Sydney Holt's Letter from Columbia - 2008

Dear Fellow Laborers and Friends,

Time for a second letter to update you on my special privileges. It was very special to have a night with Todd and Shirlene Anderson and their two daughters my last Sunday night in Barcelona, Venezuela. John Newlands and I had a six-hour bus ride into Caracas the next day where we gathered for the night before flying to Bogota, Colombia. In the apartment complex where we stayed, there is a gang who has robbed the workers twice at gun-point. However, now the head man of the gang has told the thieves to leave the workers alone. In the night this gang and another gang just up the hill exchanged gunfire for 40 minutes, but I slept through it! The police knew to stay away!

The next day we had a good flight (1 ½ hr.) to Bogota, which is the capital of Colombia (10-million population and 8,500 ft. elevation). Here the city seemed more orderly, cleaner and not so many junky cars as in Venezuela. It was 1987 when the first workers came to Colombia; and while it has gone slowly, yet there have been some dear souls found. Just a little church in Bogota and we had a helpful study meeting with them the night we arrived.

The next day, four of us took a 7 hour bus trip west of Bogota to the city of Armenia, which was hit with an 8.5 earthquake two years ago, destroying much of the city. A few friends and a helpful meeting that night. Some of these friends don't have work and a real sacrifice to have us for meals and the night. The following day we had another 7 hour bus ride and both days it was on a two lane road (double line almost all the way) winding up and down in the mountains. These bus drivers take chances you can't believe in passing trucks, etc., when they can't see very far ahead. A number of times I was sure we were going to not make it! We arrived in Medellin, which is about half as high as Bogota. This is the city world famous for its crime and the headquarters for the drug lord who was finally killed a few years ago.

David Lockhart and I came to the home where the man is professing, but not his wife as yet. He is in his early forties and 18 years ago was shot a number of times and left for dead. Since then he has been paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheel chair. His wife married him in this condition, knowing the care he would be and no hope for children. The area they live in up to two years ago had an average of about two killings a day, if I remember right. However, now the gang in this area is strong enough to control the area and it is now fairly safe. Javier has a shoe repair shop a few blocks away and I couldn't believe the quality work he does sewing everything by hand. His wife, Sandra, works a six day week in an undergarment factory. They both leave the house before 5:30 a.m. and don't get home until after 6:00 p.m.

Thursday was a big day with three different bible studies (all different chapters) and meals in different homes. Noon was in a poor widow's home where she is raising a granddaughter of one of her sons who was shot. She lost one son from an accident and two others who got to running with the wrong crowd and were shot. Three of the Bogota friends came for our days here. A rich friend of one was taken by the guerrillas recently, but they didn't wait for a ransom. They pulled both of his arms off, burned him alive, and then notified his wife to come for his remains. The stories folks tell are even hard to take in, but the workers here love their place and learn to be very careful, trying not to be out late at night when much of the violence takes place.

The little convention is in the home of a young couple who have a bicycle shop in front. The sister's bach is also here. Two meetings Saturday afternoon and three on Sunday. I spoke Sunday morning and in the last meeting.

On our mountain bus trip to Medellin we passed areas where rice, coffee, etc., were grown. One area is considered the best area in the world for orchids. The water in Medellin is considered some of the best in South America and 97% pure. We drank it from the tap, but most places drink only after it either is boiled or put through a filter. From Medellin it was a 12-hour bus trip, but the driver drove like Jehu (II Kings 9:20) and cut 30 minutes off the time. All 14 workers traveled together and the sisters packed a nice lunch.

Cartagena is in the very north along the Caribbean Sea, so it is much hotter and humid. A nice little group of friends here and where the gospel first started 13 years ago. Duane Hopkins flew in on Wednesday and was with us for our Workers' meeting Thursday afternoon and meetings Saturday and Sunday. Things are quieter in this area, which is a nice change! However, most are very poor and perhaps the poorest homes I've ever stayed in other than in Mexico years ago.

Here in Cartagena it is a common sight to see a little horse or donkey pulling a two-wheeled cart loaded with building materials. Many of the local buses drive at night without their headlights on so those waiting for a certain bus can read the sign in the window as to which bus it is. Many of the people here are much blacker than in other parts of Colombia.

Thursday afternoon we had a helpful worker's meeting (15 workers) in the sisters' bach. It has been special to have Duane Hopkins with us for a few days on his return from conventions on the India route and then Spain. He will also have a few days in Venezuela before returning south. The convention is in the home where only the wife is professing, but where we are most welcome. There were two meetings on Saturday afternoon and three on Sunday. I spoke Sunday morning and in the last meeting. About 50 gathered, but not all professing yet.

Colombia has 40 million population compared to 13 million in Venezuela. Sixty percent of all kidnappings in the world take place in Colombia.

After being together for two weeks it tears at your heart to say goodbye, knowing your paths may never cross again. Sunday night all the sisters (7) were excited about spending the night together in the sisters' bach! (The same the world over!) Most left Monday, but four of us wait until Thursday afternoon. A full day and night for Harriet and I as we go on to Brazil.

Munro MacAngus will look for a bach in a new city about 2 hours from here today. Like Venezuela, they are three brothers, so one will have three weeks with one brother and then three weeks with the other.

I hope this finds all well and (DV) I'll get my third letter off from Brazil.

Your brother in Him,
Sydney