Helman Ocampo first came in contact with the Arhuaco tribe in 1993. “God placed a passion and love in my heart for this ethnic group,” he said. “But at that time there was so much persecution against Christians in that region. We could only visit them for short periods when circumstances allowed. For 25 years we prayed the Lord would help us find a way to reach them.”
In March 2018 Helman decided to try one more time. He told his family, “If we cannot do continuous work among the Arhuacos, this will be my last trip.”
Helman and his team traveled to the small town of Vale-de-Pur, situated at 3,000 feet elevation in one of the world’s highest coastal mountain ranges, the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. They then hiked a few more hours to 6,700 feet to try to once again engage the Arhuacos. A padlocked church stood in the middle of the village, and the witch doctor had the key. The very few Christians stood frozen in fear of a confrontation.
“At that time we proposed to teach them a literacy course that would strengthen their mother tongues of Iku,” Helman said. They agreed, and the team stayed on in the village to teach the course. On the last day of August, 13 indigenous Arhuaco people graduated.
The team returned home. They had gained more favor with the people, but the church was still locked and they didn’t know what to do next.
What could the missionaries do to continue their progress?
God gave Helman a plan.
The art of coffee growing is passed down from generation to generation in these indigenous communities. Arhuaco traditions teach that the earth is sacred, so they grow their crops without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Growing the beans is easy for them, but getting them to the small town of Vale-de-Pur to sell is not. They must carry heavy bags down a steep winding path, find a buyer in the market who will give them a fair price, and then hike back up the mountain.
Helman’s son-in-law, Brandon, operated a coffee shop in Villavicencio, and he knew all about the production and distribution of coffee. Helman invited Brandon to come along on his next visit to the Arhuaco village.
Helman introduced Brandon to the Arhuacos, and then said, “We want to talk to you about one of three possible subjects, but you can choose. The subjects are Jesus, coffee, or your locked church.”
“We will talk to you about coffee.”
They talked about their beans, their traditions, and their challenges in making money off their products. Then Helman and Brandon offered to buy the Arhuaco’s ripe coffee beans at organic prices and take care of the transportation. The tribe agreed, and prices were set.
Brandon returned to Villavicencio and spoke to his wife, Deysi, and their children. They prayed and all agreed to move to Vale-de-Pur and open a new café. Café Caleb soon opened in a house on the main street. Brandon bought a donkey to haul the beans down the mountain, and he hired several Arhuaco people to help with transportation, roasting, grinding, packaging, and marketing the finished product.
The fruits of sustained relationship
Brandon and his family are establishing trust and satisfaction and building beneficial long-term relationships. But that is not all.
They began having Sunday worship services in their home. Deysi and Brandon’s daughter Alyson leads worship. The Arhuacos are trickling in and God is performing miracles. Two new generations are now actively engaged in Helman’s vision of sharing the gospel with all in Colombia.
When Helman and his wife started mission work in their native Colombia in 1982, 50 of the country’s 73 indigenous ethnic groups didn’t have access to the gospel. Today, because of persistent, creative, and faithful work like this, only 7 tribes still lack a local church movement. Please continue to pray.
This is just one example of how this extended family is taking the gospel to ethnic groups in Colombia that never before had a chance to hear it. It takes creativity, sacrifice, and the commitment to never give up. When a church is firmly established among the Arhuacos, only a handful more unreached groups will need to hear. These are the hardest in all of this nation. Please continue to pray.