travel bursary reports
In July and August 2015 I spent 7 weeks in San Nicolas, a community in Soacha, south of Bogota the capital of Colombia. I was there as part of a Latin Link step team made up of 5 young students from the UK. We were working in a project providing meals and structured activities for deprived children from the area. The project was run by a Mennonite church in Teusaquillo, central Bogota. The project building also hosts a small church plant and various other community projects including dance and IT classes.
Our main tasks as a team were to paint the interior of the building and to help with the daily activities of the centre. We were involved in helping in the kitchen, spending time with the children and running some of the English classes. The project is called El Comedor Pan y Vida – The Bread and Life Canteen. It is a place where children are provided with a nutritious lunch that may be the only meal they have in the day but also with a place where there is structure, love and the opportunity to play and learn. Many of the children live very chaotic lives where even loving parents may struggle to find work to put food on the table or may have their lives disrupted by violence they cannot escape. San Nicolas suffers from many social problems: gang violence, drug abuse and a predominance of single parent and particularly single mum families.
Our team repainted most of the interior walls and also painted two murals, one featuring Noah’s Ark and the other the five loaves and two fishes which made a starring appearance in the grace the children sang before every meal. We also ran a couple of special events and helped out with the youth club which was run by the church on Friday evenings for secondary age kids. The youth group was quite different to the familiar UK format. Since the Colombian curriculum involves no element of personal and social development the youth group attempts to include themes such as decision making and conflict resolution in a fairly didactic manner alongside Bible-based sessions and pure and simple fun.
The experience was not without its challenges. Working in a small team living in close quarters is inevitably challenging. Generally we got on well and we were a well-balanced team but learning to be sensitive to one another moods, take time alone with God and work together with people with different Christian perspectives was essential. There were things that I feel we could have done differently but part of the experience was to learn to compromise.
For me the experience of traveling to another culture was very valuable. I already had a little Spanish and so with some hard work and lots of practice I was able to hold some conversations with local people which I found hugely fulfilling. I was completely overwhelmed by the sense of family and the welcome and love projected by this small community of materially poor Christians. It is easy for us to talk of faith for God’s provision in the West but in this church where people live day to day and week to week, without the certainty of employment or health faith is demanding. And yet God has provided it in abundance here. My faith was challenged by the example of the Colombians and grew as we saw how God worked through and despite our plans. The community of San Nicolas was not necessarily the safest and we were very aware of God guarding us from the dangers around us through the care and concern of our Christian brothers and sisters.
My seven weeks in Colombia have been a formational experience. It is my hope that God uses my experiences to grow my character more into the image of Jesus particularly that I might be more generous and loving with those around me and be open to God working in ways that don’t in with my agenda. I also hope to be more involved with international work in Cambridge and investigate the possibility of working overseas in development or mission in the future.
I want to thank the Timios Trust for their help in enabling me to travel to Colombia and meet the wonderful community of San Nicolas.
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