BARRANQUILLA, Colombia (Mennonite Mission Network) – During the weeks of the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, while Americans solemnly reflected on the devastation caused by that storm, a rogue tornado ripped through the northern part of Barranquilla, Colombia.
On Sept. 15, the earthly possessions of 1,250 families evaporated into funnel clouds. Since that day, the Colombian Mennonite Church has worked to offer relief to the victims.
Because the city of nearly two million inhabitants does not have adequate first-response services for a disaster of this magnitude, Iglesia Encuentro de Renovación Comunidad Menonita (Place of Renewal Mennonite Community Church) joined other area churches in helping people pick up the pieces of their lives.
Gamaliel Falla, church planter with Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness, said: “Since this city is not prepared for these crises, there wasn't help available; not even to attend to the most urgent needs like food, water and medicines.”
Not only has the congregation assisted one of their own families who lost everything – the Urbanos, whose members include an elderly grandfather, parents and four young girls –but they are helping others in their surrounding community with material aid and crisis counseling. Experiencing the lightning and reverberations of the severe thunderstorms with subsequent flooding especially traumatized the children, Falla wrote in an Oct. 3 e-mail.
In a region where homeowners’ insurance is unheard of, the municipal government has provided roofing materials for some of the damaged homes.
“Members of our congregation continue visiting the devastated area and providing support,” Falla said. “The majority of the families have very few economic resources.”
Both the Colombian Mennonite Church and Mennonite Mission Network provided some of the initial funds for the Barranquilla congregation's emergency response in supplying food and furniture to the families who suffered the most loss.
After having served as pastors and church planters for 15 years in the United States, Amanda and Gamaliel Falla returned to Colombia, their country of origin, in 1996 where they served in Cali. In 2002, they moved to Barranquilla where they soon began a dynamic congregation.
This congregation, Iglesia Encuentro de Renovatión Comunidad Menonita, planted a second church in the the southern part of the city, which has in turn given birth to a third congregation in Galapa, a historic town 10 miles from Barranquilla.
“We already have a granddaughter congregation!” said Gamaliel Falla with the pardonable pride of any grandfather.
Church members hope that as they help meet their community's physical needs, more of their neighbors will join God's family. This tragedy provides an opportunity to embody the congregation's vision statement, “We are a community transformed by the power of the holistic gospel, with the capacity to propose new alternatives for life in our society.”