April 28, 2019 | Cúcuta, Colombia | Libna Stevens/IAD
What began nearly two years ago as an idea to feed a group of Venezuelan migrants in Colombia turned into an on-going project that has mobilized Seventh-day Adventists to feed over 18,000 more people.
“As we were studying how to impact our community using Christ methods through our Sabbath school lessons, it was clear we could perhaps make a difference in a small group of people in need,” said Pastor Julián Agudelo, pastor of the Villa del Rosario district of churches in Eden, a metropolitan municipality on the outskirts of Cúcuta, North Colombia.
It had been months since the border had closed and more and more Venezuelan families made their way into Colombia and knocking at El Eden Adventist Church, one of five Adventist churches Agudelo pastors.
“More and more people came to the church to ask for something to eat,” said Agudelo. “So as we activated our church board voted to use some funds to provide a warm meal to an initial group of 30 people at our dinning room that first day.”
Comedor PAN (or PAN Dining Room) opened in August of 2017, and leaders realized more meals needed to be provided so an appeal to church members next Sabbath brought enough donations feedings to take place on Tuesdays for the next two months, said Agudelo.
Meals are now usually given every Wednesday, except some weeks they feed three or four days per week like last week, said Agudelo.
With the help of funds coming from the local coordinating office of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Cúcuta, Colombia, as well as the country’s national ADRA Colombia office based in Bogotá, the project had a strong beginning with the help of faithful church member volunteers. The volunteers cook, clean. and prepare to host 200 people every Wednesday at the Comedor PAN in the El Eden Adventist Church.
“About 50 percent of the Venezuelans that we see every week cross the border to sell their goods here in Colombia and then return the next day,” explained Agudelo. “The rest emigrate here or travel on foot to other cities,” he said.
Agudelo said there are days they feed as many as 350, but every single time there seems to be enough food for everyone to eat.
“We try to include carbohydrates, protein and vegetables. One day we will make rice with garbanzos and include an egg,” said Agudelo. It’s all about providing a meal, it’s not about preaching to anyone who comes in. “We simply pray before the meal and if they ask us for prayer, we pray for them.”
To keep order, persons are given 20 tickets they can use every time they get a meal at the Comedor PAN, then more are provided. “It made sense for us to add ADRA to our local project because ADRA is so well known and they have provided funds to keep these meals going,” said Agudelo.
So far the church has included funding of the project in its budget, said Agudelo. Every week about 12 volunteers help as they rotate the groups for feeding at the courtyard behind the church. The project alone has brought more involvement among church members in the mission of serving others, said Agudelo. “I can see our sisters in the church are so happy to serve and they have expressed how they feel happy and satisfied in helping others every week,” he added.
Gabriel Villarreal, ADRA Colombia director, who visited Comedor PAN, applauded their dedication. “This a perfect example of how a project is born out of the hands of church members and helps fill a void as more and more migrants seek a better path for their families,” said Villarreal. ADRA Colombia has been running several projects to benefit Venezuelan migrants in several cities in Colombia already.
The project has benefited a few poor families in the community as well, said Agudelo.
As a result of the impact of Comedor PAN, more than 30 immigrants have joined the church.
“This has solely been a project to help the basic needs,” said Agudelo. “But so many ask us to pray for them individually and ask for our church services and they have been coming,” said Agudelo. “So we organized an evangelistic campaign and now have new members that we continue to disciple.”
Church leaders wish there was a more presentable place to serve warm meals, but little by little they are making a difference.
“The Lord has called us to serve, to look for ministries and we believe that while the need exists, we will continue to feed and bless people with God’s help,” said Agudelo.