side of a narrow aisle. The cream walls were bare and at the front was a small platform with a simple pulpit. There were about half a dozen people inside.

A man in his early 60s wearing a dark suit and a red tie approached me and introduced himself. He told me his name was Abelardo Munoz and he was the pastor. I gave him my name and he asked where I was from, how long I had been in Chile and what I was doing here. Then he gave me his phone number and told me that I could call him any time if I needed to talk to someone.

Abelardo excused himself to prepare for the service and another man called Paulo introduced himself to me. Paulo was also dressed in a suit and tie but he also had a warm smile. He joked and laughed enthusiastically at his own jokes, while he introduced me to other members of the congregation who greeted me with hugs and kisses, calling me “Brother”.

During the service Abelardo made an announcement.

“We have a special visitor with us today,” he said. “Of course, we are all special in God’s eyes but today we have an extra special visitor from Australia called Tim Dixon.”

He called me to the front of the church and interviewed me in front of the congregation. How long have you been in Chile? Why are you here? How long do you plan to stay? He then asked me to greet the brothers and sisters in Spanish. I did my best and they smiled in response.

At Monte de Dios there was an overhead projector in place of the hymnbooks and the songs were more upbeat. The people sang with enthusiasm and joy. After the first group of songs was a welcome time when everyone stood up to greet each other, shaking hands, embracing and kissing each other on the cheek in the typical Chilean manner. The sermon was Biblical and straightforward and there was only one offering. After the service more people introduced themselves to me, asking about Australia and my plans in Chile.

On the way out, Abelardo welcomed me to the church once again.

“While you are in Chile, this is your home,” he said.