Read how Colombian church leaders are building a national movement by serving their urban marginalized communities
Ruth lives and serves in an urban marginalized community of displaced people in Cartagena, Colombia, on land that used to house a chemical factory. Due to contamination, the local government will not provide utility services or make the neighborhood liveable—but the community has lived there for years and cannot afford to move. Servant Partners Strategy Coordinator Mark Cloherty visited Ruth’s community to find that the neighborhood hadn’t received clean water or electricity in six weeks, and endured temperatures as high as 109° F/43° C.
Ruth runs a soup kitchen and sports program for local children. Listening to her community, she learned that her neighbors were stressed from waiting on the government and desired for deeper connections with one another and God. In response, she started a Grupo de Apoyo, a house meeting for neighbors to gather, share their struggles and joys, and study the word of God together. Ruth is one of hundreds of Colombian leaders creating Grupo de Apoyos to respond to the country’s crisis of poverty and displacement. They are connected through the Platforma Iglesias que Transforman Comunidades (Churches that Transform Communities)—or the ITC Platform.
“We want to mobilize churches to respond to the reality of urban poverty not only with a gospel that comforts the soul, but feeds people and tends to their emotional, psychological, and physical needs,” said Daniel Bravo, executive director of Fundación Doulos and co-creator of the ITC Platform. “We believe the church is God’s answer for Colombia and for the world, so we invest in the local church.”
“The Colombian church has been a suffering church. Communist guerillas saw the church as a threat to their mission and persecuted many pastors and church leaders. Others had to flee from the countryside to cities, and lost everything they had. But this has also given us resilience. Where there are terrible situations, the Lord gives us strength, hope, and purpose. The Colombian church is a suffering but victorious church.”
In May, 120 leaders from all major Colombian cities gathered for the annual ITC Platform conference. There, they received training on holistic ministry and opportunities to learn, collaborate, and build relationships with one another. The ITC Platform focuses on church-planting, migrant and refugee issues, sports and arts, and business and entrepreneurship. In the migration domain, almost 60 leaders are gathering to discuss theology of migration, trauma response, psychosocial support for migrants, and more. Across many urban contexts, these are similar challenges for church leaders.
Because of internal displacements, cycles of violence, and cartel control in the countryside, many Colombians have been forced to flee to cities. 8 million Venezuelans have also left their country in the last 10 years, a third of whom have remained in Colombia.
“We’ve seen a church that is responding to those migrants in their urban contexts and mobilizing their resources, even if they don’t have external support,” Daniel said. “The Colombian church has been a suffering church. Communist guerillas saw the church as a threat to their mission and persecuted many pastors and church leaders. Others had to flee from the countryside to cities, and lost everything they had. But this has also given us resilience. Where there are terrible situations, the Lord gives us strength, hope, and purpose. The Colombian church is a suffering but victorious church.”
Through the ITC Platform, 35 Colombians applied for Servant Partners’ Community Transformation Certificate. Juan is one such applicant. He lives in the border city of Cúcuta, in a community with half made up of Venezuelan refugees. Juan is church-planting with a desire for holistic transformation, so he came to the conference to learn how to start a social enterprise for women in the community, who typically earn only $5 a day.
When Pastor Mauricio heard God call him to the border, he started a ministry in Cúcuta’s neighborhood of La Parada, which means “The Last Stop.” Every day, week, and month, people are continuously crossing through the border town of La Parada. Mauricio started a soup kitchen there, which evolved into a holistic ministry providing jobs for migrants. He now leads Iglesia para la Frontera (Church for the Border) in the community, just 100 meters from the border.
“It’s one of the strangest churches in the world,” said Daniel Bravo, executive director of Fundacion Doulos. “Members change every week, since they are migrants. They face poverty and hunger, but through Mauricio’s church, many people have found a lifeline. It’s the reason why many survived the pandemic—especially children.”
"Because of the history of conflict in Colombia, the global church has overlooked Colombia as a sending nation. There is a need to understand that we can contribute to the global church as well. We are a suffering but resilient church, and that resilience can help inspire churches going through similar things around the world."
Three other Colombian participants in the CTC come from Cartagena, one of Colombia’s most famous tourist destinations.
“Cartagena is a tale of two cities,” Daniel warned. “There is the tourist center of sheer luxury, and then there is a place of poverty and exploitation.” In one of Cartagena’s urban marginalized neighborhoods, these leaders use education, sports, music, and art programs to connect with the youth and overcome cultural divides.
“The church is also a bridge between the migrant and native community,” Daniel said. “In ministries like this in Cartagena, it’s not about assimilation but integration and celebration of respective cultures. We don’t want our brothers and sisters from Venezuela to disappear—we want to celebrate their culture. I’m proud to say that the church has been a driving force in that reconciliation.”
In addition to Venezuelans, Colombia has now become a transit country for migrants from Somalia, Nepal, Haiti, Afghanistan, China, and all around the world.
“We need a global church to rise up and answer this moment with a global perspective,” Daniel said. “Because of the history of conflict in Colombia, the global church has overlooked Colombia as a sending nation. There is a need to understand that we can contribute to the global church as well. We are a suffering but resilient church, and that resilience can help inspire churches going through similar things around the world. We want the ITC Platform to be a movement where we explore how the Colombian church can not only receive, but give.”
Since co-creating the ITC Platform, Mark and Jennie Cloherty have moved their family to Medellín, Colombia to establish a Servant Partners National Movement Partnership.
“We want to continue building up the national movement in Colombia, to inspire others to live incarnationally among the urban poor, and to strengthen impact and sustainability for those who are already doing it,” Mark said.
The National Movement in Colombia is part of Servant Partners’ Vision 2030. Learn how you can partner with this movement and more at www.servantpartners.org/vision2030.