Report from the Mission Field: Colombia
By the Rev. Dr. David Stains
On August 15 to 23, the Conference Committee on Encounter with Christ conducted another mission to Colombia. The mission went to Brisas del Mar, an extremely rural location toward the Caribbean coast.
Our team of six included Dr. David Stains, Magaly Johnson, Marysue Pearce, Jeffrey Wolbert, Karen Cobbett, and Maria Zurcher. We were joined by Rev. Michael Estep of the West Ohio Conference, who gave the benefit of his experience in Colombia and his administrative skills.
The Brisas del Mar community certainly represents the level of human need to which Christian missions must respond. Its remote location and poverty cry out for attention. But infinitely worse, when the drug cartels had absolute power in this area in the last decade, they systematically murdered all of the youth of the village. One elderly man recounts how he buried five of his children in a single day.
When the Bishop led his first mission team to Brisas, there were only children and older adults; no young people had survived. Of course, the young people of Brisas are loved and cherished. Perhaps no heart loves like a broken heart. Youth played a leading role in every worship service.
The Bishop surprised everyone with a special community meeting held with some government officials who came to Brisas to outline a plan to introduce a new educational program in Brisas. It is hoped that this program in vocational/technical training will create new opportunities for young people.
Our team, together with the new missionary the British Methodist Church has placed in Colombia, was called upon to add supportive words to the plan. The actual work of this mission was planned to include construction of the new church at Brisas, and the offering of seminars.
The church construction plan was quickly modified. Both the team and the Colombian pastors who came for the seminars did some serious church construction. However, it soon became obvious that the community needed one last push to complete a well project that would bring running water to every home in the village.
With much strenuous effort, the water project was completed. The church construction continues, as does the Spirit who inspires it. The Bishop asked that we offer seminars on the Sacraments to advance the training of young pastors of the region.
We were prepared to offer instruction on Baptism. I have developed a paper on infant baptism that has been presented to good effect in Paraguay, Nicaragua, and Honduras in recent years. More recently, he has translated Wesley’s “Tractate on Baptism” the only Spanish translation of that writing to date. The seminars also included a detailed examination of the Old Testament roots of the Sacraments, and their role as an expression of the covenant relationship with the Savior God.
Magaly Johnson and the ladies of the mission team offered children’s programs and especially seminars on “Women’s Spirituality” that Mrs. Johnson has lead in other Latin American countries. Church leaders were very pleased with the seminars, noting that mission groups have presented many kinds of programs, but this was the first to focus on the women of the region.
Among Christian people, worship so often expresses the heart of a community. Our daily worship clearly brought the people of two nations together in Christ. The music and dancing was spirited and joyful. The youth and Colombian pastors were so often in the lead. Many decisions for Christ were made, in keeping with the Gospel invitations.
I had told leaders in our Conference mission program that this mission could very well be my swan song. After 30 years, I no longer feel that I should organize and lead work missions in tropical countries. I still intend to offer educational missions and perhaps serve as translator, but someone else must plan and lead the labor.
As a swan sings its last song to his mate, so do I to mine. My team and my church know that I dedicated this mission “to the glory of God and in honor of my wife”. After 30 years of standing by me, praying for me, and often accompanying me in mission, it is entirely fitting.