by Gerald Hildebrand, Pastor of McIvor Avenue M.B. Church, Winnipeg
For everyone of us there may be an occasional opportunity to encounter people who live out their faith in Jesus Christ in such a compelling manor, that we are challenged to evaluatively reflect on our own relationship with God and ask, “what is God calling me to and do I have the courage to live out that calling?”
This took place as we experienced the hospitality of David and Marina Bonilla, Mennonite Brethren church planters and pastors in Cazucá, a shantytown on the southern border of Bogotá and Soacha. It is estimated that 300,000 people, the majority displaced from throughout Colombia, inhabit the 30 neighbourhoods of this “unofficial” mountainside city, plagued with deeply-rooted violence and poverty.
David commented that his family “prepped” him for a professional upper middle-class life. But 10 years ago he felt the call of God to serve in this forsaken community. Church leaders told him he was crazy to consider this. Together with Marina (a trained and certified teacher), they have moved into the neighbourhood to incarnate a Christian ministry that is transforming the community.
Their motivation comes from the words of Philippians 2, “You must have the same attitude that Jesus had … he humbled himself in obedience to God.” David said, “I have to be a Christian. Many people go to church and behave well … but to be a Christian is to imitate Christ.”
Their ministry began when they assisted a woman who was dying of cancer. They helped rebuild her house. Miraculously she went into remission; and little did they know of her connection and influence in the community. From their practical, lived out faith they were given opportunity to enter the life and trust of the broader community, rebuilding the lives and homes of many who have experienced forced displacement due to armed conflict, financial hardship or regulated relocation resulting from ‘development’ projects throughout the country.
Marina leads community women in running an elementary school up to grade 1. They have also established a sewing program for women. David serves as a community pastor and conciliator, mediating between warring gangs and leading people to consider another way – the way of Jesus. He is called “teacher.”
David led our group on a walk through part of one community, crossing at least 6 “invisible lines” that mark areas controlled by competing factions. It was apparent from his encounters with the people on the dusty roads that he was trusted.
Marina said, “God has been good to allow us to be here. God does miracles as people open their lives and homes to Jesus. I’m happy to be here!” It is nothing less than the power of God that has kept this family alive in the face of overwhelming community violence and conflict.
It is estimated that 250 NGOs operate in this transitional community. But none of the representatives live here — except for David, Marina and their two small children (and two MCC SEED program volunteers)! It has become their home where they provide a Spirit-filled place for people to find a spiritual home, and be family to a displaced and desperate people.
I/we were deeply moved (and for many of us to tears) by what we experienced in this holy visit with these saints. David and Marina exemplify a life that is devoted to listening to and following Jesus. Lord have mercy upon them and upon us all.