LA MESA, Colombia—In the neighborhood of Rincón del Lago, part of the outlying metropolitan area of Soacha, Colombia, a Mennonite pastor is seeking to combine his twin passions of evangelism and social outreach.
This form of mission has been a lifelong undertaking for Jesús Libardo Ramírez. Having been born into a family with six children living on a minimum-wage salary in one of Bogotá’s most dangerous neighborhoods, Libardo Ramírez has vivid memories of how poverty shaped his life.
“I remember with sadness my friends when I was a boy,” Libardo Ramírez says. “We’d play soccer in the street. By 10 years old, they were smoking marijuana, carrying guns and looking for someone to rob. Now they’re all dead.”
For Libardo Ramírez and his siblings, the story took a dramatic turn for the better. The son of a Christian mother who came to faith through Mennonite missionaries, Libardo Ramírez credits his success to the gospel’s transformative power.
“We grew up in this neighborhood, but our family knew the Word of God,” he says. “The gospel protected and transformed us from this life. Now, all six of us are professionals who studied in the university.”
His past, however, is not a source of self-satisfied pride but a sustaining motivation to share the gospel with those around him.
Libardo Ramírez chose to minister in a neighborhood similar to the one he grew up in.
It is one of Bogotá’s most marginalized neighborhoods, stricken by poverty, violence and drug abuse. He says he is investing his talents in the lives of children who are growing up much like his boyhood friends.
Seven years ago, he joined the Mennonite Church of Berna City in Bogotá, after helping plant six churches in 10 years with another denomination.
This passion for outreach led him to serve on the church’s evangelism committee. He also was drawn to Creciendo Juntos (Growing Together), the church’s social outreach program for a community of displaced persons in Rincón del Lago. This after-school program serves 150 children through conflict resolution, dance classes, a recording studio and other activities designed to keep children off the streets and moving toward a positive future.
It was not long before Libardo Ramírez sought a way to merge his two ministry areas in Rincón del Lago. As a member of the steering committee of Creciendo Juntos and a member of the evangelism team at Berna, he realized the after-school program was not going far enough to change the participants’ lives.
“With social work you give a snack, a pencil, a sweater, but in mission work you’re giving the kingdom of God, which changes lives,” Libardo Ramírez says. “If you share the transformative gospel, the person changes from the inside out and won’t continue being the same.”
Libardo Ramírez and Cenelia, his wife, received support from the Berna Mennonite Church to add a Bible study component to the 10-year-old social project. With a small amount of funding from the Colombian Mennonite Church, Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network, they began Saturday Bible studies with interested families involved in the after-school program.
Two years later, the Berna congregation granted approval to launch a church plant in the Rincón del Lago community. Last August, the Iglesia Cristiana Menonita Rincón del Lago (Corner of the Lake Christian Mennonite Church) held its first Sunday worship service, and Jesús and Cenelia are now discipling five baptism candidates.
Their goal is to have 50 baptized members and to develop leadership from within the church in the next two or three years.
From there, only God knows where Libardo Ramírez will serve.
“When one is guided by the Spirit of God, overnight God can call you to a new place, and one needs to be ready to go,” he says. “Since God called me to ministry, I’ve told God that material things won’t keep me from going where he leads me.”
Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact Andrew Clouse at firstname.lastname@example.org, 574-523-3024 or 866-866-2872, ext. 23024.