Rooster crowing, children singing, dogs barking are the sounds that join the heartfelt prayer of a man thanking the Lord for sins forgiven. The sun warms our heads through the thin roof of the top floor of a three-story house where we are joining a small group of Colombian Christians to worship on a Sunday morning. As we sing I marvel at the bond of Christ that unites us around the bread and wine with men and women from a very different background than our own. Humanly speaking there is a vast gulf between our culture, education, experience and economic situation. Yet in Jesus we have a common faith and look forward to an eternity together in heaven.
These men and women are intimately acquainted with violence and hardship. In front of me sits a woman whose son was murdered in front of their house by the son of another woman in the congregation. She has found peace not only with God but also with the other hurting mother. In the midst of the adversities of life in this violent neighborhood people are coming to God.
Fortunately for Bill and me the church is located at the foot of a hillside community known as "Cazuca" in a somewhat safer neighborhood called Nuevo Colon. It is not recommended for Americans to venture up the hill and we were not allowed to come and go on our own into this area. Years ago Cazuca came into being when a group of squatters coordinated to move onto the hill and thus made it their own. There was nothing the original landowner could do, the land passed to the new occupants who essentially are a law unto themselves. What makes this area dangerous for foreigners is that it is known to be inhabited by city guerillas who would not hesitate to kidnap someone they see as a potential for profit. The sad thing is that it is incredibly dangerous for the locals too. Our friends described a terrifying "justice" system that operates there. If someone is caught stealing or offending they are given a warning. If they repeat the offense they are shot. End of story, end of problem. Many, many young teenagers lose their lives. Life has little value. Sexual abuse is rampant with young and old alike exposed to much perversion.
Yet little by little seeds of hope are sown by courageous and self-less Colombian Christians who go into these neighborhoods to share the message of the good news of Jesus. Over the past several years God has allowed a team of believers to plant a church here. One of the key leaders in this team is Sergio Gomez. This tall, lanky, gray-haired man's heart of compassion for these people led him to move his family and humbly live in this area and thus win the people's trust and be able to effectively pastor the new Christians. We were touched on Sunday to see Sergio baptize his youngest son, Samuel, along with three other new Christians.