“On average, every eight days there was a death of a friend involved in gang activities. Today, many of the people who I grew up with are dead or in prison, but God protected my brothers and me.”
That’s how Pastor Jesus describes his childhood in Colombia.
He grew up in the Las Cruzes neighborhood in Bogotá, an impoverished area with a large population of gang members, rampant drug abuse, and ongoing violence.
He was born into a Christian family and attended church every week. At age 12, he gave his life to Christ and was baptized at 15. Because of his relationship with God, he avoided the harmful lifestyles around him.
“I am proud to say that even though I was in a neighborhood full of drug abuse, I never tried any of them,” he says. “Many of our friends who were in gangs tried to protect my brothers and me from that lifestyle because they knew that we pursued God. God protected us so much in that region.”
Pastor Jesus attended college to study finance and also attended seminary. While studying, he felt the Lord calling his heart. He dropped everything moved to another city in Colombia to begin his ministry.
While serving, Pastor Jesus attended a Church Planter Training course hosted by Bible League International. Although he’d been to conferences and classes before, this one was different.
“The program was perfect because it did not focus on modernisms, but it taught practical lessons from the Bible for the process of edifying a church,” he says. “Bible League uses the Bible and biblical resources for the mission—people invite friends or family to their homes and study the Word of God. The method is straightforward and simple, just like the beginning of the church of Jesus Christ in the world.”
Equipped with new knowledge and confidence, Pastor Jesus and his wife felt the Lord calling them to move again, this time to Soacha, an area where many missionaries and church planters had tried to start churches but were unsuccessful. Located close to Bogotá, Soacha is a poor area that has become a safehouse for immigrants and refugees, but one that’s consumed by drug abuse and broken families.
“We saw the great need of the area,” he says. “Only God can change the hearts of the youth and families here, so we needed to be here.”
Before they relocated, he and his wife began to visit the area frequently and started a Project Philip Bible study, which became the foundation for a new church. Once that church was established, they moved permanently and started work at a second church in the area, one housed in a bakery that feeds around 130 children during the week. Now, the church hosts Project Philip Bible studies for kids, and typically by graduation, the entire family is attending.
Pastor Jesus has also started passing on his knowledge, training new leaders to continue spreading the Gospel in such a desperate area. Sandra, a former teacher and mother, was his first student.
“I used Sandra’s group as a pilot group to apply everything that we were learning about Project Philip through the Church Planter Training,” he says. “At the beginning, four of five people were meeting at her apartment to pray and read the Word of God. Now, they gather in an event room at a community center because Sandra’s apartment is too small for everyone.”
Pastor Jesus and Sandra, a Project Philip Bible study leader, outside the community center where she hosts her study.
The Church Planter Training and Project Philip Bible studies are working in this area, but Pastor Jesus knows the work is never truly done. His goal is to train more leaders with Bible League’s practical lessons so that they can continue to spread the Gospel. He sees lives changing.
“The transformation of lives through the Gospel is radical. People who were once apathetic become fully committed and passionate about spiritual growth,” he says. “When we present a practical Gospel—the Good News that can be applied to daily lives—people begin to feel small changes over time.”
These individual lives being changed is influencing the entire mindset of the region, an area full of people who struggle to find their place in religion.
“God is raising a new pattern of the church here, a church that is more open and inclusive,” he says. “It does not agree with sin but gives space to the sinner to feel more embraced. We invite the sinners and let God do the work.”
In places where there are no local churches, and for growing churches eager to share the Gospel with those who have never heard of the gift of salvation, Bible League International provides resources and training for church planters. We help train and encourage students who are eager to show God's love, in remote areas and the world's busiest cities, so they can teach others and care for the spiritual needs of their communities.