“When you talk to someone about Colombia, the first things that come to mind are bad,” says Kathryn Stephens, “the drugs, the cartel, Pablo Escobar.” But the 58 year-old medical case manager from northern Virginia wished people knew about the good things happening in the South American country.
Particularly, Stephens is excited about the first-ever Reformed women’s conference that came to the country last July, featuring speakers such as Susan Hunt, Ellen Dykas, and catalyzing Connie Miller to share the truths of biblical womanhood with 300 Colombian women.
For Stephens, it was a homecoming of sorts. Her father was in international agricultural development, and her family lived in Cali (western central Colombia) from the time Stephens was 10 until her senior year in high school. She moved back to the U.S. for college and didn’t go back to Colombia for the next 40 years.
According to a survey by the newspaper El Tiempo, roughly 90 percent of the Colombian population is Christian, and the overwhelming majority — 85 percent — is Roman Catholic. Nearly 4 percent of the Colombian population is Protestant, while 3 percent of the population is either atheist or agnostic.
But in 2006, Stephens and her husband, Jim, now active members of Faith Church in Frederick, Maryland, began sensing God calling them to missions work. During the next several years, the couple went on a journey that led them and their church to embrace Colombia as the place to invest their time and resources.
In 2010, Faith launched a formal five-year partnership with the Presbiterio del Caribe in the country’s northwest section. During that time, Stephens returned to Colombia at least 10 times, leading and participating in trips that focused on everything from medical missions to VBS events to mentoring and discipleship training.
“It was like I had come home,” she says, her emotion growing palpable. “It was like God was bringing me home.”
But it wasn’t until October 2014 that she realized there was more to God’s plan. While Faith was hosting a women’s conference in Maryland featuring Susan Hunt, a pastor from Cali was visiting the Stephens family. After observing the conference, the pastor told Hunt that she should come to Colombia and speak to the women in his church. And so began a two-year project, headed by Stephens and backed by Christian Discipleship Ministries (CDM), to host “Transformada: Women Living for God’s Glory” in Cali from July 21-23.
After securing a few key speakers, including Hunt, Stephens announced the event at CDM’s women’s leadership conference in February and received enthusiastic support, bringing the number of partners and speakers to 15. Meanwhile, more than 300 women from Colombian churches across the country registered for the event, many hosting movie nights and barbecues to help provide scholarships.
Because Colombia is predominately Catholic, Stephens was eager to see the women of Colombia spend three days under strong Reformed teaching on topics such as covenant theology, the church’s role in culture, and biblical sexuality.
“After working in Colombia since 2009 and working for many years to build bridges between the church in Colombia and the U.S., this is the first event that has generated national interest,” Stephens says. She adds that she hopes events like this will help generate more interest across the PCA to engage in partnerships in Colombia.