BUCARAMANGA, Colombia (BP) – Would you escape from your country, walk 400 miles across the Andes Mountains to begin a new life, then walk all the way back in order to rescue a niece? What if the journey meant a third trek up and over the Andes Mountains to return to your new home? That is the story of one Venezuelan couple.
Through the IMB Summer Sojourners program, four U.S. university students braved COVID-19 and unrest in Colombia to spend the summer serving with the Touch of Life Foundation in Bucaramanga, which ministers to Venezuelan refugees. Many refugees are so poor they cannot afford a bus ticket over the Andes Mountains and instead walk for weeks, entirely dependent on the generosity of strangers for food and shelter.
A typical day for the Sojourners included welcoming the refugees to the foundation, sharing a devotional, providing the opportunity to shower, and offering a small meal. The missionary team shared the main tasks, thus making sure someone was available to listen to the stories of each individual.
“It was such a blessed, though challenging, experience to meet Venezuelans and walk with them during their difficult journeys,” said team member Cat Ausherman. Ausherman shared the story of one family she met.
“Our first week at the foundation, we met a couple walking with their niece toward Bogotá,” she said. “The couple had walked back to Venezuela to rescue their niece from an abusive home and were now walking back to Bogotá to all live with their niece’s mother. “
When they returned to the foundation a week later, Ausherman could sense that something was wrong. She continued with the devotional, then paused to listen to their concerns. The couple shared that they could not find their relatives in Bogotá. They walked the 250 miles back to Bucaramanga – their third time to do so. Unfortunately, the young man had been robbed at knifepoint and all his possessions were taken before arriving back in the city.
“The couple was visibly shaken by the experience and did not know what to do next,” Ausherman said.“They were grateful to be able to share their story with us and for a place of refuge, even though they stayed only half an hour.
“Throughout the following week, we were praying as a team for them, when to our surprise a week later they visited the foundation again. This time, they shared that they plan to remain in Bucaramanga and are beginning to heal from their trauma, although the young man sometimes wakes from nightmares of the robbery.”
Ausherman shared with them the story of the wise man who built his house on the rock, emphasizing that God is our sure foundation in times of uncertainty and suffering.
“Though we will likely not see this family again, we will continue to pray for them, that they may come to saving faith in the Lord and experience healing and restoration through Him,” she said.
Robin Tinley writes for the IMB from the Americas, where she serves.