The Reformed Faith in Colombia
Like almost all of South America, Columbia is Roman Catholic. I was born in a typical middle class Roman Catholic Colombian family. My parents were born in Chiquinquira, a small town two hours by bus from the capital of Colombia. This town has a special particularity in our country, in that it is a very religious place with an enormous Catholic cathedral. The people adore the patron virgin of Colombia, the virgin of Chiquinquira. Many people go to that town to pay their promises to the virgin, in order to clear their guilt, a typical tradition of the Roman Catholic Church in the interior of the country. Because of the birthplace of my parents, the adoration of the virgin of Chiquinquira was very important in my family. Their practice was to attend Sunday mass. Occasionally they would pray through the rosary, which takes the form of a series of repetitive prayers. This was my religious background.
When I was young I was used to making a request for something from God or from the virgin. At the same time I committed myself to pray or to light a candle, or to abstain from food during a certain period and in this way repay God for his help. This idea of repaying God is very popular in Colombia. And so it was that in my childhood I was surrounded by Roman Catholic religion that instilled in me something of the fear of God.
In secondary school I enrolled in a Catholic school. (Until recently the Catholic religion supervised education in Columbia). There under the La Salle brotherhood it was mandatory to attend mass. However, they also insisted that it was important for me to read the Bible, and they compelled me to make summaries of passages of the Scripture. All this motivated me to begin reading the Bible, which I read for some years. By the time I completed reading the Bible, I was studying in the university. I studied mechanical engineering in the National University of Colombia, a public university. At the beginning of university, I was influenced by rationalism and humanism. I knew that I would have to make a decision. I was attending mass in the district where I lived. One day I prayed: "Lord, if you exist, please speak to me through the priest". In that Catholic church the priest read the text Luke 9:23:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
This made me weep because I felt the call of God to believe biblically in him. This was the turning point. At that time some fellow students in the university and a missionary had spoken to me about Jesus, and I knew that I had to follow Christ and give my life to him. I initially enrolled in the group of my Christian fellow students, Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC). I stayed ten years receiving many courses and learning to share the gospel using the Four Spiritual Laws. The approach was Arminian (I did not then have knowledge about different theological approaches). God always led me to go deep in the study of the Bible and for that reason I took several courses. In addition I joined a praise group and acted as its director. I began to preach and led a group of young people. In the CCC group, I met Luisa Fernanda, now my wife. We have been married for eight years. Because her profession is psychology and her desire is to help in the work of God, she has become a counsellor. She uses the nouthetic counselling to help believers.
In a day of prayer in the CCC group, the pastor requested prayer that the Lord would bring more workers to his work. I cannot explain it exactly, but I believe that day was the beginning of my call to serve the Lord. This call came to me when I was doing very well in every area of my life; but at that moment, little by little, I was relegated to one side in my job, until one day, after months of praying I resigned voluntarily. After some time, the money came to an end, and we began to receive economic support from some brothers. Additionally, the Lord allowed us some small jobs to maintain our budget. In this period our small daughter, Camila Andrea, was born; she is now four years old.
In the CCC group there was not a true way of worshipping, because it was not a church. Nevertheless, the person who acted as pastor fought for the formation of a church and for the preaching of all the counsel of God. After this battle he left CCC, and initiated a new group as a church. There, we stayed and participated for a time helping with music, leading the services, and occasionally I preached.
THE REFORMED FAITH.
For various reasons we left that group, and we began to look for a church where we could meet. We yearned that the Word be central in the service of worship. We visited several churches until we found a Baptist church in Bogota. There, thanks to the pastor, I began to learn reformed doctrine, some thing very infrequently mentioned in the other groups. The pastor little by little lent books to me, and he explained to me the different theological positions in the Christian church.
The reformed faith strongly impacted my wife and me and I can say that it was like a second conversion. There were several nights in which I spent much time praying. Before I had been deceived, but now I could better understand about grace and the sovereignty of God. For that reason, even more earnestly I wanted to study the Bible more in order to share with others the true faith..
Finally we resolved that we should take up studies in a seminary. Most pastors in Colombia are self-taught and not seminary trained. In Colombia there are only two seminaries at university level. There is one in Cali which is Baptist, but its orientation is not reformed, and the other one in Medellin, which is interdenominational. Here in Medellin, I’m studying for a masters degree in Theology and Bible and my wife is doing postgraduate studies in theology. We come to Medellin 2001, and 2004 is our last year here.
The emphasis in our seminary is the Bible. For that reason we studied the original languages and almost all of the courses use Hebrew and Greek. The seminary is an amazing place where many students from different parts of Colombia and from different theological approaches come to prepare to serve Lord in the best way. The teachers are from different countries and also have different views about the Christianity, but all of them are conservatives in their approach to the Bible. The program of studies includes original languages, exegesis, history, and theology. Also we must become members in a church in the city.
THE REFORMED FAITH IN COLOMBIA
In Colombia the reformed faith is not very well known. Most of the Christians are Arminian-Wesleyans, although they know very little of doctrine. The Colombian Christians are very emotional and many seek for miracles or a new ‘guru’ to tell them what they want to hear. Television and the programs of TBN and Enlace in Spanish have influenced the Colombian church.
Almost all the churches in Colombia are Pentecostal. Reformed Baptists are very few: in Bogota there are four churches, in Medellin just one little group, and the same in Quibdo and Santander. On the Presbyterian side, there are two synods, one of them is called Colombian synod which has liberal theology, and the other one called Reformed and although it follows the Westminster confession, in its practices only a few of its churches follow that faith and have a reverent worship service.
At this moment some churches would like to join together in an association called CLIR, Fellowship of Reformed Churches of Latin America. Additionally, the International Seminary of Miami (MINTS) is offering some extension courses. MINTS is a Presbyterian institution that has introduced to some pastors and leaders to the Reformation, but we still not seen out come of this work.
THE SITUATION TODAY AND TOMORROW.
While I have been occupied with study, my wife and I have been helping a little group (fifteen people) in Medellin. There, some Sundays I preach, have the Sunday School class and lead the service. My wife plays the guitar and sings, and additionally she directs the woman’s group. The pastor in Medellin is a good Christian who has another Reformed Baptist group in Quibdo (the poorest city of Colombia).
As it may be seen, the work of the Reformed faith in Colombia still is very small. The future is uncertain because of the smallness of the reformed cause and because of financial restraints. Yet we persevere and hope.
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