I sat on our back porch looking at that shaggy lemon tree. I thought of Luke 10:2. Then Wednesday night I went to church and heard Matt’s story. Meet the Actis family and read of their coming adventure.
The Place I Have Prepared for You
I am so passionate and heartbroken for those forced into situations they cannot escape. Last July, God gave my wife and me hearts for the poor in Colombia, but I didn’t know how to help. I didn’t even know where to start, but God had a way for us and paths were already being laid out in our future.
I visited the country of Colombia for the first time last month to make plans for moving there. I wanted to find ministry opportunities, locate a school for my four girls, and meet others already in God’s service there. I also wanted to explore a country my family had never seen before so I could report back to them. I traveled with Bob Spencer, from Christians in Action.
Bob told me about people used as drug traffickers, called drug mules, who carry packaged cocaine or heroin in their stomachs into the United States. They do this to either receive a lump sum of money or for free passage into the States. This is one of the extreme measures that parents and even young children and grandparents will go to secure a better living for their family. They have no one to help them, and this often looks like their only chance.
An 82-year-old grandmother wanted financial security for her mentally disabled grandson and was told that this was an easy way to do it. Like hundreds of others, she didn’t make it. Once she left JFK International Airport, one of the packages broke inside her stomach and she died in the cab. A mother and her 16-year-old son were both serving as drug mules when they arrived in New York. A pellet burst in the boy’s stomach on the way to their hotel.
Once in Medellin, Bob and I were warmly greeted by the Marquardts and others. After church on Sunday we met Pastor Javier in an area just outside Medellin. We visited families displaced by guerilla warfare and violence in a village near Popular 2. These people are the desplazados, or displaced people. The Guerrillas, an armed group that terrorizes Colombian nationals, ran them off their farms and now use the land to grow illegal crops.
I knew of the desplazados before my arrival, and I’d pictured them living in a row of shacks with little gardens to grow food. In Popular 2, I learned that the only place the desplazados are allowed to stay is along the tops of the cliffs where no one else would dare to build their home. There are no gardens. Once a family establishes a home using long stilts that extend down the side of the cliff, other families build homes on top of it, utilizing support of the stilts. Most buildings are three homes high and during downpours in the wetter season (I’m not sure they have a dry season), homes wash out and slip over the cliff, taking entire families to their deaths below.
It was here that I really felt a calling to help. I saw a people hurting and in desperate need of God’s love. These are hard-working people who have tried everything to secure a proper and safe provision for their families. They lost their farms and have nowhere else to go, and they know of no one they can turn to for help.
Daisy, a 13-year-old girl I interviewed, remembers her family grabbing their things and running for their lives. Once in Popular 2, her mother became ill and died. Her father left to look for work and she hasn’t seen him in a long time. It’s just her elderly grandmother and herself.
I tried to put myself in her shoes – what would I do as a 13-year-old girl with no money, a grandmother who can barely get around, and poor living conditions? If someone promised me a huge sum of money, would I take what looked like my one chance at getting out of the slums, my one chance of taking better care of my grandmother? Would I become a drug mule? Would I turn to prostitution? Or would I fall for a boy in the village, begin a family in Popular 2, and watch heartbroken as my children faced the same choices?
On Monday, Pastor Alex took me to another area called Amaga. This is a series of small villages, farms and ranches that fill the valley floor. Pastor Alex told me that there is a great hunger for the word of God here. The Marquardts told me of an American missionary who read a tract and substituted “pescado” for “pecado,” saying, “What is between you and God is fish” (instead of sin). Even so, the Colombians accepted Christ! They are hungry for the word, as much of the word as they can get.
We traveled through the valley. My insides leapt with joy and I heard God say, “This is the place I have prepared for you.” Bob knew it immediately and mentioned that I looked excited. The openness of the people to the Gospel, the rural and agricultural nature of the land (with which I have a great deal of experience), and the invitation from Pastor Alex to plant a church here was too much excitement to hold in.
Churches have reached out to this area, but the distant location, the lack of funds to employ a fulltime pastor (most pastors are laymen), the lack of time to travel there and back (most adults work many hours per week), and the cost of transportation have all made it difficult. Pastor Alex, for example, began meetings and Bible studies there, but he is also preaching in one town, he’s the associate pastor in another town, and he’s a student at the seminary 45 minutes away.
Bob taught me that the best method of reaching the desplazados is through a church plant. The desplazados are not financially capable of a self-supporting church. If another church sent and supported a local church for the desplazados, the poor would receive a great help. I ached to be a part of this. I thought I might have a problem finding a school for my children, but Pastor Alex took us to a Canadian school 30 minutes away. Everything was falling into place before my eyes.
I cannot wait to get in the field and begin the work God has ordained for my family and me. The people are ready. The desplazados cannot rescue themselves from their disastrous situation, but Christ can. I didn’t know how to help or even where to start, but God has been good to me once again and He has shown me the way.
The plans of God are always good.