Hope for Cartagena
Contributed by Lidia Blatz
I have just returned home from my mission trip to Cartagena, Colombia. I was there from July 16-26 and those days were perhaps one of the most memorable of my life. When we got to Cartagena, Colombia we were blown away at the mere beauty of the city. Music could be heard and fragrant smells of Colombian food wafted through our senses as we drove in taxis to our new home in Calle Real. We assigned rooms and filled air mattresses and called it a night. We were excited to start the next day training the VBS teachers for the upcoming week. Lilliana emphasized the need to be flexible and to pray over our trip because anything could change in a moment. God’s plans are always bigger than our own. Saturday morning we were up early organizing our roles in the training of the new teachers and preparing the supplies for instruction. The need for strong biblical children’s materials was great and the new program “Hope for Kids” was greatly appreciated by the leaders. Yet when we made it to the port where we were to teach our leaders we were told we could not enter and re-directed us to a fully air-conditioned conference room to be used. God is great! The Cartagena team greeted us with gifts of team t-shirts and bracelets that could be used to present the gospel. We taught games and hand motions that would be used to clearly teach this truth. They were eager to learn all that was presented and were even willing to pretend they were children learning these truths for the first time.
The following day was the true test of our preparation. We arrived early at the port with all of our supplies and eagerly awaited the arrival of our children. We were told early on the children were hand selected for this VBS and some had endured horrible abuse and were in need of constant love and affection. When the busses rolled in our hearts beat a little faster excited to see just how God would work in these children’s’ lives. They quietly sat down and surveyed the group. Instantly as the cameras were raised their faces lit up and the desire to connect to the team became visible. Every team leader had children who gravitated to them and there was a boy in particular that made an impression on me that I will never forget. He seemed to sit off to the side and never entered into the activities. When I would sit next to him and ask him questions he would look away and remain silent. I prayed for him and as the day progressed I focused on other needs. I played soccer with the children in the stifling heat of the Cartagena sun and as I sat down to catch my breath this same boy laid his head on my lap to be hugged. I stopped everything I was doing and began to sing to him the bridge to the song “La Nina” that says “Te amo mas que mi vida…” (I love you more than my life) as I rocked him and stroked his hair. He immediately became like a baby. Even when I joined the group he would not let me go. As I rocked him and stroked his hair he began repeating the verses that Lilliana was teaching the children. He recited the verse and looked up at me with his big brown eyes almost as if he was afraid I would leave him. It was so tender and sweet I felt God’s love not only pour out over this child but over me as well. It was as if God was speaking to this boy and saying “Be still my child and know I am God. You are wonderfully and fearfully made. You are mine.”
The Cartagena VBS was blessed in an unexpected way when a Brazilian battleship docked at our port. The soldiers came out and were transfixed with the children and the mission that we were doing. Soon enough they were doing push-ups with the boys, playing instruments as we sang our praise songs and invited us onto the battleship the following day. Many of the boys lacked male leaders and the chance to interact with the soldiers made a big impression on our young men. We told our children they would need to be on their best behavior and learn their verses in order to go onto the ship. The children rose to the challenge and as we lined up to enter the battleship I found myself as excited as the children. It was wonderful and one boy in particular stood out to me. He had dirty clothes on and a pair of glasses that were held together with multiple strings of different colors. As I took pictures of the group, I had him stand next to the cannon with the Brazilian soldier. His transformation was significant. He stood up tall and held his head high. It was as if his poverty and his pains were behind him from that moment. I thought of the verse “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it in you.” God planted the seed of hope in that boy that day. God is good indeed.
Thursday and Friday we took a boat over to the island “Tierra Bomba.” The poverty that awaited us was incomprehensible. We worked with the children and one of the girls in particular stood out to me. She had just turned fourteen and had hard eyes. She rarely smiled and only seemed to want me to sing. I told her I would only sing if she would join me which she preceded to do. As we walked through the dilapidated village hand in hand my heart sank. The living conditions were so severe I had to pray that my face would not reveal my horror. There was a sense that not only physical abuse occurred but that it was ongoing. A pair of motorcyclist policeman took it on themselves to follow us as we walked through the village to ensure our safety. At last we came to the home of this young girl. Her parents were not involved in her life and so she and her brother raised the younger children on their own. She seemed proud and excited to show me around her place but when it came to her bedroom and she stood for a picture, her entire demeanor changed. Tears streamed down her face and her eyes seemed as hard as stone. My stomach churned within me and I prayed for her in that moment. I knew God had a purpose for her life. He is the great healer of all pains and I prayed that He would be with her now. The following day I began calling her my missionary. It was her responsibility to present God’s truth now that she is fourteen and mature enough to proclaim his Good News. As the week progressed, she not only began to smile and laugh, she entered in the song leading for the children. She stood tall and seemed to have a renewed purpose. What a wonderful God we serve.
As our boat came into port the following day, hundreds of children came running down the stone steps to greet us. It reminded me of what Jesus must have seen when He and his disciples came to preach the good news and hundreds of people gathered to hear God’s word. We were only the tools God was using to begin the healing of this land. The Hope for Kids training was very successful not only teaching the gospel, but instructing children and leaders how to organize their thoughts concerning these truths.
As we left to Fort Lauderdale, Lilliana told me that the following morning, at 8:00 AM, she would be meeting with an association of pastors about the Hope for Kids training. She also met with a pastor doing a mission in Barranquilla who was eager to receive this training. Lilliana is planning to comeback to Cartagena in December. Praise the Lord! The Great Commission has only begun in the children of Colombia.
Hope for Medellin
Contributed by Lilliana Alvarez-Bean
It has been an amazing trip. We had 14 pastors and leaders attend the training and a total of 7 ministries represented. The trip kicked-off with the training July 2nd and 3rd. We had two full days of teaching, games and great interaction amongst the pastors and leaders. Everyone was eager to learn and willing to become like children to better understand the materials and therefore; more equipped to transmit what they learned to the children in their ministries. The attendees really captured the vision of Hope for Kids and left the training with a bigger vision and a renewed commitment to the children they serve. I was surprised to hear from all of them how the majority of the churches in Colombia do not teach the kids, but rather entertain the kids. They were glad to see how rich and biblically sound Hope for Kids is. This coming Monday I will be meeting with a few pastors to help them with implementation and ideas for reaching the children in their communities.
Some of the pastors have already approached me regarding the possibility of training in other cities in Colombia, like Bogota, Cali and other remote areas. I spoke to a Pastor from Cartagena that is considering attending the training in that city. The interest is great and so is the need.
I was invited to speak at a local radio program regarding Hope for kids and the need for parents to be involved in their children’s spiritual growth. We had callers express their lack of knowledge and ability to teach their children the Word of God. I think the Lord is showing us a very great need for the children of Colombia.
After the training, we then started a VBS at Pastor Carlos Diaz’s church. His wife and two leaders had attended the training. We had 21 children. The neighborhood is very poor and is considered a zone 1, which is the lowest economic stratus. Most of the children live in shacks made of wood with tin roofs, domestic violence is an everyday occurrence, lack of food, love, parental supervision are part of the day to day life.
It is Sunday July 4th and the kids arrive at 9:00 am anticipation and curiosity of what the day may bring. We started with prayer and worship and the kids loved it. We the got into the hand motions and cadences and kids were having a blast and so were we. At the end of the day, the kids couldn’t wait for the next day. After a long day two, I had them sit on the floor and told them two stories. It was wonderful to see them relaxing and just listening and asking questions. The kids loved the attention and small group activities; they were also very candid and willing to speak about their family and friends. I was amazed to see how open they were to speak about parental abandonment, infidelity, abuse, school. The small group I worked with was boys ages 9-11, it was a blast. Some of the boys held my arm and affectionately kissed my hand. I could sense their need for love and attention. They kept asking me if I was coming back. We will be ending the VBS this Saturday. The children invited their parents to come and see them perform the gospel with all the hand motions.
I met with Pastor Carlos and his wife Merary yesterday morning, and they mentioned that last Wednesday night service was full of kids. They didn’t have enough chairs for all the kids, many of them new to the church, but best of all some of the kids attending the VBS brought their moms to church for the very first time. The pastor and his wife had tears in their eyes as they shared the news with me. They can see how God is bringing the children and they are now ready and equipped to serve them. I must say I was very moved, and as I sit and write this update I have a tear in the corner of my eye. Our God is Awesome and great. I think of the verse in Luke 18:16, where Jesus says. “Let the children come to Me, do no forbid them, for theirs is the Kingdom of God”. Colombia a nation full of children, here we call them seeds, these seeds needs to be implanted with the Word of God.
Next week I will be working with Open Arms Foundation, a ministry to the Street Kids in Medellin. I will be helping Enoc and Cristina implement Hope for Kids. The gospel is the only way to bring change and hope in the lives of these children. May the Lord richly bless you and thank you for all your prayers and financial support.
February 2010 Update
Contributed by Liliana Alvarez-Bean
It is certainly a privilege to serve the Lord in Colombia. We believe the Lord is moving in Colombia, 50 years of bloodshed and despair has left desperation for change in the hearts of the people. Colombians are desperate and the gospel of Jesus Christ can deliver them. This is why we are planting seeds, watering them and trusting the Lord to bring the increase.
Colombia is a nation rich in biodiversity, natural resources and agricultural products. Colombians are very proud and passionate about their country. Unfortunately, this South American nation has been riddled with violence for over 50 years. In recent years, it has been estimated that 3.2 million people have been displaced from their homes and forced to flee to large cities having left everything they owned behind because of the violence. Most of these people have had to take over land and build a little hut to call home. There are entire neighborhoods throughout the major cities that have grown and have become large communities. One of these cities is Medellin, the third largest city with a population of 3.2 million. It is the most industrious and the most progressive city in Colombia. It also has been the epicenter of bloodshed, drug cartels and more recently gangs. Medellin currently has 150 gangs fighting and killing each other for territorial control of their illicit activities. In January of 2010, 290 deaths were reported in this city alone, but other sources say that the real figure is closer to 400.
As we were praying for the Lord’s will and new opportunities to be involved, we felt the Lord opening a door in Medellin, Colombia. Last November Coral Ridge planted a church in Medellin. Since then many people have come to faith in the Lord Jesus. This church plant is in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. But the Lord has been very faithful and gracious in providing for “New City Church” in Medellin. We believe that the Lord is slowly transforming the community of Bello Oriente one person at a time. One such person is a young man who at the age of sixteen joined a paramilitary group and later defected and became a hired killer. Listen as he tells part of his story in the video below. John, as he is called, told us how easy it had been for him to kill, it only took someone rubbing him the wrong way. He also shared a story of how he and others tried to kill a pastor because he owned a small farm. All efforts to kill this pastor were fruitless; he realized that God was protecting him. Last December his boss was murdered, and he began to think about his future. During that time he met pastors Gustavo and Adan, they started to speak to him about Jesus. A few weeks later John invited them into his home and that very day he received Christ as his Lord and Savior. A dramatic change started to take place in his life as the Holy Spirit was working in him. Today his desires are to grow in the knowledge of the God who saved him and to serve Him, to marry the mother of his daughter and earn an honest living. This is just one story of a life transformed by the gospel for the glory of God.
The Lord has also allowed Coral Ridge to bring a team to Medellin to conduct an EE clinic. We had 71 pastors and leaders from 19 different churches attend the training. It was amazing to see how the hearts were being captivated by the gospel, as well as, a renewed commitment to bring the gospel to the lost. We saw pastors with tears in their eyes as they felt pain for the lost and conviction for their lack of commitment to evangelizing their own people. Last week, pastor Adan mentioned that they had had very low attendance for Sunday service, so they had a short service and then the pastors and the congregants went out evangelizing door to door. That Sunday three people received Christ. Many others are implementing EE in their churches. We will continue to persevere with our brothers and sisters in Colombia with a desire to see this nation transformed by the gospel from a culture of “death” to a culture of “life.”
Our church is also planning two trips to Colombia this summer (noted above). The trips will focus mainly kids EE. We hope that you will become a partner in prayer, or financial support, or that you will join us on these trips.
- God’s continued protection for Pastors Gustavo and Adan.
- Physical and spiritual protection for the new believers attending the church.
- A great harvest from the EE training.
- The two trips planned for the summer and for God’s provision.
- The call for an interdenominational and city wide prayer for the city of Medellin. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
December 2009 Update
Contributed by Liliana Alvarez-Bean
Thank you once again for your willingness to pray for Colombia. I wanted to give you a brief update:
My trip last December was a complete success. The church is doing very well. Pastor Gustavo has moved the 2 small groups to the church. If you recall, the pastors had 2 small groups meeting in homes, but due to space constraints they moved the groups to the church. The groups meet on Wednesday and Friday evenings. Four new families have been added to the church. Gustavo and Adan continue to visit families in their homes. Michael and I had the opportunity to travel to Turbo and we were able to bring 190 gifts to very poor children. Michael celebrated his ninth birthday with the kids. We were also able to pay to have cement poured for the floor for the soup kitchen "Pequenos Felices". Pastor Gustavo was able to share the gospel with the children and the moms.
Here is the story of one of the families now attending the Church in Medellin:
Four weeks ago a 9 year old girl came to the church, she gave her life to the Lord that day. The pastors expressed that this young girl had been touched by God in a deep way. Two days after her conversion she calls pastor Adan and asks if she could bring her 10 year old brother to see him. Pastor Adan says yes, so she brings her brother and Pastor Adan shares the gospel with her brother and he gives his life to the Lord. Both siblings go home and share with their parents their new found faith. Pastor Adan gets a call from the girl asking if he could please come to the house to speak to her parents, the mother speaks to Adan and asked if he could please be at their home within the next hour. Adan visits the family and shares the gospel with the father, and he gives his life to the Lord. The mother then hears the gospel and also receives Christ. Within 2 days the whole family is saved. PRAISE THE LORD!