‘The Heavens Were Opened’

February 19, 2021 • Colombia

Food distributions in Colombia support local church ministry among those who’ve fled Venezuela.

Help Venezuelans in Crisis

Atop a rocky, clay-dirt hill on the outskirts of Cúcuta, Colombia, you can cast your gaze across an invisible border and see beyond the river to the towns of San Antonio and Ureña in Venezuela.

Walk down the main road from this humble peak and hang a left. Descend an unreasonably steep but paved slope and hang another left. You’ll then find yourself walking on clay paths lined mostly by “ranchos” or shacks put together with wood, metal, plastic, and whatever people can scrounge up and put over their heads.

This is the hillside neighborhood known as María Auxiliadora. Most of the dozens of families who live here in Colombia are recent migrants from Venezuela. Every day they can see their homeland but circumstances dictate that they remain in this neighboring nation. Venezuela is struggling: with a wrecked economy, there are few jobs, little food, rising crime, and not much chance of change any time soon.

  • Pastor Yahir speaks to dozens of migrant families in the Maria Auxiliadora community before the Samaritan's Purse food distribution begins.
    Pastor Yahir Perez (in white shirt, background on rocks) speaks to dozens of Venezuelan families in the María Auxiliadora community before the Samaritan's Purse food distribution begins.

These families are hungry now in Colombia, but they were hungrier in Venezuela. They are desperate here, too, but in Venezuela they were desperate and hopeless. In Colombia, there is hope and freedom and relative safety. The families of María Auxiliadora are determined to survive, helping each other as they can. Help from others is also very welcome. That’s why Samaritan’s Purse partnered with local pastors to serve this community and deliver much-needed food baskets to dozens of families.

Good News, Good Food

Pastor Yahir Perez once lived as a missionary in Ureña, on the Venezuela side of the Táchira River. Now he ministers to Venezuelan migrants in María Auxiliadora and also pastors a congregation in another part of Cucuta. When he comes over to María Auxiliadora, he listens patiently to the problems these migrant families face; he sings with them and prays with them; he offers Biblical teaching and wise counsel.

On this day in mid-December, he ascends a mound of stones and begins with a question. “Do you believe God is here?” The general reply is a firm yes. Then the pastor leads in song, a Spanish hymn that begins “God is here as true as the morning comes…”

Pastor Yahir goes on to preach from Genesis 1. He says God ordered the universe, and He can order our lives too. We can live by His Word. God created us. He loves us and sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for us. Pastor Yahir offers an invitation: “If your life is out of order, turn to God’s Word. God can change you and show you how to live.”

He also mentions that today is a day of answered prayer. God has sent people to the community, he says, people that God saved and now they are here to serve others in love. The Samaritan’s Purse ministry team then distributed mercados, or food baskets, to more than 70 families in the community.

“Today the heavens were opened for these people,” Pastor Yahir said.

  • The Samaritan's Purse ministry team is partnering with local pastors along several border areas of Colombia to feed recent migrants from Venezuela.
    Working in several border areas of Colombia, Samaritan's Purse partners with local pastors and others to feed recent migrants from Venezuela.

Each family received 2 kilograms of rice, 2.5 kilograms of beans, 3 kilograms each of white cornmeal and all-purpose flour, a package of powdered milk, a bottle of cooking oil, a small bag of sugar and another of salt. (All together, it’s about 28 pounds of food.) For a family of four, it should help with meals for two to three weeks or more.

For migrants struggling to survive in a new country, the food is indeed a welcome relief.

“I Don’t Have to Beg”

Alexandra and four of her children fled Valencia, Venezuela, two years ago and settled in the María Auxiliadora community. The single mom stays with her three sons; one is a painter and two have special needs (autism and hydrocephalus). Because she must take care of them, she cannot find regular work on her own. Her days are spent preoccupied with figuring out how they will eat.

“It’s a big relief,” she said of her food basket from Samaritan’s Purse. “Now I can prepare a good lunch with rice and beans. I don’t have to go on the street to beg for food.”

  • Alexandra stands with some of the food items she received in her basket from Samaritan's Purse.
    Alexandra stands with some of the food items she received in her basket from Samaritan's Purse.

One of Alexandra’s daughters, Brithany, lives nearby her mom; another daughter remains in Venezuela. Brithany and her husband have three small children, all of whom are underweight. They, like the rest of the neighborhood, are struggling to get by.

“I think it’s a big blessing,” Brithany said of the food she received and also the visits of local pastors. “It’s really helpful for them to come and be with us.”

A Complete Work

Samaritan’s Purse fed tens of thousands of people through food baskets given out in Cúcuta and across eastern Colombia in 2020. Similar ministry is expected in 2021. The vast majority of beneficiaries are Venezuelan migrants, though some are native Colombians also in dire need.

We work with local organizations to identify pockets of the greatest need, often distributing food at churches or schools. And, at each distribution, our teams share hope from the Word of God, thereby offering both physical and spiritual relief. After the COVID-19 pandemic began—and many already vulnerable migrants lost the kinds of day-labor jobs that had previously helped them scrape by—the work has become even more urgent.

“The food is really a treasure for some of these families,” said Eric Huxley, Colombia country director for Samaritan’s Purse. “We’re sharing God’s love by providing them with the basket and also sharing the hope they can find in Jesus Christ. It’s a complete work.”

Pastor Yahir said that migrant communities often feel judged and looked down upon. So, he said he tries to cultivate seeds of love not fear. “The fruit I can see is how people change,” he says of his work in María Auxiliadora. “Most of them think they’re not worth anything, but when I come here and talk about Jesus, they understand they have value.”

  • Glafer, a friend of Alexandra and Brithany, received food from Samaritan's Purse as well. She has three children, including a newborn, just a couple weeks old in this photo.
    Glafer, a friend of Alexandra and Brithany, received food from Samaritan's Purse as well. She has three children, including a newborn just a couple weeks old in this photo.

“When I came for the first time,” he said, “the people were afraid. [But] most of the people who closed their doors, now call me to hear the Word of God.”

In partnership with Samaritan’s Purse, local pastors, including Yahir, will be following up with many who received mercados in 2020. We will continue training these church leaders in 2021 and anticipate new discipleship groups will be forming in communities throughout the year.

We thank God that our food program is meeting urgent needs and opening up opportunities to talk about Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life. Please pray for the ongoing work of Samaritan’s Purse in Colombia.

“In your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy” (Psalm 68:10).

A young girl has a hearty meal at our shelter in Bucaramanga.
Help Venezuelans in Crisis Five million Venezuelans have fled their homeland over the past several years. Hunger, a collapsing healthcare system, and violence drive them to leave. Since 2018, Samaritan's Purse has provided relief to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants seeking a new life in Colombia. This may be the largest migrant crisis in Latin American history, and we're offering relief from multiple locations—providing food, shelter, and medical care among other services. As we minister, we are pointing people, young and old, to the eternal hope found only in Jesus Christ.

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