In Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, a local church is transforming the lives of families who have fled there from Venezuela. When Latin Link’s Ian Horne helped establish this initiative, there was one volunteer in particular who drew his attention – Sandra Sanchez. She had a real gift for counselling and came alongside each migrant with such compassion, and a hunger for them to be treated fairly. The acceptance she showed them often seemed to have a transformative power.
Sandra was clearly somebody with a calling to this work. When Ian asked her about her motivation, Sandra replied: “It is important that we accept people as God accepts them and learn to see them through his eyes, understanding the things of their past.”
“It is important that we accept people as God accepts them”
Ian sat down and listened as she shared the story of what led her to Bogotá, the church and these refugees.
The things of the past
Sandra did not grow up in the capital city, but in Córdoba, to the north. It’s not a place that holds happy memories for her. As a child, she lived with a violent and abusive father – the first of many people to mistreat her. The young Sandra was exposed to more trauma when a guerrilla group kidnapped her half-brother and held him captive for four years.
In her early twenties, Sandra managed to leave that place and move over 700km away to try and start a new life in Bogotá.
For the first few years, she moved around the city, trying her hand at a range of jobs. But she found herself back in a horribly familiar situation – being mistreated by another man. Even then, Sandra had a keen sense of justice and knew this wasn’t right.
Courageously, she fled the abusive relationship to go it alone as a single mother with a newborn baby son. It was tough. Struggling to make ends meet and not knowing where the next meal would come from, she felt herself sinking into a deep depression.
It was in her moments of despair that Sandra picked up her Bible. As she read, she was overtaken by a feeling of great comfort. Looking back, it seems that God was ready to intervene in her life, because the next thing that happened was a Christian showing up. Sandra described her as a ‘special lady of faith’ who took Sandra under her wing, invited her to the local church and started to help her along a journey of faith.
“Praise be to… the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can
comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Sandra grew close to Jesus. One day something powerful happened that gave her the new start she’d always longed for. God enabled her to forgive the men who had harmed her, and she found immense inner freedom.
God had much more in mind for Sandra. Now she was ready to respond to his call.
A call to pass it on
This is the context through which Sandra Sanchez came to be working with Venezuelan refugees.
Like her, they had fled their old homes in search of something better, but had found new problems, like discrimination, mistreatment, and an endless battle to earn a living.
Sandra felt drawn to this community. When the church began its initiative to support them, she was quick to volunteer. She was soon appointed as promoter, helping the team provide practical help with food, rent, health care and income generation, but what motivated her most was providing pastoral care.
A lifetime of overcoming adversity had given Sandra a gift for counselling others, and a genuine empathy that made each refugee feel their value. She described her favourite part of the role as, “listening to the migrants, giving words of encouragement, and helping them to see things from God’s perspective.
“We encourage the migrants not to despair”
“We give practical orientation and we encourage the migrants not to despair, to seek God and his peace.” She was passing on the comfort and freedom that she discovered in her own moments of despair.
This year has been tougher than most for the migrants. Despite the impacts of the pandemic, the church has seen a core group of Venezuelan families responding creatively to the challenges around them and growing their trust in God. Some have even had the chance to study the Bible for the first time in their lives. The church also saw a number of individuals come to faith during 2020.
“God is at work,” Sandra concluded, simply. “We have seen how he takes care of the vulnerable migrants here in so many different ways.”
Ian could see that Sandra was a hope-sharer. God met and called her in terribly difficult times, and made her a powerful sharer of his comfort and hope to a whole community in need.
Sandra’s past didn’t define her future, but prepared her for it. Have your experiences – good and bad – given you insight or hope to share with others? Find out how a Latin Link Stride placement could utilise your experience, gifts and sense of God’s call.