by Sam Killins
Sam (USA) and his wife, Alejandra, serve full time in Colombia in church planting and outreach among the migrant community.
Every time I interact with immigrants and hear their stories of travelling thousands of miles in search of better opportunities, I’m humbled. The determination it takes to leave their countries and face the overwhelming challenge of surviving with little more than their ability to improvise, is remarkable. It’s amazing that millions of people will walk thousands of miles, facing countless dangers, constantly feeling weak and vulnerable in a land not their own, for the hope of a better life.
Over the years since Venezuela’s collapse, countless bitter stories of family separation have unfolded. Typically, a family that decides to risk all and migrate to another country, saves as much cash as they can and the husband goes alone to find a job, make money and then send for the family. This is easier said than done. After a few months, often the husband can barely sustain himself, he feels lonely and ends up in a relationship with another woman. Alternatively, both parents may set off on a precarious journey, leaving their children behind in the care of a relative or even a neighbour, which can lead to abuse or neglect of the children. Sometimes a whole family will start walking towards another country, only to be hit with the harsh reality that getting by in a foreign place is a lot harder than they ever imagined. The stress can become so intense, that the husband and wife often separate and their children become susceptible to drug use or other criminal activity. However, in the midst of all the terrible sadness, God is at work and bringing some to a new life in Him.
Finding Hope & Love
Gabriel and Yurbey – Gabriel studied to be a lawyer but when he realised that Venezuela was lawless and that his degree wouldn’t get him very far amid all the corruption, he left for Colombia with little more than a few personal items and his miniature four-stringed cuatro (guitar). He arrived in Cucuta, a city on the border with Colombia and Venezuela, and took to the streets with his amazing voice, playing his heart out at the busy intersections. It was not his profession of choice but it paid better than what an honest lawyer could make back home. He met a young Venezuelan lady, Yurbey, they fell in love and had a beautiful little daughter, Gabriela.
When I first saw Gabriel on the street, I asked him if I could play the box drum along with him, giving him the money we made. When the opportunity presented itself, I started telling him about Jesus and how He came to save us. Gabriel took me to his flat, which had little more than a small mattress and a stovetop, and introduced me to his lovely de facto family. As we sat on the floor and talked about Jesus, Gabriel spoke to me of all the different gods he believed in as part of his religion of santeria.1 He showed me cards that he carried with him in his empty billfold representing all those demonic idols. I told him that if he ever started following Jesus, he would need to leave those false gods behind.
As the days went by and our friendship developed, Gabriel eventually exchanged his faith in demonic powers for a real faith in Jesus. I invited him and his family to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, where they could attend a church, which I had started. At the time I was going to be away in the USA, so I let my Venezuelan friends stay in my flat for free while they attended our church in Bogotá. As he and Yurbey grew and matured in their faith, I recommended that they get engaged and start taking practical steps to get married. With the money that Gabriel had saved up playing his cuatro while not having to pay rent, he bought Yurbey a ring and proposed beside a river on the outskirts of Bogotá.
we sat on the floor and talked about Jesus
I had the privilege of baptising both Gabriel and Yurbey. Eventually, they were able to get all their papers together so they could legally marry. By this time Alejandra and I were married ourselves, and it was a joy for Alejandra to organise the wedding ceremony for our friends and for me to officiate. Gabriel and Yurbey are active in the Refuge Church of Cucuta and they have grown a lot in their capacities in this body of believers.
Hammer and Vivian – Vivian travelled more than 20 hours from her hometown in Venezuela to Cucuta where she works with a company teaching Spanish online to people all over the world. Somehow, through friends online, one of Vivian’s Spanish students living in America suggested I contact Vivian and invite her to our church, which I did. She is a Christian and an excellent addition to the worship team; right away she started helping us out with everything she could. After some time, she met a Colombian Christian man, Hammer. When they married, Gabriel and Yurbey served as the witnesses and it was so special for Alejandra and me to be there and consider how God had orchestrated everything.
Willing Men & New Ministries
A number of young men have a heart to serve the Lord. I met Victor at a refugee camp where he was sharing the gospel. I started joining him for a Bible study in a restaurant. At times, he would preach in the open air on the streets or retreat to the mountains to fast and pray. For a while we put on a weekly open-air church meeting together. Victor would stand up to preach and have everyone laughing and then, shortly thereafter, thinking seriously about their sin and repenting. He shared the gospel with prostitutes, drug addicts and emerald dealers alike, and persuaded whole groups of people to join him for a spontaneous sermon. Victor continued on to the north of Colombia and crossed into Panama, then Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras and into Guatemala. There he stayed on an old woman’s farm where he started a church with a few young people he met on the street as well as with Haitian immigrants who were travelling with him.
Yalinson, Angela and their children immigrated to Colombia a few years ago. One day, he saw our light on in our church and just walked in. He used to have no fear of God; when he lived in Venezuela he held up a bus with a fake gun to rob the passengers. Today, he works at an ice-cream factory and has started up his own slushy business and he and his family feel at home in our assembly. On one occasion, when we invited some Venezuelan walkers2 to join us for our Sunday morning service, Yalinson stood up to pray for them as they were making the long journey back home after two years in Peru. Yalinson started a football club with about 20 young boys. I participate as assistant coach to encourage Yalinson and to share God’s love with the young boys and their families. Alejandra is discipling Angela and they are great friends.
In the past eight years, over 6.8 million Venezuelans have left their country.3 Many of them are tired, destitute and hurting. What can the church do in the middle of so much difficulty? A little money can go a long way, or better yet a good job opportunity that provides peace and dignity. Sometimes it feels that providing a hot meal is just like putting a bandage on a wound. Nevertheless, food is always a winner and even if it’s just a nice lunch at a restaurant, it generates opportunities to talk about Jesus, who understands and deeply cares about their struggles. Often immigrants feel terribly alone and welcoming them into a body of believers who care for them will bring smiles back to their faces. In the context of kindness, hearts can open up to God’s love and salvation.