Greetings from Medellín!
We stopped in a new café the other morning because the larger-than-life frappuccino on their sign had been tempting us. We were surprised to find very few pastries on the counter and we were disappointed when the barista couldn’t fill our frappuccino order, nor our second or third choices. She said, “We don’t have much because of the national strike. Delivery trucks just can’t get through.”
For us, this was a mild inconvenience…we had to settle for a simple cup of coffee in a plain paper cup. However, for so many it is more than an inconvenience. The strike has drug on for more than a month. With highways closed, produce can’t get through. In fact, today's newspaper says that eggs are in short supply. Prices are rising. People are hungry.
While many protests are peaceful, they sometimes turn violent. Property is being destroyed and people are dying or disappearing or being abused. Some cities have been militarized. In the forefront of many minds is the civil war that supposedly ended a few years ago. Very few people under the age of 60 in Colombia, remember long-lasting peace here. But Colombia is not unique in this, social unrest is the daily bread in many Latin American countries today.
Likewise, Covid infections and death rates have been at all-time highs and hospitals are at capacity. The story seems to be the same in countries with few vaccines and countries with plenty. We know of a family who lost mother and father to the disease in less than two weeks’ time, and the grandma and aunt are in the hospital now. We’ve lost several FM pastors and church members to the Coronavirus in recent months. Our colleagues, pastors and friends, Pastor John Jairo Leal and his wife Susana are currently battling it. Thankfully, their symptoms are mild.
The informal system of employment, which runs the economy in much of Latin America, doesn’t work well in this present darkness. Not in Colombia, not anywhere else. People don’t have work...people can’t find work…the extended quarantines have taken their toll. We got word yesterday that 85 families from our Free Methodist Church in Honduras are facing severe shortages in food supplies. Most of our FM pastors in Paraguay have been forced to become bi-vocational because of the pandemic, but they are barely making ends meet.
Last week, we invited a construction worker that was in the building to have lunch with us. When he took off his mask, we realized how young he was…just 19 years-old. Over the course of the meal we learned that he’d migrated from Venezuela just four months ago and was fortunate to find a construction job, but what he really wants is to be back home in college. His mom is moving back to Venezuela because she couldn’t find a job here. While the economic situation is even more unthinkable there, at least she has a house.
And that boy who wants to be in college reminds us that schools are still in a case of topsy-turvy throughout the region. Some meet virtually, some meet on rotating schedules but many students have deserted them altogether. Survival trumps education every time! We are grateful to ICCM for stepping in and helping in that boys native country. They were able to provide enough help to keep teachers from leaving in search of survival.
Our missionary family, the Rosados, was all set to go and begin a new ministry with FM emerging leaders and university students in Buenos Aires…but they are in a holding pattern as Argentina continues to be locked down. They understand this unsettled feeling that is the daily bread of many immigrants. In fact, yesterday, I met a family of four walking down our street. They’d been walking for 14 days from their home in Venezuela. The mother had only a flimsy pair of flip flops to walk in and immediately put on the shoes and socks I was able to give her. Those shoes only fulfilled one of the many needs that family has. The father dreams of finding work and providing for his family, at least to put a roof over their heads.
In light of all of this, it is little wonder that our Latin American leaders are exhausted! It was most evident in the monthly meeting with Superintendents and Mission District Leaders earlier this month. Oh, there are great things still going on in Latin America, lots of good stories to tell, but the scale seems to be tilted toward hardship. To help offset that, Ricardo spent the last three weeks just having one-on-one conversations with each leader. He listened and prayed. Sometimes, he could offer solutions but what they needed most was a shoulder to lean on.