Little church, big ministry

Colombian church commits to minister to the ‘least of these’

Drug dealers, prostitutes and thieves make up the population of the “red zone” of a frontier city in the Guajiro Peninsula of Colombia. Some would consider it a dangerous, depressing and discouraging place, but that didn’t stop a small Baptist church from reaching out. They made that city a priority and began a ministry project there in 1999.

As the total implosion of Venezuela began to accelerate and become ever more volatile in 2017, Venezuelan refugees poured across the border into this nearest Colombian city. Church members noticed the enormous needs of the incoming Venezuelan population—most notably those of the children who were daily exposed to the harsh tropical climate and the dangers of begging for food on main streets. A woman in the church—a real dynamo—met with the pastor and his wife to ask God how He wanted them to join Him in addressing the immensity of the situation.

From the beginning, they understood the church did not have enough resources to meet all the needs. The team focused on what they could do and in January 2018 the church opened a school and feeding center in the church building to care for Venezuelan refugee children and keep them safely off the streets.

“We are convinced this project was born in the heart of God,” affirms Belkis, the woman who gets things done and gets them done well.

With a strong green light from the church and with their support, they stepped up to lead: Belkis as director and legal representative; Rocío, the pastor’s wife, as treasurer; and pastor Julio José as spiritual leader. The church opened a center for Venezuelan refugee children ages three through eleven. The goal is to provide the children with a safe and loving environment where their needs are met in three primary areas: physical, academic, and spiritual. The center is open Monday through Friday and provides breakfast and lunch for the children, academic training and spiritual guidance. The leaders and teachers constantly share the love of Jesus and model that love for the children.

Belkis says, “These are children who have lived in despair, far removed from their [close-knit multigenerational] families [left behind in Venezuela].  We aim for them to know true love, which is Jesus, the author of life.”

Belkis (center), who helped to begin the center for Venezuelan refugee children, greets a family coming to receive aid from the church.

Workers at the center are all volunteers. Some of the teachers gave up opportunities at elite schools with good salaries in order to continue working with the Venezuelan children.

Initially, the program received some financial help from non-governmental organizations, but during the summer of 2019 those funds ran out entirely and the NGOs did not renew the aid. By that time, the center was feeding 120 children both breakfast and lunch five days a week.

The ministry faced closure, which would force these children back into desperate situations. The leadership group of three prayed desperately.

“In those days we were praying to the Lord for our daily bread [for the children] because we had resources for the school through July 2019 only,” Belkis says.

“Beginning in August we had no resources at all. That month we struggled along by the pure mercy of the Lord because we had no funds left. Nevertheless, we did not close the school. Every day we saw to the kids’ needs. Every day the Lord provided. One day a lady in the church gave us $10 and with that we bought spaghetti, a little cheese, a few cans of tuna, and with that we prepared lunch for the kids. We lived similar moments throughout August.”

That was when God—who does this well—came to the rescue. A short time earlier, my husband, Paul, had been invited by the Colombian Baptist director of missions, Arnulfo Durán, to accompany him to the northern Colombian border to assess the situation there regarding the Venezuelan diaspora. Paul saw first-hand the loving and difficult ministry of this small Baptist church and the struggles and obstacles they faced. Paul was able to request assistance through Southern Baptist relief ministries and the first financial gift arrived in August.

Refugee children enjoy a snack, provided by a small Baptist church with a big ministry in Colombia.

Belkis describes the relief they felt when they received the first gift.

“From that moment on we rested in the Lord. If God could take care of those children when we were totally unable to do so, why not believe that He will continue to do so in the midst of this crisis?”

“When [Pastor Arnulfo] saw what we were doing, without asking us or telling us, he took photos of what we were doing and sent them to Brother Paul,” she continues.

“We never even knew he was doing that. All we did was pray the Lord would provide. The fact is that when we received the first help, we were in a state of absolute crisis.  We are so grateful to Southern Baptists … and to the Lord! [During COVID-19 quarantine] we are the only organization in our state still taking care of Venezuelan refugees.”

All services to refugees in the entire state were closed due to the quarantine, but this little church found a way to get weekly food packages to the children and their families. Belkis describes the assistance they received through the giving of Southern Baptists to be a miracle of God.

“Without it we would no longer exist as a ministry, and we are quite clear that we never sought this or even knew it existed. This was the perfect work of the Lord.”