Thirteen individuals from southeastern Minnesota headed off to Colombia, South America, at the beginning of July for a visit to their sister churches in Bogota and Bucaramanga. In front, from left, are the Rev. Paul Forde of Fountain, Anita Omodt and Sarah Costello of Chatfield and Anna Hermann of Pine Island. In the second row are the Rev. Norman Omodt of Chatfield and Nadine Omans of Waseca. In back are Wayne Eickhoff from Chatfield, the Rev. John Omans of Waseca, Karen Ford of Fountain, Karen and Vaughn Schmidt of Preston and Connie and Darrell Costello of Chatfield. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Thirteen individuals from southeastern Minnesota headed off to Colombia, South America, at the beginning of July for a visit to their sister churches in Bogota and Bucaramanga. In front, from left, are the Rev. Paul Forde of Fountain, Anita Omodt and Sarah Costello of Chatfield and Anna Hermann of Pine Island. In the second row are the Rev. Norman Omodt of Chatfield and Nadine Omans of Waseca. In back are Wayne Eickhoff from Chatfield, the Rev. John Omans of Waseca, Karen Ford of Fountain, Karen and Vaughn Schmidt of Preston and Connie and Darrell Costello of Chatfield. SUBMITTED PHOTO
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America is rich. It is a rich, developed country where the people live in style…compared to people in countries like Colombia, South America, that is. However, one does not understand the depth of this statement until personally traveling to such a country. Recently, a group of Southeastern Minnesota residents learned just how vast the difference is between the United States and the Republic of Colombia.
Paul and Karen Forde recently returned from a trip to visit the cities of Bogota and Bucaramanga, Colombia, with 11 other people. Paul is the pastor of Root Prairie Lutheran Church in rural Fountain. That congregation became a sister congregation with the San Marcos Church in Bucaramanga about three or four years ago.
"Many of the Lutheran churches in Southeastern Minnesota have companion churches in Colombia or Tanzania. Root Prairie asked the synod to provide a church that we could support in South America. It has been a very good experience and the congregation has been very supportive of the congregation there," Paul stated.
Among a group of 13 individuals from as far as Waseca and Pine Island, the Fordes journeyed to visit five missions in Colombia. Almost all of these travelers represented their churches in the trek to see their sister congregations.
Thankfully, several of them either knew some Spanish or were fluent in it already. A pastor who had once been a missionary there and a Spanish teacher helped to break down the communication barrier.
"We went there mainly to visit the sister churches,” Paul said. “We were not necessarily there to give money to the churches, but we were there to show them that we support them. We wanted to show solidarity with them and keep in touch with them.”
For a few days, the group did just that. They visited five different missions in two days, but what they saw there left a memorable impact on them. Their sister congregations are not rich. In fact, they have nothing. But what is interesting is that even with nothing, those congregations have found a way to support those who live with even less.
"The supporters are very poor, but somehow they have found a way to support people living with nothing," Karen noted. "It tugs at your heart to visit people that don't have anything and then go see people with less than nothing."
Technically, Colombia is 80 percent Catholic and has only 21 Lutheran pastors in the whole country of 47 million people. Of the 47 million, six million have been displaced.
Unfortunately, because of corruption within the government, sometimes aid from other countries never makes it to those it is intended to help.
"If a church in America sends money to people down there, they never see it. Even the American government has sent money down and 60 percent of it is for humanitarian aid. But what they get is more like 20 percent," Karen said.
"People down there don't even like to vote because the government is so corrupt. They have had two humanitarian presidents. One was immediately assassinated and the other was killed even before he took office," she continued.
With all this turmoil, there are many rich people in Bogota and the average income of the people is increasing. But this is not because more people are earning money.
"There is no middle class there. The rich just keep getting richer," Paul said.
Many of the people the Fordes and their group came into contact with could not read or write. Their congregations are mainly made up of women and children because the men have been killed by guerillas for resisting them, imprisoned or displaced.
One older woman they saw peddled garbage that could be recycled in order to obtain a few cents. The churches are not well off and one church they saw was simply in a cement room with a dirt floor.
Many of the houses located in Colombia have wavy tin roofs and windows with no glass or screens. Roads are practically all dirt, and when rain comes, gullies form in them, ensuring a very bumpy ride in the fleet of Chevy Spark taxis.
While there, the group saw many, many dogs and cats sleeping in the dirt streets next to buildings. Watching where they walked was also very important to avoid animal excrement and human vomit from the drunks careening down the streets. Even during a church service one Sunday, the group had to listen over dogs barking and drunks yelling.
In spite of all the problems and poverty the Colombian people put up with, they still welcomed the visiting Minnesotans with open arms.
"The spirit of the people is very welcoming. They will give you something even when they don't have anything. It was a special time when the Americans came," Karen said.
"People say that Colombia is the friendliest country," Paul concurred.
Prior to traveling to the country, the Fordes and the rest of the members of their group, ranging from a sophomore in high school to 70 years of age, were coached in how to be a gracious guest.
"We were to be thankful, accepting, friendly, not whine or complain if we didn't like the food or drink the coffee offered and use the fork for everything," Karen noted.
The group met at the synod to be schooled in this and also to go through a Bible study on how to be gracious.
While in Bogota, they stayed in an immaculate and clean building where the synod offices were housed. Their rooms were on the sixth and seventh floors, and being over 8,500 feet above sea level with no elevator gave them a lot of exercise bringing up their luggage, to say the least.
Going to Colombia gave the group an opportunity to do some sight-seeing too. While still in Bucaramanga, they visited Giron, the old part of the city going back 400 years. As they stayed in Bogota, they also explored Zipaguira Salt Cathedral, a salt mine with ceilings up to 50 feet high in some areas and 2,000 feet underground. At 14 different stations, the miners placed crosses, culminating with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Besides the Cathedral, they toured the Gold Museum and Art Museums there, seeing ancient gold items from tombs and burial places and Picasso paintings along with the Colombian painter Botero.
"I felt thin coming from the art museum after seeing Botero's paintings. All his paintings have very round individuals," joked Karen.
Their journey to Colombia created an eye-opening experience for each of the individuals who went down. Though there was a large age difference, the Fordes did have a good relationship with each of the group members.
"Each day a different person led our devotions, even the 15-year-old. All the people in our group were very sharp," Paul said.
The group made it back, all in one piece, from the trip around midnight on Monday, July 14, but unfortunately, they did have a mishap occur on the flight back home.
"We missed a flight when we came into Miami. We were scheduled to have one and a half hours between flights. Our luggage had to go through customs so we did not have enough time for the transfer,” Paul related. “We took cabs over to Fort Lauderdale to catch a flight in from there. But we did not lose any luggage.”
Each of the members of the group from Preston, Chatfield, Fountain, Waseca and Pine Island all have tremendous stories to tell of their trip. Each agreed that their visit to Colombia left a lasting impression on the sharp contrast between the lifestyle and spirit of the people there and those here.