Travel Blog – MOPS Colombia
So excited to travel to Colombia. The idea for this trip began last September at Momcon while at a dinner we had organized for the Mission Hills Team and the Latin American Leaders. One of the Mission Hills leaders, Emerald Holden sat next to a lady from Colombia, Lorena Gutierrez. They began talking and found out they had so much in common. They were of similar age,they had kids that were similar ages and both shared the passion to help moms through the ministry of MOPS.
Lorena has a ministry where she sells used American clothing to help young moms and their families. She was the leader of her MOPS group in Cali, Colombia. A dinner conversation, a big dream and 9 months later I am taking off to the airport with Emerald, Jacque and Karissa. All leaders from Mission Hills. Ready and eager to join our Latin American leaders, Monica and Lorena.
We arrive after a quick stop in Miami and are greeted at the airport by Lorena and her husband, Andres. Monica Rovira, our Global Ministry Developer from Latin America, has joined them and I am so happy to see everyone. They take us to a local spot for dinner where we try coconut lime drinks, plantains, and an odd looking fruit called granadilla. Everything was delicious. We immediately connect with Lorena and her husband. Conversation is fun and easy.
They have secured a local hotel for us which is absolutely beautiful. A local Cali family owns it and we are greeted as if we are celebrities. Quaint, charming, perfect.
June 23, 2018
We start the morning sitting in the dining room of this old home that was turned into a beautiful bed and breakfast. Colombian coffee, fresh fruits, eggs, and the most amazing homemade bread. We are joined by a sweet mom by the name of Anjelica. She is a cousin to one of our MOPS leaders. She will be our interpreter for the day.
We walk across the street to the NOW Hotel where we will be staying for the rest of our time in Cali and where we are hosting an outreach event for moms in the Cali area. I am overwhelmed with emotions as we reach capacity and there is standing room only. So many moms interested in MOPS.
Lorena starts the day and I am so impressed with her ability to lead and to speak. We each take our turn explaining MOPS. We share vision, and our own personal stories of how MOPS has impacted us as moms and leaders. I am so proud of our team from Mission Hills. Each of these girls holds such a special place in my heart. They speak with confidence and what they say is very impactful.
We attend a luncheon for the MOPS leaders in Cali and then host a workshop for the leadership team. We brought gifts that we share and then stay to talk and answer questions. Their enthusiasm is so contagious and I feel so energized and so very thankful for the opportunity I have to work at MOPS International.
MOPS business is finished for the day and we head off to find Colombian soccer jerseys. We end up shopping from the vendor on the street corner and it is a blast. I purchase a jersey, a hat, and some very cute Colombian flag earrings. We hop back in the car and snack on homemade breads as we navigate the crazy traffic on our way to church. There are at least 5 lanes of cars and motorcycles weaving in and out. Fun to be out in the city.
We are attending a service tonight at a Cenfol church. I am so impressed with this organization and their commitment to reach the world with the love of Jesus. They are in a new building which is a beautiful home. I love the worship in Spanish and enjoy the teaching which we understand through Andres who is interpreting for us. We are invited to speak and share what MOPS is about with their church family. An honor to be able to speak to them about what MOPS is doing around the world.
After church we pick up the kiddos and find our way to another amazing local spot for a Colombian food called arepas They are little pastries filled with meats and cheeses. At every meal we have the chance to try different fruit juices and they are delicious. The Colombian people drink a lot of fresh juice. I love it!
Our first full day in Colombia was very busy, very productive, and I find it hard to fall asleep as I am so excited about all I have seen today, the beautiful moms I met, and the experience of church in Colombia.
June 24, 2018
It is Sunday. We participated in church last night and have set aside today to have a little fun. We drive with Lorena and Andreas to their family home in the mountains outside of Cali. We first stop at a Walmart type store where we stock up on bottled water and snacks. We are dressed in our Colombian jerseys so obviously get a few looks at the store. Everyone is very friendly.
About an hour and a half later we have left the city behind and arrive in the beautiful countryside of Colombia nestled in the Andes mountains. The views are spectacular. The air crisply scented with the fragrance of orange, lime and mango trees. We are invited to go out into the yard and pick fresh limes off of the trees. We make it a team effort and begin slicing and juicing the limes. Lorena and Andres turn our little harvest into a delicious limeaide. Amazing! We settle in and start watching the World Cup soccer game. Colombia is playing Poland. So fun to share in the cheering of their team which by the end of the first quarter becomes our team too. They win and we jump and scream like we are locals.
Before we leave the mountain house we gather more oranges, limes, and avocados to take back to the city. We stop at an outdoor dining experience. It is a place where people come and enjoy birthday parties and family gatherings. There was a fun playground, trampoline and sledding hill. Of course we each took a turn in the plastic bucket sliding down the cement track built into the side of the hill. So fun. What a fun Sunday enjoyed with our Colombian family.
June 25, 2018
The day begins with a visit to the home of Pillar. She is a local pastor who will be leading a new MOPS group in the city of Cali. She is an incredible woman who loves Jesus and loves others so well. We get to meet her teenage daughter who is a delight and eager to practice her English skills. Pillar has set out a beautiful array of fresh fruit and we get the opportunity to learn more about her church and the way in which sees the opportunities to reach more young moms in her community through the MOPS ministry. She is full of love and hospitality and she sends us off with gifts.
Next stop – “ The Farm”. This stop was very impactful for many reasons. We enter an area known as the “ Agua Blanca” and we have the privilege of meeting an incredible woman by the name of Maria del Carmen. She is an attorney and an amazing advocate for the people of this area. She runs one of the clothing stores with the gently used clothing we have donated.
This place has been scarred by violence and poverty and the 52 year civil war. Her family has set up a small farm right next to the river that runs thick with human waste. She provides opportunities for people to begin again. They raise chickens and goats and employee locals to take care of the animals. She and her family have proclaimed this land that once was overtaken by the drug cartel and have cared for it. The budding trees and newborn animals were tangible signs of renewal, life and hope.
Maria del Carmen is an educated woman who could have stayed in the city after she earned her law degree but instead she chose to return to her home. She is a strong and determined woman wanting to help the people in her community including young moms who sell used clothing. She is making a difference in this world. It was a privilege to meet her.
Next stop – the first location of the clothing store. We drive down a very narrow and steep street and stop in front of a small door. Inside is a clothing store fully stocked with more of the used clothing from Denver. The two ladies who run the store are so sweet and eager to show us how they have things organized. Those of us from Denver step inside the shop and immediately recognize our own clothing hanging from the display. A full circle moment for sure. A green checkered shirt I wore to cheer on my boys while they played football is displayed and now a woman in Colombia will be wearing it. I pray for this woman never knowing who it will be, struck by the opportunity we all have to care for others around the world. Nelly and Consuelo run this store most days and they care for the women and families in their community so beautifully.
Next stop – We climb like mountain goats to get to the top of the hill where this next MOPS group meets. This home along with other make shift homes is where many displaced people from the war and refugees have settled. Her name is Leidy and she warmly welcomes us into her home where about 20 young moms and their kiddos gather once a month for a MOPS meeting. Our team joins in and we host the MOPS group. Monica and Lorena share a beautiful teaching time. Our team has brought a craft project for kiddos to make butterflies out of coffee filters, pipe cleaners, and markers. We join in the fun. One of Leidy’s neighbors is making homemade empanadas and I ask if I can join her. She teaches me how to stuff them, fold and mold them to perfection. She works the whole time we are meeting lovingly preparing food for these moms. The empanadas are delicious. I am struck by how normal this feels. Visiting with young moms and their babies. We offer to pray for these moms and they begin sharing their stories, their hardships. I am broken hearted and have a hard time holding back my tears. This is a hard life that they have yet they are finding community, strength and resources to help them be the best moms they can be. I have the privilege of praying with a young mom who has two small children, her husband is in jail, and she is looking for a job. She cried and told me she felt so hopeless until her neighbor invited her to MOPS. Her circumstance has not changed but she is being loved on so well by this MOPS group, she is learning about Jesus, she told me she now has hope. There were many heartbreaking stories that day, but there in this small house on the side of a mountain is a group of woman who now have true community. They are MOPS moms.
We end the day with Andres, Lorena and their three beautiful kids in their home. We sat outside and talked for hours. Some conversations were very deep and we covered all topics from politics to religion to our hopes and dreams for MOPS in Colombia. We then started listening to music which of course led me to sharing Spencer’s music with them and a spontaneous dance party began. We learned all sorts of latin dance moves and we laughed and danced with the kids for a long time until we all needed a break and then we ended up sharing stories of how we met our spouses. Our love for the Lord, for the MOPS ministry led to an evening that I will never forget, friendships I will forever cherish.
June 26, 2018
Our travel day to Bogota. We arrive to the hustle and bustle of Bogota. We are staying with Monica’s Uncle Reuben who greets us so warmly. They have prepared a homemade soup that is delicious. We sit at his dining room table with hand painted placemats from Monica’s grandma, Italian opera playing in the background. I feel like I am living in another world for sure. The latin culture is so good at the dining experience. Amazing food and even better conversation.
We freshen up and head off to meet with the MOPS leaders from Bogota and Venezuela. We refuel with caffeine provided by a cup of coffee at Juan Valdez. Monica’s cousin is our driver and he is pointing out interesting facts about the city to us as we navigate the traffic of Bogota.
A small gathering but an amazing group of women who will be ministering to a diverse group of moms. A wide socioeconomic range, single moms, women who are professionals and work full time, homeschooling moms, moms who stay at home full time. We share ideas and have a great brainstorming session. Of course we are treated to more delicious food and sweets. I am so excited about the leadership team in Colombia and Venezuela. These women are amazing!
Monica’s cousin picks us up and takes us to the top of the mountain that overlooks the city. The view is spectacular. The city is illuminated and full of life. It is a city of 14 million people. We enjoy our time together and enjoy a local treat of aguapanela, cheese and bread. We place the cheese in the hot tea and allow it to melt and then dip our bread in the tea. A fun culinary experience. We pose for a selfie as we leave with the lights in the background. I can’t help but think of all the moms out there in Bogota who need to know that they are valued, loved, and seen. I pray for MOPS to grow in Colombia so more moms know the love of Christ, the value of community, the strength to raise the next generation.
June 27, 2018
We leave early and travel to the North of the City to experience the Catedral de Sal. (Salt Cathedral) North of the city of Bogota is a small town named Zipaquera where an old salt mine exists. In the early 1970’s miners began carving crosses into the walls of the mine and holding church services to ask for protection as they worked underground. What they created is incredible and even hard to explain. We went on the official tour complete with head phones explaining all of this in English. I was expecting to have a museum experience, a history lesson, but instead I had a very deep and meaningful spiritual experience as we walked the stations of the cross. We were 600 feet underground listening to Ave Maria surrounded by beautifully carved cross sculptures. We stopped to pray for MOPS and the country of Colombia as it continues to heal from the over 50 years of civil war.
We then began our trek back south. Monica as our driver and guide. She shared with us the rich history of her country and family stories and then we stopped for coffee and pastries at a local shop. “ La Vaca qui Rie”. ( The Laughing Cow) I placed our order without Monica translating and was so proud of myself. haha
We then continued on the long trek through the mountains for several hours to Monica’s family home outside Girardot. We spent the night where she spent many summers with her grandparents and cousins. We had a few encounters with ghekos, spiders, and even a bat which is a little unnerving for a Colorado girl. The drive was priceless as it gave us many hours to be together and talk about life.
June 28, 2019
We wake early and head to the retreat center in Girardot. We decide to wear our Colombian jerseys again because Colombia is playing Senegal. We arrive and are greeted with music, and horns and flags. Ready for the game. We make the decision to wear our jerseys when we are introduced and I keep mine on as I begin speaking to the gathering of pastors.
What a fun experience to be in Colombia during the World Cup. Colombia defeats Senegal and the celebration is awesome! Luckily there is a man speaking about finances after the game and before my talk. The crowd is settled down.
I am nervous to speak in front of this group. They are distinguished pastors of the Cenfol church movement and are respected leaders in their countries. We meet for prayer before I start and my team assures me to just share from my heart my passion for the MOPS ministry.
Monica is my interpreter and we take the stage. It was a joy to share with them what MOPS is really about and how this is a wonderful strategy for their churches, for their moms, for their countries. I am honored to have this opportunity. We were met with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement about what we shared. Later that afternoon we had a time where we could share more information for those who were interested. Monica did a beautiful job of leading this time and our team shared stories too.
We are thrilled that 30 new churches will start MOPS programs in the next few months. Excited for Lorena and the leaders of Colombia. Thanking God for our time.
We stayed for dinner where we had the opportunity to get to know Monica’s sister and brother in law and more of the pastors too. I was thankful for a little more time with Lorena and her family as well. Goodbyes are hard. Our time with Lorena, her family, and the MOPS leaders in Colombia is something I will treasure forever. I am thankful for our time in this beautiful country and the ministry we shared. We gathered in a circle, held hands and prayed for each other, for MOPS and for Colombia. We tearfully said our goodbyes and piled in the car for our return to Bogota. I felt relieved, thankful, and tired.
June 29, 2018
Monica and I shared a room so first thing in the morning we were up and chatting about the week we just shared. Hard to believe it has been six years since we first met at Momcon in Dallas. Our hopes and dreams to bring MOPS to Colombia came true. We give God all the glory!
Off to the airport, a little shopping for some trinkets to bring home. Our goodbyes are never easy. I am beyond thankful God placed Monica in my life and we have the opportunity to serve the moms in Latin America. We do believe better moms make a better world and we want to do our part in implementing this global venture. Returning to Denver with my sweet friends, thankful for the time we spent together in Colombia. The experiences, laughter and stories we will forever share, the new friends we have added to our lives and the excitement we share for all the moms who will be part of MOPS Colombia.