By The Rev. Ginny Aebischer, assistant to the bishop
The July 2014 journey with our Companions from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Colombia (IELCO) brought to mind the Emmaus Road story from Luke’s Gospel. Everywhere we went, Jesus was revealed to us, and our discipleship in Christ grew, along with our love for our brothers and sisters.
Eight people from the SC Synod (Mark Cerniglia, Sarah Delap, Mark Buchan, Tyler Bruce, Neal and Sharon Shealy, Micah Aebischer and I) traveled for 10 days through the Andes Mountains of Colombia. Rev. Bob Beaver was also with us for the first two days. Four members of IELCO (Daniel Lara, Edwin Mendivelso, Carmiña Guerrero and Natalia, plus our driver, Luis), were our companions, interpreters and guides on the winding and twisting mountain roads.
In Bogota, the country’s capital, we experienced the beauty of the big city; and then we experienced the countryside. We met hundreds of other brothers and sisters in various parts of the church in Colombia. While we were there, we experienced a genuine love for the Lord which spilled over to each one of us as the people welcomed us warmly and shared meals, conversation, laughter and everyday life.
Our mission was to get to know our companion partners and their homeland better; to meet with the Bishop to make plans about the next pastor who will come to serve Cristo Rey; to deliver an ultrasound machine to the village of El Cocuy; and to see the ways Jesus is being made known through this companion relationship. We learned the many significant ways our companions are being the hands and feet of Christ there. We learned about their outreach ministries and their diaconal lay ministries, as well as the church’s environmental efforts, which are making a difference in many communities there.
We traveled through the mountains (from approximately 9,000 feet elevation in Bogota to 16,000 feet near El Cocuy) to some of the most picturesque spots on earth, passing lush pastures, farm animals, and historic sites and villages.
We visited three schools sponsored by the churches of IELCO, and had a grand time talking with the children and youth, and being entertained by their traditional dancing. We worshiped with the people of Principe de Paz in Tunja and with the Congregation of El Salvador in El Cocuy.
We also traveled dirt roads created by mudslides on the sides of the mountain near Bogota where one million displaced citizens call Carocoli and Soacha “home.” After fleeing the dangers of war, these people live in shacks made from whatever scrap metals or bricks they can find. Yet, here they are making a new life and new home. Their poverty is astounding to witness, but even more apparent is the joy and love, and generosity which overflows from their hearts. These are just two places where the Lutheran Church is making a huge difference in the lives of single mothers, children and senior adults through education, food and outreach. Our team served the seniors lunch and shared the meal and fellowship with them. It was our joy and delight to sing with the children and mothers and visit and hear all that the children are learning.
In the mountain village of El Cocuy we brought the clinic their fi rst ultrasound machine, and Dr. and Mrs. Neal Shealy trained the medical personnel on using it. Th is gift will make a huge difference, and literally save lives in that area. Before, emergency situations required a 4 hour trip down the mountain roads. Prayers, joy and festivities filled the night on our arrival to the clinic. It was obvious that Jesus was among us, and it will be a long time before any of us can stop smiling when we think of it. In El Cocuy we worshiped on Sunday morning with the Congregation of El Salvador, where they welcomed three strangers into their midst to lead them in worship. Pastor Mark Cerniglia preached, Pastor Mark Buchan led the liturgy and I presided at Holy Communion. In that moment, something amazing and beautiful happened – all differences disappeared, and we were made one in Christ. As the bread was broken and the wine was poured, it came to mind for me — as it always does — that you, also, were sharing this meal. Our brothers and sisters in the South Carolina Synod — and all around the globe — were sharing the same Holy meal. We are all one in Christ!
Our brothers and sisters in Colombia are proud of their heritage, their country and their faith. Their roots run deep and they love Jesus and his church. Th at love overflows in hospitality and welcome to strangers like us. They want to know us, and they want us to know them, too.
There is so much more to tell you and show you! We have posted some color photos of this amazing Journey of Discipleship. I hope that in some ways this will whet your appetite to know more about our companions in South America.
If you would like any member of our group to come and share pictures and stories from this journey with you please let us know. If you would like to participate in a Discipleship Road Journey like this please call us. Anyone from the Synod is welcome to join in the adventure. Dios de Bendiga!
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