by Camilo & Joanna Avendaño
Camilo and Joanna1 serve in church planting and discipleship ministry in Colombia.
Our home in Tunja is nestled in the peaks of the northern Andes among fields filled with ingredients for a soothing harvest stew. Near to the Andean páramo, a tropical, alpine tundra, and a two-hour drive north of the country’s capital, Bogotá, Tunja is the capital of the Boyacá department. It is the closest city to a battle site where, in 1819, much of South America finally gained independence from Spanish rule. We live here because of a different battle, one that the King of Kings, our Lord Jesus Christ, won years ago. He gave His command to ‘go therefore and make disciples of all nations’ (Mt. 28:19). As grateful servants, we are delighted to have a small part in seeing others come to salvation in Christ.
The work at Comunidad Bíblica Gracia y Vida, our local gathering in Tunja, began seven years ago as an evangelistic home Bible study. For years, we were a group of about 35 believers, until the Covid-19 pandemic. For some churches, 2020 meant crisis, closures and dispersion. But our experience was different: pulling together, finding ways to meet the needs of those struggling, persevering in prayer and seeing some profess faith in Christ and later be baptised.
When we resumed meeting in person, we had to rent a larger room, add another Sunday school class and adjust the home meetings, as no one has a large enough living room.
The Growing Local Church
Together with several other brothers in Christ taking on leadership roles, two elders work diligently as shepherds, sharing the responsibility of teaching, preaching, visiting and much more. Since many of the believers are newly saved, there is a great need for discipleship – walking alongside those more recently born into this wonderful Kingdom. The new believers we work with are generally eager to grow in the Lord and are keenly conscious that they are part of a new family. They have fresh joy in praying together, bringing lists of unsaved family and friends’ names to our prayer meetings, and casting their burdens on the Lord who hears.
Being a Christian in this part of Colombia sometimes means suffering the opposition of family and friends for leaving the traditional religion, Roman Catholicism. The stigma causes people to be wary of evangelical Christianity. Tunja also has a strong presence of cults and groups who follow modern-day ‘apostles’ and false teachings. Leaving one of these groups to follow Christ can be difficult. Due to these challenges, new believers need patience, encouragement and solid grounding in God’s Word.
Last year, we helped launch outreaches in Villapinzón and Altamira. In Villapinzón, we needed a place to rent for our meeting. Many people are reluctant to let to a church; however, we found favour with a family from whom we now rent a workshop. Unfortunately, the workshop roof leaked and when one of the believers climbed up to take measurements, intending to fix it, he fell more than 16 feet to the cement floor below. However, the Lord preserved his life; he slowly recovered and is more fervent than ever in sharing the gospel. Neighbours who enquired about the accident learned of God’s protection and the growing little church. Each Sunday afternoon, some of us travel there to teach the few new believers and their children. We pray the Lord may open hearts in Villapinzón.
In Altamira, a neighbourhood on the edge of Tunja, several new families have been coming who had not previously heard about liberty in Christ. We chose to study Galatians because many people believe that salvation is by works or perseverance. It can be a long road until their eyes are opened.
Since many of the believers are newly saved, there is a great need for discipleship
As disciples of Christ ourselves, we are learning to make disciples, doing so from our apartment. Much of the work is simply like Paul’s method: ‘Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him’ (Ac. 28:30-31).
Almost every day, we have visitors. Some come for a few hours, others need a place to stay for a few days. Sometimes, we invite young people over for meals or to practise an instrument. Other times, people reach out to us in crisis. Our visitors might be friends, neighbours or people whom the elders have requested we dedicate time to.
Our church holds a Bible study or prayer meeting almost daily, so we work around those with smaller Bible studies in person or over the phone for people too far away to visit. We have a general weekly routine but are open to God’s Spirit as He makes us aware of someone to whom we need to reach out. Real spiritual work happens only by the Spirit of God and so we depend continually on His Word. ‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (Rom. 10:17). His Word never fails and it accomplishes His purposes.
In early 2021, we, and another couple, were entrusted with a group of young people, informally called Muchachitos. Our aim was to bring them together, teach them God’s Word and to pray for them. So every other Friday night we hold an in-depth study. They ask insightful questions, even those who are opening a Bible for the first time. It is our hope for this to be a space where they will meet and get to know God as their own personal Saviour.
We look for ways to be involved in their lives and to get to know their families. We help some of the young people with schoolwork, we eat meals with them and their families. Joanna teaches life skills to one young person and piano to another two. We offer a lending library with suitable books. Pray for our Muchachitos, that these seeds planted will bear fruit and they will follow Christ.
Streams in the Venezuelan Desert
The Venezuelan refugee crisis has led to the painful dissolution of families and incalculable economic devastation. Yet the Lord has used this upheaval to bring many who need Him into Tunja and right to our doorstep.
In 2019, a young couple with two daughters came to our church. In a matter of months, the gospel had transformed their lives. They saw the need to be married, were baptised and began walking with the Lord. There, the long-term work began. The Lord intertwined their lives with ours. We see each other most days, study the Bible together weekly and face good and difficult days together. In May 2021, the Lord opened our eyes to the needs of their older daughter, who never successfully settled into the public school system. We offered to oversee her education. She comes daily to study God’s Word and then regular school subjects. She has professed her faith in the Lord and we pray that her life’s rudder may be set to follow Christ, no matter the cost. Recently, her mother told us that, one day, they may return to Venezuela about as poor as when they came here, but they have gained Christ and He is everything.
Disciples Who Make Disciples
About five years ago, Patricia saw Joanna sharing a Bible story with a few young kids. Months later, when her life began to unravel, she remembered this brief encounter and tried to contact Joanna. On the day Joanna returned from Canada, they bumped into each other in town. Patricia asked Joanna to tell her how to be a good person but not to preach the Bible. One invitation to visit turned into two and three and more. Over the next few years, the Lord did a marvellous work in Patricia’s heart, setting her free from a life of slavery to sin and preparing her to be first in line of her large family and community who would seek Christ. As Patricia began sharing the gospel, most initially discounted her as having been brainwashed and crazy for betraying their family’s religion; however, the change was undeniable. Through her patient, faithful service to her family, some have begun to read the Bible of their own accord.
Please pray for new believers, like Patricia, who need to patiently persevere. Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Colombia and the next generation of those who will preach the good news of Jesus Christ until He comes.