What began in 2017 as an idea to feed a group of Venezuelan migrants in Colombia turned into an ongoing project that has mobilized Seventh-day Adventists to feed more than 18,000 more people.
“As we were studying how to impact our community using Christ’s methods through our Sabbath school lessons, it was clear we could make a difference in a small group of people in need,” said Julián Agudelo, pastor of the Villa del Rosario district of churches in Eden, a metropolitan municipality on the outskirts of Cúcuta, Colombia.
In the months after the border was closed, more and more Venezuelan families were making their way into Colombia and knocking at El Edén Adventist church, one of five churches where Agudelo is pastor.
“More and more people came to the church to ask for something to eat,” Agudelo said. “So as we activated, our church board voted to use some funds to provide a warm meal to an initial group of 30 people at our dining room that first day.”
Comedor PAN (or PAN Dining Room) opened in August of 2017, and leaders realized more meals would need to be provided. An appeal to members the next Saturday (Sabbath) in church brought enough donations for meals to be served on Tuesdays for the next two months, Agudelo said.
Meals are now usually given every Wednesday, except in some weeks when it’s possible to feed guests on three or four days, Agudelo said.
With the help of funds coming from the local coordinating office of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Cúcuta, as well as the country’s national ADRA Colombia office based in Bogotá, the project had a strong beginning with the help of faithful church-member volunteers. The volunteers cook, clean, and prepare to host 200 people at each mealtime.
“About 50 percent of the Venezuelans that we see every week cross the border to sell their goods here in Colombia and then return the next day,” Agudelo explained. “The rest emigrate here or travel on foot to other cities,” he said.
“It made sense for us to add ADRA to our local project because ADRA is so well known and they have provided funds to keep these meals going,” Agudelo said.
Agudelo commented that on some days the ministry feeds as many as 350, but every single time there seems to be enough food for everyone to eat.
“We try to include carbohydrates, protein, and vegetables. One day we will make rice with chickpeas and include an egg,” Agudelo said. It’s all about providing a meal, not preaching to anyone who comes in, he said. “We simply pray before the meal, and if they ask us for a special prayer, we pray for them.”
To keep order, individuals are given 20 tickets they can use anytime they get a meal at the Comedor PAN, and then when those are used up, more tickets are provided.
So far the church has included funding of the project in its budget, Agudelo said. Every week about 12 volunteers help as they rotate in groups for feeding at the courtyard behind the church. This project alone has brought more involvement among church members in the mission of serving others, Agudelo said. “I can see our sisters in the church are so happy to serve, and they have expressed how they feel happy and satisfied in helping others every week,” he added.
Gabriel Villarreal, ADRA Colombia director, who visited Comedor PAN, applauded the volunteers’ dedication. “This a perfect example of how a project is born out of the hands of church members and helps fill a void as more and more migrants seek a better path for their families,” Villarreal said. ADRA Colombia has been running several projects to benefit Venezuelan migrants in a number of cities in Colombia.
In Eden, the project has benefited a few low-income families in the community as well, Agudelo said.
As a result of the impact of Comedor PAN, more than 30 migrants have joined the church.
“This has solely been a project to help the basic needs,” Agudelo said. “But so many ask us to pray for them individually and ask about our church services, and they have been coming. So we organized an evangelistic campaign and now have new members that we continue to help become disciples.”
Church leaders said they wish there were a more attractive place to serve warm meals, but little by little they are making a difference.
“The Lord has called us to serve, to look for ministries, and we believe that while the need exists, we will continue to feed and bless people with God’s help,” Agudelo said.