Colombia church serves to transform barrio

Colombia church serves to transform barrio

by
Daniel Sperry for Nazarene News
| 05 Jan 2024
Image
Barrio Siloé

In what used to be one of Colombia’s most dangerous and crime-ridden barrios, Iglesia del Nazareno Siloé has been a beacon of hope by offering spiritual care, food for children and elderly people, and vocational training. 

Barrio Siloé, located on the outskirts of Cali, was once regarded as one of the most dangerous places in all of Colombia. But in 2009, Steiner Prieto planted a church that has helped the community heal and transform. 

The decision to plant a church in Siloé wasn’t easy. Prieto, who still pastors Iglesia del Nazareno Siloé, held a lot of hatred and contempt for the barrio because it was the community where his brother was murdered. While his heart was bitter, Prieto says God changed the burden in his heart for Siloé.

“God gave me a burden not of hatred but of love for that community,” Prieto said.
As Prieto began his ministry just three blocks from where his brother was murdered, he experienced many setbacks. His car was stolen, and his son was stabbed and nearly killed. 

Despite the setbacks, many in the community wanted the presence of the church. Prieto recalled Matthew 9:36, where Jesus showed compassion to those who were “like sheep without a shepherd.” He prayed that God would give them the opportunity to do something for the community.

In 2015, the church started offering breakfast for children in Siloé. It became such a community asset that the church also began to offer lunches and expanded its services to elderly people. Currently, the church feeds over 120 children and elderly people every day. And while the meal program has proved to be a useful community service, it has also played a significant role in the salvation of the lost in Siloé.

Two young siblings began coming to the church for meals and, eventually, services. They had a difficult home life because their mother was addicted to drugs, among other unhealthy life practices. Once they started coming to the church, they began to invite their mom. She found salvation and transformed her life, and now she volunteers in the kitchen for the meal program.

After the success of the meal program, the church began to look for other ways to provide a service to the community.

“We want the church to be relevant in the community every day,” Prieto said. “Not just when we gather to pray.”

The church also holds classes to help people earn their high school diplomas and offers free vocational training. Two barbers in the church started vocational training to help people start their own businesses. They teach the students how to cut hair and basic business practices to help them gain income through vocational trades. The church hopes to add additional vocational training like painting.

After nearly 15 years of ministry in Barrio Siloé, Prieto is still amazed at how God has used him to reach what was once such a pain-filled place.

“This is the community that killed my brother,” Prieto said. “I never imagined that God would use my pain to take the church there.”

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