In city clothes and city shoes, they come.
In summer shorts, tank tops and flip flops, they come.
In tattered clothes and bare feet, they come.
Carrying babies and toddlers, they come.
The mountains are barren, cold, windy.
The road is long, hard, dangerous.
Food often consists only of bread given by strangers.
Nights are bitter.
Days of walking extend into weeks of walking.
The body becomes exhausted, emotions become numb.
Step, step, step. One more step. One more.
As broken Venezuela empties its population across the continent, the poorest people walk across the Andes mountains to reach their varied and unknown destinations. Fleeing the economic crisis in their home country, they continue to travel on foot for even the slightest chance of finding food, work, shelter or hope for the future.
Earlier this month, my husband Paul accompanied a mission team from First Baptist Church Atlanta up the mountain to the 11,000-foot pass, where they saw one of the few overnight shelters along the route taken by the Venezuelan “trekkers.” From that point, another 60 miles of walking will get the Venezuelans to the next city. The FBC Atlanta team presented the gospel to those at the shelter, but due to governmental regulations, they could not give out the used clothes and shoes they brought.
The team was disappointed to take their donations back with them when the needs were so obvious and visible. Paul suggested that on the return trip, the team pull over by Venezuelan trekkers to find out their needs. When the team set out it was raining, but once they headed down the mountain the clouds parted and the sun began to shine. One member of the group commented, “Now we’ll see a rainbow.” Sure enough, around a few curves a glorious rainbow appeared above the mountains. Just a few curves later, the team spotted a group of three Venezuelan young men sitting by the side of the road. The team pulled over.
Paul asked them what they needed. One responded, “I need shoes. The ones I have are tearing my feet apart because they are completely shot.” Another young man also needed shoes. The group had two pairs of adult men’s shoes and only two pairs of adult men’s shoes. The team should not have been surprised: the shoes matched the men’s sizes exactly.
The volunteers cared for the men’s feet with cleansers and cream and several pairs of socks. The team also gave them warmer clothing and food and shared the gospel. One of the travelers looked stunned the entire time. His look said, “Where did these people suddenly appear from, with everything to meet our needs?”
As the team prepared to leave, Paul told the young men that during their journey on foot they have a great opportunity to start a conversation with God. One of the two who had received shoes responded, “When we were walking past the rainbow, I told God, ‘I need shoes; my feet are completely torn up.’”
No more than 10 minutes after the man’s cry, the team arrived with a good pair of shoes that fit him perfectly. These Venezuelan refugees now have no doubt that God knows where they are and that they are not alone.