In one month we will be welcoming Colombian participants and leaders, along with volunteers from the USA who will come together for one week of English immersion in an experience known as Covenant English Camp. Last year was the first time we helped to host an English camp and it was a success. Colombians often express their desire to have more opportunities to learn English and practice with native English speakers. This combined with teams that have experience in teaching and participating in English camps prompted the first Covenant English Camp last year and now we are preparing for the second.
This year the team coming from the States to serve is a tangible example of churches coming together in mission. One couple from California, who helped teach in the camp last year, will be leading the team that is made up of people from Lakehills Covenant Church (El Dorado Hills, CA), River City Christian (Sacramento, CA), and Roseville Covenant Church (Roseville, MN). We are thankful for the team that God has brought together and ask for your prayers as they continue to prepare, receive training, and get ready to come and serve. We are also thankful for the team of Colombian leaders that has been meeting and has received training to serve in this English Camp. The countdown is on and there are endless details to still attend to in preparation for the camp. Our prayer as we are in preparation mode is that during the Covenant English Camp as participants are engaged in language learning, they will make new friendships with the people they are learning alongside of, and that God’s love will be experienced by all.
HANDS UNITED TO SERVE
At the northern tip of South America, in the Colombia department of Guajira, sits the Wayuu nation. The Wayuu are facing a crisis, because of the extreme corruption, hot desert and arid conditions, affecting especially the children, elderly, lactating mothers and pregnant women. Much of Colombia has heard of the multifaceted crisis facing this region and various attempts to address and improve the situation and condition of life have been undertaken. The Atlantic Covenant Social Foundation (FUSPA), based 6 hours away in Barranquilla, which encompasses four Christian elementary schools, decided to be a part of addressing this crisis, especially focusing in on the malnutrition and education of the children. In partnership with Covenant World Relief, and after a year of developing a relationship with the “Yepirol Rancheria” of the Epiayu Pushaina clan of the Wayuu nation, a project has been started addressing the lack of water and small business practices, and education and malnutrition of the children.
Just a couple of weeks in the ago in the Guajira we offered a two-day Health and Vision brigade, attending to over 400 people. We had received a 4-person mission team from Kingsburg, CA to serve alongside of five Colombians from Medellin and Barranquilla. It was a full week as we also brought the brigade to a new Covenant Church plant, outside of Barranquilla, and to the Pastoral families of the Covenant Churches. Because we had two doctors on our team, and 10 incredible volunteers, we were able to strengthen a relationship with this clan that should continue to develop as the Wayuu guide us in the best ways to partner with them. LET’S SPEAK ENGLISH! March 23, 2017
LET’S SPEAK ENGLISH!
This weekend I, Katie, was in a meeting that was conducted primarily in English. It was with a group of young adults who are helping to organize this summer’s English Camp. English is becoming a tool that many people need to have in order to graduate college, find a job, be competitive in the work force. Education and learning a second language open doors. Over and over again people ask us if we teach English classes. There is such a desire and a need to learn the language. And yet people are also very wary of speaking English. There is a fear of sounding silly or making a mistake. That’s why we want to provide non-threatening environments for people to interact with the language. So this summer we are hosting our second English camp, open to people ages 17 and over. Last year we had an English camp that was organized by a supporting church in California and it was a huge hit. This year we are hoping to over double the participation and the camp will be led by a team of churches from California and Minnesota, as well as a team of Colombians. Please pray with us as we plan and prepare for this week of learning language in a non-threatening environment, where God’s love is shown in our words and actions.
Reflections from prison, January 2017
“…I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
The River City Christian (Sacramento, CA) Men’s Ministry mission team has visited prisons in Mexico and Guatemala on their different Men’s mission trips over the years. In their previous nine trips to minister and partner with the Pacto they had never been able to visit a prison here in Colombia. Evangelism is a strong passion and gifting for Jeff Koons, the Men’s pastor, and he anxiously awaited an opportunity to fulfill that passion in a Colombian prison on one of his mission trips to Colombia. Finally, this year, Julio Isaza was able to make the connection and arrangements through the representative for Prison Fellowship for the nine-member team and for Julio and Gary to spend four hours with more than seventy inmates.
As we entered Bella Vista prison we left everything behind (cell phones, wallets, etc) and just took the props for a box skit and Gospel tracts. No pictures were taken, nothing but the tracts were able to be left inside, and memories were made as God stories were shared – by the team and by the inmates. There was a fast camaraderie established as we sat amongst the inmates and listened and shared. The Gospel message was clearly given and received as God is a God of love and not of condemnation. There was surprising little tension felt as we walked around and were able to visit the cells and cell blocks and see the living conditions of the over 400 inmates in the section where we were. A few hopes were expressed as some of the inmates were close to finishing their time and were hoping for some Christian contacts upon their release.
As we were exiting the prison, our fingerprints were taken one more time and compared to those that we gave as we entered. Everyone matched and we left with hearts full because we went and visited with Jesus in Bella Vista prison.
In the closure time with the work team from the River City Christian Men’s Ministry from Sacramento, some very insightful comments were made. As we were reflecting on the week that had gone by so quickly the two comments that stood out were the following:
One was about the fact that we should try to use the word “serving” instead of “helping” because the word “helping” indicates that we who are helping are reaching down to others, that we are in some way better or above them. It is not to say that “helping” is not a good word, but we are called to serve others. We can say: How can I serve you?
The second was a question that someone in the team was asked by a member of the church before he left for this mission trip, and the question was: “Wouldn’t it be better to send money and let them do it, and not spend it on the travel and stay, but use it for support of the project?” Our Colombian Mission Team Member Julio answered the question by saying, “Sure the money supports, but come and experience working side by side in the culture with your brothers and sisters from Colombia. The relationships that are developed, the experiences of being with the people you are serving is more valuable and adds to your life experience, your soul, your heart, etc. God could have saved the world by staying in heaven, but He chose to come and live among us, Immanuel!”
Everyone concurred and wanted to encourage others to come and experience the people and the culture because they will never forget it and be touched at a deeper level with what God is doing here in Colombia. Having said all this, obviously, there are those who cannot make the trip for various reasons and their giving towards supporting the project is very welcomed. But the comment was made to emphasize that there is tremendous value in serving side-by-side with other Christians as well as reaching out to the non-Christians from another culture by being God’s hands and feet, and being there, it makes such an amazing impact on those from the culture you are serving and on you yourself forever.
May was a great month for our Mission staff. We started it out by enjoying a Mission staff retreat and with the blessing of receiving insight and sharing from the Director of Women Ministries of the Covenant in the U.S., Meagan Gillan. Her challenges to us each morning to go deeper in our individual spiritual journey with Christ left us with the challenge to spend one day in a solo retreat before the end of the year. Because much of our ministry is tied to being in touch and relating to our Colombian brothers and sisters, staying in communication with one another and with our families, friends and supporting partners in the U.S., taking some time for ourselves will be a blessing and a challenge. To some of you who may do this type of retreat regularly, that may sound like a simple task. However, we made a commitment to make it happen, as for some of us this will be a new experience. It will probably take all of us working together to make sure that it does happen, which is a good thing. We should work together to spend some time apart, by ourselves, where according to Henri Nouwen in his book, “The Way of the Heart”, “Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter – the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.” (p. 14)
Soon after our Mission retreat, we had the blessing of hosting Dr. Klyne Snodgrass, North Park Theological Seminary Professor of New Testament, who spent 10 days in Colombia teaching and sharing on the Centrality of the Word of God. Throughout the 25+ hours that Klyne shared in various settings, he always took the focus of the time to the word of God and its central role in our lives and in shaping our identity. Klyne has been instrumental in the formation of each of us on our Mission staff, as all of us have been influenced by his insight and encouragement in classes and other encounters. There is nothing like interpreting for a New Testament scholar as he answers questions by opening up his New Testament in Greek to guide the group in finding the source of where the answer to their question will come from. Klyne was so appreciated by the many people that he shared with because of his insight into God’s Word, the kindness and care in his voice and demeanor, that it was no wonder when some of the Covenant pastors and leaders remarked after a two hour session of questions and answers: ¡Ese hombre es biblia!
When Julio Isaza, fellow Covenant missionary in Colombia, was attending North Park Seminary he engaged the Seminary in conversation about coming to Colombia and putting on a Mission and Ministry course. Paul de Neui, Professor of Missiology, was very much in favor of such a trip and conversations were held between Julio, Paul and Gary. The hurdles that arose regarding holding such a course – security issues, themes, number of students and participants, etc. – were taken care of in time and serious planning began to take place over a year ago. Along with North Park Seminary students and Colombians, the Covenant Church of Mexico was invited to participate. So 19 participants gathered together in Medellin to begin 10 days of focus on being “United Against Human Trafficking and Abuse”. Each day other Colombian Covenanters were able to join the group as they took advantage of the course being offered in their area.
A variety of themes were talked about and taught on, including: Creation and gender; causes and consequences of human trafficking; connections between abuse and human trafficking; the role of the family in prevention of human trafficking; healthy sexuality; self deception; cultures and context, etc. Testimonies were heard from abuse survivors and survivors of trafficking as well.
The first two days were spent in Medellin and then we all traveled to Monteria, Cordoba and La Ye de Sahagun. Gary and Julio had wanted to bring the course to the La Ye community because it is an area where the Covenant of Colombia has a Church and is located at a crossroads of two major highways where trafficking, prostitution and abuse issues are continually prevalent but seldom addressed. It is also a remote corner of Colombia where we were able to visit an elementary school and high school and interact on the theme of human trafficking and abuse with the students, touching on the use of the social media as a common way to prey on children, adolescents and youth. We were even given the chance to address and interact with the high school faculty on this theme in a special session. This was definitely a highlight of the trip as this kind of interaction and input at this school and in this community had never been experienced before.
The lives of everyone involved were definitely changed as the intense focus of the theme played itself out. The hope is to continue to build on this theme, and, within a couple of years, be back here again to continue on. As we found out during the time together (and as many of you who are reading this already know) human trafficking and abuse are not going away, in spite of many valiant efforts, programs, movements, and organizations working to address it and stop it. We are hoping that the human condition will not grow numb to the focus on human trafficking and abuse and that this can serve us here in Colombia, in Mexico and in the U.S. as the Covenant works to eradicate this from being an accepted part of society.
First Covenant Sacramento Men came to keep going on the Family Restoration Center building, in Monteria. We even took them to the beach, since it was their sixth trip here. The second floor metal base is down, cement was poured over the first section (where Pastor Luis and Gladys live) and the church will finish the rest of the floor in December. Next steps — walls, Children’s ministry rooms, pastoral apartment, etc.
Bayside Granite Bay Church sent their second team of the year to Monteria to help with the construction of the Family Restoration Center temple, Children’s ministry rooms and pastoral apartment. They were able to put the forms together for the cement beams which will hold up the second floor, as well as help the Family Restoration Center reach out to the neighborhood families by being hosted by the new families in the Church.
Redeemer Covenant Church from Orangevale, CA, sent Amanda Kenny to Monteria for a two month internship of cross-cultural ministry experience. Pastor Bob Anderson, Sylvia and Raquel came to support Amanda in her last days of ministry as well as to establish relationships with various ministries in the Costa Sur Region for future ministry group participation and work. Everyone enjoyed the opportunity to get to know better the Redeemer team and to talk of the coming years of ministry together.
The Hope Covenant Church, Chandler, AZ, mission team was in Medellin ministering with young professionals, church planting, youth leadership, small business consulting, Advocacy for Victims of Abuse and Mending the Soul workshops, and an English intensive in Medellin CEIP school. This is the first time Hope Covenant has been with us and we anticipate further opportunities to learn and minister together.
Praise God for the results of the Vision/Planning trip from North Park Theological Seminary. All plans went forward as we were able to meet with all of those who will be involved in the coordinating of the experience both in the South Coast Conference and in Medellin. NPTS will be in Colombia in 2014 to participate in a course on Human Trafficking and we are able to bring this opportunity to the outlying areas of where the Colombia Covenant is located in order to bless these dear brothers and sisters
Medellin and the Antioquia Regional had the opportunity to host the Lay Counseling Mission team from First Covenant Church of Sacramento, CA. This team was in local Covenant Churches teaching and counseling on various themes – financial responsibility, motivating volunteers, unity, dealing with loss, team building, etc. They also provided Counseling and Encouragement to those involved with the Valuable Women in the Hands of Jesus Outreach to women involved in the sex industry and to the Hands With Hope Women’s Craft Ministry. Their impact on those with whom they met and shared with was such a blessing that plans are underway as to how to expand on this type of mission experience.
The South Coast Regional Churches had the opportunity to host the Abide Ministries team who taught on Marriage Rx (one of the best marriage seminars that the Covenant has participated in here in Colombia) and Sonship (intentional discipleship) to the leadership of the South Coast. Almost 40 leaders participated and were blessed. At the National Pastoral Couple’s retreat and Annual meeting of the Colombia Covenant the Abide Ministries team also shared the same themes with the 70 in attendance. We truly appreciate this partnership with the Abide Team from Portland, OR.