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Venezuelan refugees’ plight tugs at the heart of mission co-worker in Colombia


César Carhuachin puts into practice the principles he teaches future Colombian ministers

August 13, 2019

Mission Co-Worker César Carhuachin, second from left, visits with some of his Venezuelan friends. (Contributed photo)

Just steps away from the Reformed University campus where he teaches, Presbyterian mission co-worker César Carhuachin comes face to face with some of Colombia’s most marginalized people.

He encounters Venezuelan refugees who seek to survive by selling candy on the streets. Earlier this year, the United Nations estimated that 3.4 million Venezuelans have fled their homeland, where political repression has created severe economic hardship and pervasive shortages of food and medicine.

In the classroom, Carhuachin expounds on biblical themes such as neighbor love and God’s concern for impoverished people. Beyond the Barranquilla campus, he puts these teachings into practice among Venezuelan refugees. He engages them not only on the street, but also in their homes, in his home and in Colombia’s Presbyterian congregations.

“I worked with immigrants in the United States for 14 years, and I would say the situation here is much more difficult,” he said. According to the United Nations, the highest number of Venezuelan refugees — more than 1 million — are living in Colombia.

“The Venezuelans are here not because they want to live here,” he observed. “They want to live anywhere but Venezuela.”

Three families he knows — a total of 11 people— live in a two-bedroom house. Each of the bedrooms is occupied by a family with children, and an older couple is sleeping on the floor in the living room. One family sends $10 per week to family members in Venezuela, which is equal to two days of earnings as a street vendor. “They are very aware that their presence in Colombia is temporary,” he said. “They want the situation (in Venezuela) fixed so they can go back.”

In the congregations of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, he finds Colombians who share his concern for Venezuelan neighbors. For example, at Third Presbyterian Church in Barranquilla, 20–25% of Sunday worship attendees are Venezuelan. While the Rebolo community that surrounds the church is known for poverty and a high crime rate, Third Presbyterian has gained a reputation for its hospitality.

“This congregation saw a new mission and they reached out by not just inviting them to worship with them, but they share the few material resources they have with Venezuelans,” Carhuachin said. “The Venezuelans say this is the only church they know of that is doing this for Venezuelans. This is very significant.”

At Third Presbyterian’s invitation, Carhuachin has used his deep experience with immigrant ministry to help the congregation in its outreach. Last year, he suggested the congregation’s Christmas banquet take on a different twist. To help with the homesickness of Venezuelans during the holidays, the church hired some cooks to prepare Venezuelan cuisine.

As a professor, Carhuachin challenges his students to view their life and ministry through different lenses. “I teach the hermeneutics (biblical interpretation methods) class in our school,” he said. “One of the perspectives we use is the immigration perspective.”

Colombian Presbyterians have a long tradition of advocating for vulnerable people. During Colombia’s half century of civil war, the Presbyterian Church of Colombia repeatedly took risky stands on behalf of those displaced by the conflict. A strong commitment to social justice is also embedded in the Reformed University’s theological school, which trains most of Colombia’s Presbyterian pastors.

Many of the students Carhuachin teaches make a lengthy commute to evening classes after working a long day at demanding jobs. He admires their dedication, and he seeks to help them be able interpreters of the Bible. This includes directly applying the Bible’s message to current issues, such as the influx of Venezuelan refugees.

“What can we do besides pray or what can we do besides say the Venezuelan government is no good?” he asks. “I’m not presenting the right or wrong answer, but I challenge them to reflect on the situation and see what possibilities are before them in their own congregations.”

Carhuachin saw an open door for ministry not far from his campus office. He said being aware of opportunities to make a difference is a challenge that confronts all Christians.

“We believe that God leads us to certain ministries,” he explained. “We use what we have learned in the past.”

 Pat Cole, Communications Specialist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:   César Carhuachin,  Mission Co-Worker in Colombia

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

DeAmber Clopton, OGA
Clayton Cobb, BOP

Let us pray:

Eternal God, as you have created us and redeemed us for your loving service, so guide us to the darkened corners in the lives of others, that we might bring them the light of your eternal presence. Grant that, as in Christ you have served us, we might serve all your children, that you may never be without a witness in a hurting world. Amen.

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