I learned to know Rosa in 1980 when my family lived in the town of La Mesa about a two-hour drive from Bogotá, Colombia. My husband and I were missionaries serving under the Mennonite Church. My principal assignment was training leaders in the churches, but I was also active in the local Mennonite Church in La Mesa.
Years earlier Rosa had fled from a violence-torn area of Colombia after her husband had disappeared. With six young children in tow, Rosa had landed up in La Mesa, homeless and penniless. A kind-hearted member of the church had allowed her family to live in the entryway to the patio of her home. There they struggled to survive and with the church’s help their situation improved.
When I met Rosa a decade and a half later, they had their own home – a tiny two-room place some would call a shack. The children were flourishing, all receiving a free education at the Mennonite school in La Mesa and active in the life of the church. When I met her, Rosa was working as housekeeper for a kindly elderly Presbyterian missionary named Millie, who ran a home for street boys or “gamines” living on the streets of Bogotá.
Rosa and I were both 48 years old at the time and we became close friends. Rosa shared with me her concern for the future, since Millie would be retiring within that year and returning to the States. I, too, shared her concern. “How would you like to make a living?” I asked her. Without hesitation Rosa responded, “. My grandfather was a baker and I would love to establish a bakery in my home. That way I could live at home and my children could help.” Her two older children were no longer at home, but Rosa had four teen-age children, two boys and two girls still at home, as well as two pre-school grandsons.
I immediately thought of a way we could help Rosa realize her dream. At that time the Mennonite churches of the United States and Canada had established a “Poverty Fund”, which was used to help the poor in various parts of the world establish small businesses. We helped Rosa apply for the funds to start up a bakery, and it didn’t take long for the project to become a reality. We located second-hand bakery equipment for sale by a bakery in the city of Ibagué, That same bakery offered to give two of Rosa’s children one-month’s training as bakers. Transporting the equipment to her tiny home in La Mesa, a lean-to was adapted to become the locale for the bakery.
It didn’t take long and the bakery was up and running. The whole family pitched in. Milton and Rosa got up around three each morning to kneed the bread and bake before breakfast. Jorge delivered the warm, fragrant bread to the homes of their customers by bicycle each morning. It wasn’t long before they had many customers throughout La Mesa and the bakery was flourishing. Within a few years they were able to improve their home and put up solid walls for their bakery, and Jorge exchanged his bicycle for a motorcycle to make deliveries.
From the beginning Rosa asserted that they would not bake bread on Sundays, to honour the day of rest and allow the whole family to continue attending church Sunday mornings and evenings. She was taking a huge leap of faith, because the principal market day in rural Colombia occurred on Sundays. That was the day when farmers from the surrounding countryside converged on the town to sell their goods and buy their weekly supplies. Was Rosa making a big sacrifice, losing a major opportunity to increase their earnings? Her answer was “no”. God had provided her with the business, she said, and the business belonged to Him. He would bless their bakery, and at the same time the whole family would put God first in their lives. And so it was. Now, thirty-five years later, they are still a close, loving family, each one active in church and industriously working at their own businesses.