Chapter 30 - Advance to Colombia,

Chapter 30 - Advance to Colombia,
By Neal R. Thomson

The assembly at Thessalonica in Macedonia displayed the same evangelistic zeal as the apostle who had led them to the Lord. They not only witnessed in their city. “From you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything” (I Thessalonians 1:8).

The tireless evangelistic zeal displayed by the pioneers who took the gospel to Venezuela has been reproduced in their spiritual children. The word of the Lord has not only sounded out, from the assemblies already established, into almost every corner of Venezuela, but it has sounded out also across the border into the neighbouring country of Colombia.

Just as the work of opening up Europe to the gospel commenced with the conversion of a woman, Lydia, and the opening of her home to the gospel (Acts 16:14-15), 50 a woman was the instrument in the advance with the gospel from Venezuela. Sra. Zoila Luna, a Colombian lady, who was visiting Maracaibo in 1960 was saved at the inauguration of the new Hall, in meetings held by Messrs. Williams, Saword, and Frith. She was so interested that she prolonged her visit to the maximum of three months. Before leaving for her homeland, she was baptized and received into fellowship at Maracaibo. In Barranquilla she could find no spiritual home amongst the evangelical churches. She found disorder, worldliness and wrong practices. So she finally stayed at home and prayed that the Lord would raise up an assembly like she had left in Maracaibo. The brethren there maintained correspondence with her, and finally several visits were made, and meetings were held in her home by Messrs. Thomson, Alves and Sr. Jimenez, in 1961.

Several of the relatives of Sra. Zoila were saved, mainly through her fervent zeal in speaking with them about the Lord. Then she returned to her birthplace, Sincelejo, about two hundred miles away, to speak to her relations and friends there about her new found joy in the Lord. Brethren from Venezuela followed and found that some of her friends had confessed Christ as Saviour, and now their homes were opened to the gospel. Meetings were held there, and during the following years visits were made for a month at regular intervals, mainly by the Venezuelan brethren Sres. Jimenez, Chirinos, Ruiz, Luque and Rodriguez, as well as by Messrs. Thomson and Cumming.

Barranquilla is four hundred miles west of Venezuela, so the journey was great, and there was always the problem of the official requirements of taxation clearance, entry visa and re-entry permits to obtain. Colombia proved more backward in those parts, than Venezuela of the same epoch, and conditions were far different. Transport seemed crude, and roads were unpaved. Buses were so low, and seats so close together that Mr. Thomson found he could neither stand up nor sit down in them. These buses traveled at high speed over the rough roads until the brethren with the sisters who helped also, found their bodies sore and even bruised after a day’s journey. But they rejoiced as they remembered that those seeking worldly pleasure enjoy the rough rides on the switchbacks at the fun-fairs. Jeeps were hired to grind through the mud into the country towns, but this was far better than the pioneers had in the days of horseback travel. Sincelejo is a state capital of 80,000 people, yet only four wheel drive vehicles can travel the streets in time of rain.

Venezuelans blame Colombians for many robberies, and the brethren who have gone to labour there have experienced the reality of this national tradition. Most have been robbed during their visits, and they have not always had the faith to take the spoiling of their goods joyfully. Mr. Thomson got a permit to take his car to Colombia, but the first one was a bit light for the rough roads. Once, when it broke a wheel bearing, no spare parts could be obtained, so he had to make the seven hundred miles return journey to Venezuela to buy them. Grass roofs and earth floors are passing in Venezuela, but still common in those parts of Colombia. Bathrooms and toilets are a luxury in the country regions.

The gospel bore fruit, and several baptisms were held in the sea. Others were baptized in a creek, and then an excavated water hole on a farm at Sincelejo was used for baptizing. Between visits by the Venezuelan brethren, the local brethren maintained all regular meetings except the breaking of bread. There were fifteen baptized believers meeting at Sincelejo, so in May 1969 an assembly was formed with the first breaking of bread. Sr. Jimenez and the Thomson family stayed on for two months to help. Since then, others have been added, though some have been lost. One sister died of snake bite, and then the leading brother at Macajan died similarly as a result of the bite of a big pit viper.

Sres. Jimenez and Ruiz have been the main workers over the past few years. They have spent periods up to three months (the maximum permitted to a “tourist”) each year, during which they have visited each place where there are known believers. Frequently, teaching gatherings are held by day for those who can attend, and gospel meetings at night. The work has further extended through some believers separating from a mission group. This same Sra. Zoila contacted them, and just like Priscilla and Aquilla with Apollos, she was able in their homes, to open up the scriptures and show them the ways of God more perfectly. The book, “The Church of God”, by Franklin Ferguson (Spanish edition), has been much used in this work. Now others there have been baptized, and there are groups meeting in places like Caucasia and El Jardin.

There are a good number of missionaries in Colombia from assemblies in the United Kingdom, Canada, and U.S.A., but none of these were labouring in the parts where the Venezuelan brethren first entered. The work referred to has been mainly a Venezuelan extension. The assemblies have had the character of Joseph
- “a fruitful bough . . . whose branches run over the wall.”