Not far from Barranquilla, in the municipality of Soledad, there is a neighborhood called, “Paradise.” While the neighborhood might not be what you expect given it’s name, it is here that Pastor Jesus and the congregation of the Paraiso (Paradise) Covenant church serve so faithfully in a context that faces many challenges. Gangs are prominent in the area. Unemployment is sky high (over 70%). Economic resources are scarce. And there are very few opportunities or spaces for youth to develop their talents or further their education. That is why a place like “The Master’s Workshop” and the Covenant Church of Paraiso stand out here.
When you pull up to the Master’s workshop, which is located right next to the Covenant church and a Covenant elementary school, it doesn’t look that extraordinary from the outside. However, when you enter in and see the artisan crafts that are being made and hear the stories of the people who’s lives are being impacted in very tangible ways, you can’t help but be in awe. Take for example, Pastor Jesus. He is one of those people who you can’t help but smile when you interact with him. He radiates joy and warmth and compassion, and his commitment to see individuals. families and the community transformed is admirable. As one who began this workshop in 2005 he proudly explains the process of making the artisan crafts and introduces those who work in the workshop, giving a clearer picture at how this small workshop has grown over the years and has done everything posible to offer training and employment to those in the community. The workshop began 12 years ago. Today, depending on the demand, they employ anywhere from 12 to 36 people. The majority are youth and they are all from the surrounding community. He introduces us to some who have worked there for years and who are able to pay for their college education thanks to their employment. He speaks of others who have been able to go on to receive more formal education and secure better paying jobs and are supporting their families. In the course of the 12 years that they have been open, Pastor Jesus and the designer of the artisan statues, Edilberto, estimate that they have employed over 300 people. Again, in a community where jobs are not readily found and unemployment is the norm, this is remarkable. It is to be celebrated.
Pastor Jesus introduces us to the newest employees who are from Venezuela. They have recently moved to try to start a better life for themselves and their families. The moved into the neighborhood with very little. The workshop has provided employment and through the church they have found a new community to support them in their time of transition. The church is constantly reaching into the community as they offer a lunch program for the elderly, which for many is the only meal they have for the day. Pastor Jesus has invested time and energy into developing young leaders and it is evident in the amount of youth that not only attend the church but have taken on active leadership roles. It is beautiful to see 18 and 19 year olds working with toddlers and preschool children on a regular basis. Pastor Jesus speaks with such commitment and care about his community, its challenges and the opportunities for service and outreach. Even as he faces health issues, he is faithfully serving his community – offering a safe space for people to experience God’s love in tangible ways through the church. The Master’s Workshop, the Paradise Covenant church, and Covenant elementary school are offering the community around them a taste of the kingdom, a taste of shalom, a taste of paradise.