I by my works will show you my faith. – James 2:18
David Bonilla is the first pastor I know who began his career as a runway model. David and his wife, Marina Forero, run a school and lead a church in the poor community of Il Progresso in Cazuca, just outside Bogota, Colombia.
Nearly 80% of the people here have been displaced from other parts of the country because of the armed conflict. The community is haphazardly built on the side of a mountain and the government refuses to provide services. Mudslides often destroy homes.
The Il Progresso Mennonite Brethren Church has been here for 11 years. More recently, a school has begun and it serves up to 120 children from pre-school to grade one. MCC’s Global Family program provides funding for six schoolteachers.
David says his heart is in this community but he also knows his children are sacrificing many things because of his calling. And now there is a threat on his own life. A person was killed just outside the church and another person was mistakenly stabbed instead of him.
David wonders what will happen to his children if something happens to him.
There are gangs, drug addiction and abuse in David’s neighborhood. And paramilitaries systematically “cleanse” the neighborhood from time to time. But David says he has seen change in peoples’ lives here.
The church is the starting point, David says. Other needs are important, too, but people need a community, a church, as a starting point.
Most of the other pastors of churches here drive in for weekends, but David says his family is rooted here. But he feels his family is now targeted and he doesn’t know what will happen in the future.
We gathered around David and prayed for him and his family. We shared a meal together and climbed up the hill through the neighborhood.
Reflecting on the possibility of leaving this neighborhood, David said he and Marina have always had as their goal to train leaders and teachers and that these ministries would go on, even if he and Marina were no longer here.
It’s not just about knowing the Bible, he told us, but about putting it into practice. Not just a theology of books but a theology of the heart as well.
After all, David told us, if we’re not going to be salt and light, who will be?
Postscript: I visited David and his family in June 2013 when the MCC U.S. Board was meeting in Bogota. Since then, David and his family have had to leave the Il Progresso neighborhood. David is waiting for where God will call him to ministry next.
Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.