Saturday, July 9, 2022

Two Venezuelan Love Stories in Colombia

While there have been innumerous cases of Venezuelan immigrants who have tragically been separated from their families as a result of the collapse of Venezuela's economy - in the midst of all the terrible sadness that I've seen first hand, there are two stories that I know of which are actually quite encouraging. The first is of a friend who I met on the streets of Colombia's main border city with Venezuela known as Cucuta. He had studied to be a lawyer in the far Eastern plains region of Venezuela, but when he realized that Venezuela was lawless and that his degree wouldn't get him very far amidst all the corruption - he embarked on the uncertain voyage of making it to Colombia with little more than his miniature 4 stringed "cuatro" guitar and a few personal items... He arrived in Cucuta and hit the streets with his amazing voice and cowboy-style "cuatro" skills, and started playing his heart out to the drivers in the cars at the busy stoplight intersections. It was definitely not his profession of choice, but it certainly paid better than what an honest lawyer could make back home.
Eventually he fell in love with a Venezuelan young lady named Yurbey, and they had a beautiful little daughter whom they named Gabriela. In the midst of their daily struggle to survive, I showed up one day at the same stoplight Gabriel was playing at, and asked him if I could play the box drum along with him, so as to help him out there in his "open air office" as he like to call it...
Obviously I just gave the money that we made to him, and when the opportunity presented itself, I started telling him about Jesus and how He came to save us. He took me to his little flat that had nothing more than a small mattress and a stovetop, and he introduced me to his lovely de facto family. As we sat on the floor and talked about who Jesus was, Gabriel starting mentioning to me all the different "gods" he believed in that were somehow associated to his syncretistic spiritism religion known as "santeria". He had little cards with him in his empty billfold that represented all those demonic idols, and as he showed them to me, I just 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, he eventually exchanged his faith in demonic powers for a real faith in Jesus, and I invited him and his wife and daughter to the capital city of Colombia where there was a church they could attend which I had started a few years back...
At the time I was going to be traveling to the United States, and so I let my Venezuelan friends stay in my apartment for free, while they simultaneously attended our church in Bogota and Gabriel kept playing his cuatro at a couple of his improvised "stoplight offices".
As he and his de facto wife grew and matured in their faith, I eventually recommended that they get engaged and start taking practical steps to get officially married. With just about all the money that Gabriel had saved up while not having to pay rent at my apartment, he bought Yurbey a nice ring, and proposed to the mother of his daughter at a river on the outskirts of Bogota. My girlfriend at the time accompanied me for the sweet occasion, and it was definitely a good little introduction for our own engagement that would take place about a year later.
When we all made it back to the border city of Cucuta, I had the privilege of baptizing both Gabriel and Yurbey, and then eventually they were able to get all their papers together so they could get legally married. By this time my previously mentioned girlfriend and I had already gotten both engaged and married ourselves, and it was such a joy to now have my wife Alejandra organize the wedding ceremony for our friends, and for me to officiate it. Gabriel and Yurbey have remained active in the Refuge Church of Cucuta ever since, and they have even grown a lot in their capacities as leaders in this same body of believers.
Now jump about six months into the future and meet Vivian. She too, like Gabriel, traveled more than 20 hours from her home town in Venezuela to make it to Cucuta and work with a company teaching Spanish online to people all over the world. Somehow through the connection of a friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook (that's 3 times removed!) - one of Vivian's Spanish students living in the States made the effort to get someone to contact me so that I would contact this Venezuelan online Spanish teacher that lived in Cucuta, and invite her to our church... I did, and it turns out that she is an excellent Christian worship leader, and right from the start she jumped into our new church and started helping us out with everything she could.
After some time she met a Colombian Christian man and they got engaged, and then who else but Gabriel and Yurbey served as the witnesses in their legal wedding!
...When they had their Christian ceremony, it was so special for my wife Alejandra and I to be there and connect all the dots and consider of how God had orchestrated everything.
These are just two happy stories, but the truth is that there are countless bitter stories of separation that have taken place over the past 8 years of Venezuela's catastrophe, ever since the poorer class of Venezuelans were forced to leave their own country in search of better opportunities.
The typical protocol for a family who is about to take this risk is to muster up all the cash they can find and send off the husband of the household to another country (usually Colombia), so that he can find a job and make enough money to send for his wife and kids... Easier said than done, as after a few months go by and the husband can barely sustain himself, he starts getting lonely and ends up in a relationship with another woman. Either that, or both parents set off on their precarious escapade alone, leaving behind their children to be taken care of by a grandmother or an aunt or in some cases even a neighbor that can go so far as to abuse or neglect the children that have been entrusted to them. Sometimes a whole Venezuelan family will start walking for more than a month to make it into Colombia and find a better lifestyle, only to be hit with the harsh and brutal reality that getting by in a foreign country that at times discriminates against them, is a lot harder than they ever imagined. The stress and anguish that this family may go through may become so intense, that the husband and wife often get separated, and the young teenagers become susceptible to narcotic influence or other criminal activity.
So what can the church do in the middle of all of this? Sometimes it feels like providing a hot meal or picking up immigrant walkers on the street to get them a little closer to their destination is just like putting a bandaid on a huge flesh wound... Nevertheless, it's something; and in the midst of our conversations that we have along the way, I love talking about Jesus, who in many ways was an immigrant himself, and who understands and deeply cares about the struggles that my Venezuelan friends are going through. Often a little money can go a long way, or better yet, connecting an immigrant with a good job opportunity can catapult them into a steady lifestyle that provides peace and dignity. Often immigrants feel terribly alone, and welcoming them into a body of believers that cares for them and honors them, will make their smiles return to their faces. Food is always a winner, and even if it's just during a nice lunch at a restaurant, hearing about Jesus can open up their eyes to God's love, and their hearts can start to burn within them (Luke 24:31-32).

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

A Tale of Two Men and Two Churches

There's two guys that I've worked with a lot in ministry who would love to become full time missionaries.
One of them helped me start a church in Colombia's capital city of Bogota, and the other helped me start a church in Colombia's main border city of Cucuta.
Both of them were key in working with Lina, Alejandra, and I in starting a church in Duitama, and then they each went off to seminary and left the 3 of us behind to hold our fledgling church together as Alejandra and I simultaneously tried to keep The Refuge Church afloat in Cucuta. 
One of them got a full ride to study at Emmaus Bible College in the States, and the other got a scholarship to get a Bible degree in Medellin, Colombia; and both of them have recently finished their studies, and now have their whole lives ahead of them. 
One of them gutted it out and traveled with me on a few occasions into Venezuela, and the other enjoyed all the luxuries of traveling with me on a couple of occasions in the States. Both of them have suffered tremendously in witnessing their parents' separation, and each of them has surely considered marriage a lot themselves. 
One of them tries to prohibit women from teaching the Bible to other men; the other encourages it; but they both teach the Word of God extremely well themselves.  One of them will likely get commended as a missionary from a Brethren assembly in Wisconsin and be financially set for life - and the other will likely have to lay aside his dreams of full time ministry and work his whole way through another degree and then hope for another half-way decent job in the future that will bi-vocationally sustain him in the ministry somehow.
It would be awesome if Alejandra and I could keep planting and leading churches with both of these guys in the future, but at the same time, we know that we don't have too much to offer them.
We have two churches that are awesome but don't generate tons of income. One of those churches rents two very enviable buildings that are ostentatiously/glaringly crying out to be used at their full potential. The other church rents a space in a very pleasant restaurant every Sunday but could likewise accommodate twice the number of people currently attending its meetings.  One of those churches has really good preachers and the other doesn't, but both of them have amazing musicians.
One of the churches is made up of a lot of Venezuelan immigrants, and the other consists of a high percentage of former drug addicts and alcoholics, yet both of them have learned that following Christ isn't all about themselves.
They each study the Bible expositively, remember the Lord frequently through the Breaking of Bread, pray earnestly every Friday night, and reach out to the community intentionally, but also have a few pretty complicated issues that they deal with from time to time.
Alejandra and I love both churches as if they were our own children (and it would also be cool if maybe some day we really did have our own children 🙂); and we respect and admire both the guys that I've just been talking about, and wouldn't want to work with anyone else any more than them. Nevertheless, it's God that orcastrates everything, and it's His Spirit that will direct both Juanes and Samuel every step of the way.
After Jesus rose from the dead, there was a time when Peter asked Jesus about John, and Jesus said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me" (John 21:22)... More than financial independence or traveling in Venezuela as opposed to the States - these disciples' time on Earth and the way in which they died varied enormously! Even so, the only thing that mattered was that they both followed Jesus in whatever way he wanted them to... And thanks to their obedience, the church as we know it today, continues to exist.
Regardlesss of what happens with these two men, Alejandra and I will keep looking to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). - Sam and Alejandra Killins

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Missionary Update

Hello everybody! I've been super disconnected from social media for a while because after losing a phone in Cucuta and having a brand new second one stolen in Bogota, I just sort of gave up, and haven't tried to publish anything recently... The funny thing is that the most likely time for me to have lost a phone to begin with, would have been while I was in Venezuela and some paramilitaries decommissioned my device for about an hour after I took a picture that they weren't very thrilled about... They told me that I had to buy the equivilent of $15 dollars worth of Christmas presents for Venezuelan kids if I wanted my phone back, so I just sort of thought that that was kind of like a win-win. I bought some Venezuelan kids some preseants, shared the gospel to the leader of the vigilantes, and got my phone back, only to have the silly thing get lost again a week later when Alejandra and I went bowling with some friends in Colombia... I waited about a month for my sister to bring me a new Samsung Galaxy from the States, but before I even turned it on, it got robbed one day while I was preaching, and some wise guy broke the window of my car and ended up finding a pretty nice little state of the art mobile phone right there inside of my blue backpack, just waiting to get stolen. I'm sure that whoever robbed it is enjoying it quite a bit right now. ...So I guess the moral of the story is that you're more likely to get something robbed while you're preaching in Colombia, than after you've crossed the border illegally into Venezuela and gotten held up by paramiliteries (yikes!)... But yeah, anyway, if I were to publish some pics from the past couple months, these would be the ones:
Alejandra and I in Venezuela after crossing the border illegally on our wedding anniversay
Alejandra and I on the open border for Venezuelans but not yet for Colombians
Alejandra and I in a beutiful city of Colombia that we would like to start a church in some day
Preaching on the book of Filemon in Iglesia Duitama
Iglesia Refugio in Cucuta made up of Venezuelan immigrants as well as a few American friends that work with Samaritans Purse
Iglesia Parkway in Bogota which is kind of like the mother church of Iglesia Duitama and Iglesia Refugio
Friends from all 3 churches along with friends from an associated church in La Calera
Street musician friends in Cucuta Soli Deo Gloria, Sam and Alejandra