By Rachael Adams
Five million Venezuelans have made journeys, by canoe and foot through dangerous terrain, to flee the economic and political crisis that’s devastated their country. Nearly 2 million of them fled to neighbouring Colombia. Instead of being welcomed, many have been met with discrimination and abuse. But the local church is working to change that.
Over the last few years, as part of our As born among us campaign, Tearfund has been working alongside local churches to explore how God calls us to welcome migrants and refugees (Leviticus 19:33-34).
And the response from churches has been incredible.
A God of love
We recently held online training sessions with more than 300 church leaders to explore how they can provide a place of support for Venezuelan migrants and refugees.
‘What struck me the most in what I saw of the training was the need of the migrants, and it has taught me to love them more,’ shares Pastor Oscar René Guevara Rodríguez, who attended the Tearfund training. ‘We see the hand of God working through us with the help that we can give them, spiritually, physically and materially.
‘The challenge that we have with migrant families is to be able to offer them better support – to welcome them. The hope that we have in the church is to create a place of shelter for migrant families.’
‘Through the training we received with Tearfund, we found a God of love, a God who loves the migrant,’ says Pastor Jaime Alonso Silva Rincón, who also attended. ‘The teachings that inspire us the most are compassion, mercy, the love of Christ – to know that Christ himself, as a child, was a foreigner.
Pastor Jaime's church is located in one of the communes of Cúcuta where several families of Venezuelan migrants live. Many of them have suffered exclusion and discrimination, but his church is helping them to integrate into the community | Photo credit: Ferley Ospina/Tearfund
‘Our hopes for the migrant population in our church is to find a better quality of life in all areas: spiritual, which is what they long for, and to meet again in a church, with their Lord. And that they can be cared for in all areas of their lives.’
Salt and light
‘It is very, very hard to leave your country and go to another place… it is too hard… it is as if a little piece was torn away from you,’ shares Yalitza, who fled Venezuela. ‘The church has supported me especially spiritually... and they’ve supported me with food. My son had no way to study, and they also supported me in that. It is a very great support. I thank God.’
Yalitza and her family live next to a river that carries sewage | Photo credit: Ferley Ospina/Tearfund
Geovanna is another migrant from Venezuela which the local church has been able to help. ‘Now that people know me, I have not felt humiliation or rejection. I have also met many good-hearted people who have reached out to both me and my children,’ she shares.
‘The church has been a refuge for me… For example this mosquito net to protect children from mosquitoes, the church gave it to me. During the pandemic, they helped us with a food basket every month.’ The church has also been helping Geovanna and her family process the trauma of leaving their life behind through counselling.
Andres*, Geovanna’s son, has found the church to be a welcoming place: ‘In church I feel good. I go and seek the word of God,’ he shares. ‘I feel good in every way because I am not looking for anything bad, just looking for God – he is the one who keeps me and takes care of me.’
Geovanna and her family inside their home in Colombia. Bottom Geovanna shares that her journey to Colombia was ‘traumatic’. But the local church has been a refuge for her, providing her with counseling to help her process the trauma | Photo credit: Ferley Ospina/Tearfund
Future hopes realised
Tearfund has launched a mobile app for migrants and refugees to use, where they can find a directory of organisations and churches across Latin America that they can go to for help. It also includes devotionals and information on their rights.
The As born among us campaign has also contributed to policy changes. Advocacy by coalitions of churches and migrant organisations has led to more than 24,000 children being granted Colombian nationality.
As the church continues to use its voice and resources to stand alongside those who are marginalised, we will continue to see incredible stories of transformation and lives being changed.
Pray with us
- Praise God for how local churches in Colombia are welcoming Venezuelan migrants and refugees and supporting them as they settle in their communities. .
- Pray that the new app will help migrants more easily access the help they need.
- Many Venezuelan migrants and refugees still find it difficult to find work and stable employment, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. Pray they will be able to find jobs that will help lift their families out of poverty.