Meeting People Where They Are

by Sam Killins

Sam serves as a church planter among Colombian youth and Venezuelan immigrants in unconventional contexts.

The summer after my first year of college I started to feel grown up; I had a job, I was consistently meeting with other believers, I was talking to a girl that I liked and I was intentional in sharing the gospel. I experienced a whole mix of feelings, both exciting and overwhelming. I would go to the gym and come home from my 10km runs, only to fall asleep exhausted and wake up spontaneously at 2am to worship the Lord! Praying, studying God’s Word, memorising Scripture and reading missionary biographies were how I would spend my free time.

A few months passed and I wanted to put everything on hold. I had started dreaming about becoming a mission worker in Colombia, but my father, Dr Brian Killins (USA), told me I should finish college first. I did not know how to balance my relationship with my girlfriend with the burden I felt to follow Jesus in Colombia – and so my life started falling apart.

Sometime in my second year of college I wrote the following journal entry: ‘The yoke of preaching Christ to an unbelieving people compels me. My passion has faltered in understanding more of the implications and obstacles to doing so; and even by writing here, I’m trying to fight my weakness; but my longing is still there…To preach the gospel where strength is required – Oh valiant Saviour, give me the gaze of one who knows a challenge, a vision stung by blood that drips from Your brow!’

Eventually I finished college, paid back my student loans and took an exploratory trip to Colombia. After my travels, the elders from my church commended me as a worker to a southeastern town called San José, in the jungles of Colombia. It was there that my dreams touched the ground and I was faced with the brutal challenge of starting a church. I would play basketball with a group of guys and invite them over for a Bible study, but only one person showed up. I would go out and share the gospel in the streets, but no one seemed to care. I started helping an indigenous community build a makeshift bridge over a flooded area that obstructed their road, but the project fell through. A month went by and I started to feel like a joke.

Then I stumbled across a football game and the guys needed an extra player, so they asked me to join in. I did, and it was the most miraculous game of my life! I scored a goal and helped set up another; from there on the young men kept inviting me back to play. In turn, I invited them to a Bible study and 20 showed up! Little by little I started to set up the framework for us to become a church.

The Rhythm of Ministry

Disappointments, frustrations, progress, new birth – followed by disappointments, frustrations, progress and new birth, all over again, seemed to be the steady rhythm of my ministry. After two years, I had experienced everything from dengue fever to almost being enlisted in the Colombian military!

And yet, there was a steady group of about 20 unlikely followers of Jesus, with all kinds of problems in their lives, gathering together to remember the Lord and learn from His Word – including me.

I handed over the leadership of that church to mature believers and moved back to the USA, where another relationship fell through. What else was I supposed to do, other than take random jobs and start sharing the gospel?

…there was a steady group of about 20 unlikely followers of Jesus, with all kinds of problems in their lives, gathering together to remember the Lord and learn from His Word…

A Flexible Church

Three years later, I was commended again to go back to Colombia where my dream was revitalised. When I arrived, a couple of friends and I started up a college and career group in an already established church. This weekly Bible study grew to about 30 people, until five of us, who lived closer to the centre of Bogotá, decided to start meeting together on Sunday evenings to break bread. Initially, we met in a tea house but got kicked out because our music was too loud! Instead, we arranged to meet in a restaurant.

Around the same time, a friend invited us to travel downtown and share the gospel with homeless people every Friday night. By this point there were about 20 of us meeting every Sunday evening to learn from the Scriptures, encourage one another, break bread and pray. Ten of us would meet on Wednesdays to have a Bible study and we would also gather together every Friday night before going into the city centre.

Our group has always been willing to try just about anything for the Lord. On multiple occasions we visited rehabilitation centres without knowing what we were getting into. Once we tried having a bicycle church, where 15 of us rode to a central location and stopped to break bread and worship. There was also a time when we held church in a park, but the police were called. We held games evenings and arranged English classes, where we invited newcomers and likewise shared the gospel.

We are a flexible church that is not tied to alocation. This means we can meet anywhere, in a conference room, restaurant or theatre. Whenever someone wants to receive baptism, we will climb a nearby mountain where the brave new believer will step into freezing-cold water and get baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Whenever someone wants to receive baptism, we will climb a nearby mountain where the brave new believer will step into freezing-cold water…

When the fellowship grew to about 40 people and we had matured in our faith, we started arranging short-term mission trips. The church in San José, where I was first involved in mission work, is still continuing, and so we occasionally travel there to encourage them. More than a year ago, a devastating landslide swept through a southwestern town in Colombia, killing more than 500 people; we organised a mission trip to provide relief and Christ-centred counselling to anyone in need. During Holy Week 2018, a group of 12 individuals from our church took a trip to Cúcuta, a northeastern city bordering Venezuela, to share the love of Christ with a number of Venezuelan immigrants.

Where God Leads

About six months ago, while we were in the centre of Bogotá sharing Christ’s love with homeless people, we noticed that there were a considerable number of Venezuelan immigrants. We told them about our church and the following Sunday ten of them showed up! We were really encouraged. My friend and I started meeting with them in the hall of a run-down hotel three times a week, teaching them from the Word and praying for them before they headed out into the streets to find work. We also invited 30 people every Sunday afternoon for lunch. Slowly but surely, more and more of our Venezuelan friends have been incorporated into our church and 60 people now meet regularly. A handful of our Venezuelan friends have received baptism. We have assisted three families with children in finding housing and a few more individuals who have started new jobs through ideas, recommendations or references. We have also set up a baseball team with many of the young Venezuelan guys, with whom we made contact at public bus stations.

This ministry to immigrants is an interesting phenomenon. Sometimes I wonder, if God wanted me to be a missionary to Venezuelans, why did he not just send me to Venezuela? But if I start thinking like that, I would also have to ask why I had to finish college, or have relationships fall apart, or get sick with dengue fever. Naturally, a lot of that was a result of my own mistakes, especially in my relationships. In all these things God was forming His character in me to train me for what was coming next. More than Bible knowledge, as important as that is, it is often through day-to-day life experiences that we can most effectively point others to Christ. It may take suffering and patience just to get us to the point where we are humble enough that God can use us. Perhaps it is once we have gone through difficult experiences that we can finally empathise with those around us and help them in their own struggles.

When I was in college, I prayed that God would ‘give me the gaze of one who knows a challenge, a vision stung by blood that drips from Christ’s brow’. I do not think I had any idea, back then, what I was praying for. Yet, He has been faithful to continue working in and through me.

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