In July 2017 Reuben and Evelyn Smith began to pray and seek the Lord’s guidance over a two-year plan for their family’s future. Motivated by their love for the gospel and spurred on by a heart for Paraguay (where Evelyn was born and grew up) they committed to regularly praying and connecting with local leaders there, with the plan for Reuben (who works as a high school teacher) to make several trips over to bless and encourage the church. During this time God worked unexpectedly to bring South America to their doorstep—from Colombia to Southland, New Zealand.
In March 2018 the first group of Colombian refugees were settled in Invercargill; just some of the millions of Colombians displaced during a decades-long civil war between Colombian government forces and guerrilla soldiers, paramilitaries and drug cartels. Over 100 Colombian refugees are expected to be resettled in Southland by the end of 2018.
Both Reuben and Evelyn speak Spanish—a vital asset in helping Southland’s newest citizens adjust to life in New Zealand. This adjustment is something Evelyn understands intimately; when she moved to New Zealand she had to learn English to get a job, but now it is because of her Spanish Language skills that she is able to work in the area of refugee support and resettlement. Evelyn currently works alongside families with WellSouth, helping them to access medical care and support systems.
The Smith family attend Rosedale Bible Chapel (RBC), where the community has also chipped in—along with the help of Ellis Road, Lochiel, and Edendale—to make sure the new arrivals would be warm enough over winter, by providing firewood and blankets.
There are a number of ways for churches to reach out to help refugee communities across New Zealand. Red Cross teams provide volunteers with good training and support. Language skills are appreciated, but essential is the willingness to know and understand someone from a different culture. Many refugees are fleeing very traumatic circumstances and have complex needs, providing an opportunity for churches to live out Christ’s mercy and compassion.
While the initial response was practical, the Smiths and the wider church community have been praying for ways to share their faith and bless the Colombian community spiritually—and God has provided.
Jose and Maria, along with their daughter Nidia, have been attending church regularly and are very keen to learn more about the Bible and grow. Pablo is a young Colombian guy who is being discipled: “A month ago I asked Pablo if he had put his faith in Jesus. He said he wasn't ready yet. On a recent hunting trip I asked him the same question. He replied: ‘Yes, and I'm growing closer to God each day.’ I noticed last week that he took communion for the first time.”
Reuben and Evelyn have started a Bible study and they are taking the group through a Spanish Language translation of ‘Fundamentals of the Faith’ from Grace Community Church (USA).
God has provided other Spanish-speaking Christians, Josh and Lynelle Honiss, to help support and disciple those who are seeking. People from RBC have stepped up to provide transport and learn greetings in Spanish. The Smith family, along with the wider RBC community, are continuing to pray for the wider Colombian community as they ask God to equip them for this new area of ministry.
The Smith family’s connection to Paraguay continues in partnership with believers over there, with Reuben visiting for two weeks in July 2018, and another trip planned for 2019. For Reuben and Evelyn Smith, it is a heart for reaching out with the gospel and willingness to serve the Lord in what he has placed before them—whether in New Zealand or Paraguay.