A letter from Sarah Henken, regional liaison for the Andean Region, in Bolivia
“Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.”
New creation. Transformation. God’s amazing possibilities. This is what I keep coming back to when I think about the first delegation visit from the Presbytery of San Fernando in California to Presbiterio Central in Colombia.
The Presbyterian Church of Colombia stands as a strong, small voice for abundant life in a complicated and conflictive context, and those in the San Fernando group were inspired by the creative, bold, and faithful ways that Presbiterio Central witnesses to Jesus Christ. I accompanied this visit in my role as regional liaison, but I was especially delighted to take part because San Fernando just happens to be the presbytery where I am a member!
Central and San Fernando are both predominantly urban presbyteries, with much to teach one another as their partnership develops. Seeing firsthand how Central is responding in its context, and worshiping and praying together, has already been a gift. One of Central’s unique challenges is that it is dispersed over four different cities. We visited three of them, and in each we met a local church that serves as a fountain of life-giving water in the midst of difficult circumstances.
El Redentor church in Medellín was built in an impoverished neighborhood that grew out of the city dump. Over several decades it has been a source of life and hope for residents who overflow the sanctuary out onto the sidewalk on Sunday mornings. Rev. Jairo has been a surrogate father to some of the troubled youth who attend the church’s school. Offering keen insight and great compassion, his goal is to strengthen the community and to bring people to new life in Christ. Today two young men from El Redentor are candidates for ordained ministry serving as pastors in other churches in the presbytery.
One of them, Cristhian Gómez, came to Bogotá last year when he was asked to begin serving Betania church in Bosa, one of the capital’s poorest sectors. In addition to pastoring the church, during the week Cristhian is a leader of the youth development program at the church. The project, called “New Life,” offers after-school tutoring and computer classes, spiritual support, arts and recreation, as well as classes in handicrafts and skills that can be used to earn money. It serves 90 youth from neighborhoods around the church, and this year was invited to take on 90 additional youth from the neighboring municipality of Soacha. The day we visited, two graduates of the program accompanied us and shared about the transformative impact it has had on their lives. They are so committed that they volunteer most Saturdays with the current participants.
In Ibagué, Belén church meets in a house that formerly sold drugs. Neighbors are profoundly grateful to now have a positive presence claiming that space, offering life instead of death. The congregation uses its facility not only for its own worship but also for community celebrations. Ibagué is Colombia’s Music City, and the congregation reflects that heritage in vibrant musical ensembles and classes. The Wednesday evening prayer service we attended abounded with music in a variety of styles. The youth led praise music and the choir shared beloved hymns, mostly sung a cappella. The new pastor at Belén, Rev. Heriberto González, is a great fit in the community because he is a musician too. When we returned to the church the following morning to converse with members of the session and deacons, Heriberto gifted us by sharing one of his own compositions.
“I Want to Be Free” is a song about Christlike freedom and active, transformative discipleship. At one point it says, “I want to be free like you, my Jesus, who loved without end. Seeing human death, you did not stand idly by; you brought your kingdom to us, Lord.” We heard this song while gathered in a space claimed for love and life in Christ’s name. Again and again throughout our visit we would be reminded of the truth of that message, which is not only a truth thousands of years old but also a truth that is renewed day after day. We pray, “Thy kingdom come,” and even as we await with hope the day when it will be fully revealed, God’s loving intentions are made real in all sorts of places—we just need to know how to look.
In a troubled neighborhood; to underprivileged youth who need options beyond drugs and poverty; in a building dedicated for a new, life-giving purpose—the kingdom comes to us in all of these places and many others, near and far, through the transformative presence of the One who does not stand idly by. Where do you see the coming kingdom in your surroundings? How is God calling you to help usher it in? I invite you to pray for this budding partnership, for the ministry of these churches, and I would love to hear about how God is at work in your corner of the world. Thank you for journeying with me!
Grace and peace,
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 2
Blog: Andean Journey