Overcoming Racism in Colombia … in Jesus’ Name

Africans were first brought to Colombia to work as slaves during the colonial period of the 1500s. Many of their descendants still live in communities around Colombia. Although slavery was abolished in 1851, the Afro-Colombian community still faces much discrimination.

Jailer is a descendent of those slaves. He’s from Buenaventura, a port city on the coast of Colombia where most of the population is of African descent.

Buenaventura is a dangerous place for children to grow up. Many children experience abuse and violence within their families, which eventually leads them to lock their heart into an unbreakable shell to protect themselves. Many spend more and more time in the streets in an attempt to escape from reality, learning that only the tough survive.

As a child Jailer watched as this environment destroyed the dreams of his companions, who were seduced by the easy path and ended up robbing or killing at a young age, trapped in a lifestyle that’s not easy to leave.

But Jailer grew up under God’s protection and the care of a devoted mother who, with discipline and dedication, raised her children despite the difficulties of not having a husband beside her. Jailer never knew anything about his dad; he lived at home with his mom, his uncles and cousin.

young man

When Jailer was young his mom worked with a nongovernmental organization doing social work. But the organization closed in that area and his mom lost her job. Since that time she hasn’t found a stable income and now her work includes domestic labor. Such work brings only occasional earnings of $10 to $15 dollars per day.

Jailer’s life changed when his grandmother heard of the work that Compassion was doing in the neighborhood and filled out the paperwork to present him to the child development center. He was accepted into the program, and thereafter he had the opportunity to interact with other children who were learning the same biblical principles.

At the center Jailer found an open space for interaction where he could play, talk and spend time with other kids, without exposing himself to gangs, drugs, alcohol and abuses.

Jailer’s goals and dreams of becoming a professional were threatened by the economic limitations of his family. In most cases such circumstances push children to start working at an early age, closing the doors to new opportunities like pursuing higher education. Thankfully, God had other plans for Jailer.

Due to his outstanding skills and commitment to the church, the center staff proposed that Jailer be a candidate and participate in the selection process for the Leadership Development Program.

In January 2007, he was selected to enter this program, and is now studying civil engineering at La Salle University in Bogota, with three semesters left.

Jailer’s journey has been led by God, but it hasn’t always been easy. He faced many changes, like going from a small town to a big city where he missed his neighbors, friends and family. “The hardest part was not having my mom around,” Jailer says.

One of the most difficult circumstances Jailer faced was because of his skin color, which exposed him to ridicule and rejection from peers who repeatedly assaulted him verbally and emotionally.

The barriers placed by the people who excluded Jailer because of racial bias affected not only his emotional health but also his academic performance, especially when one of his teachers joined these behaviors.

“Last semester a teacher separated me from the rest of the group and advised me not to expect to receive good grades in his class nor even pass it. He told me the best I could do was drop out of the university because according to what he said, black people only could work with a shovel. Meanwhile engineers like him were white people.”

Despite this painful challenge, Jailer knows the purpose of God is bigger than human prejudices. He knows that God, the engineer of his life, created a plan that includes being a professional.

Jailer hopes to help build infrastructure in his hometown by developing bridges and roads. He has seen the corruption that can surround engineering, but he knows he is called to a higher purpose. He knows his life will be a testimony to the importance of having integrity, maintaining the dignity God has given to everyone, and setting a good example of the perseverance and discipline needed to achieve goals.

“I want to show everyone the importance of my skin color, because that is the special design he made for me, a brushstroke that makes me unique!”

13 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Jessica July 14, 2012

    Yes please, if it’s all right.

  2. Jessica July 11, 2012

    Does anyone know a center number for a child development center in Buenaventura? This story has caught my attention. thanks.

    1. Jacquie Parella July 11, 2012

      Jessica, are you just wanting to know a number for any CDC in that area?

  3. Ali April 6, 2011

    Dear Jailer .I hope you are well. Keep up the good work dont be detered if you are find away round!.. No body can change the way you think or know your true engineering potential but your self god, Jesus, close friends and your loved ones. Never stop, never give up! Your destined to be a great engineer. Keep praying, take care and work hard.
    Always believe in your dreams! I went through the same journey and made it!

    Yours faithfully Ali MSc BEng HND OND InstmC Senior Instrument & Control Systems Engineer Oil & Gas (Project Management Team)

  4. Latoya March 28, 2011

    As someone who experiences the same bigotry and racism in America (even from fellow “christians”) i’m encouraged to hear that Jailer is pushing past the walls of racism in his country by the power of his mind and the power of his God. Good for you Jailer!!

  5. Juli Jarvis June 14, 2010

    God is turning all this abuse around for good, and using it to sculpt the wonderful Christian men you are becoming. Jailer, Ali — I’m praying for you again today to hold onto faith and courage in Christ!

  6. Ali June 14, 2010

    Jailer keep it up perservere with faith and hard work! Where there is a good will there is a way, Just stay out of trouble! I faced the same in the UK. The Company Management said i did’nt have it ,even coearsed & abuse me emotionally when I lost my father and even blatently failed me when I was 21. I just believed in god my self and a higher purpose. Now I have two degrees BEng and MSc an am a Senior Oil & Gas Consultant Control Systems and Instrumentation Engineer with 17 years experience and earning over $160,000 a year., working on a major project In the Middle East. Your faithful caravan will continue even when the Dogs bark as you pass them by!

    Good luck my prayers are with you!

    Your born to do it!

  7. angela March 31, 2010

    que emocionnte este testimonio
    mi niño
    no e preocupe qu nuestro dios es mas grande y el fue que lo puso uste ahi en ese lugar tqmucho cuidate

  8. Dee Dee Molinary Hammer March 30, 2010

    God bless Jailer, may your studies go well, know that God has great plans for your future. Jeremiah 29: 11-12 For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me and I will listen to you.

  9. Mike Stephens March 29, 2010

    Amen! God is bigger, more powerful, but sounds like he has had quite a ride! Keep up the great work Jailer! Hang in there! I prayed for YOU!

    I Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for YOU!”


  10. Amy Wallace March 29, 2010

    Great post, Maria!

    I love Jailer’s quote at the end.

  11. Juli Jarvis March 29, 2010

    Wow — impressive young man, and he will achieve his dreams! God will use him in a big way, I’m sure.

  12. Becky March 29, 2010

    Jailer, as an engineer, I am always thrilled to hear that LDP students are choosing engineering. I have friends who are civil engineers, and I find their work highly important. You are completely right that corruption in civil engineering (or poor building codes/standards) can be disastrous for the public. I will be praying for you in your final, hectic, semesters of school!

    I am deeply saddened how pervasive racism can be in many places. Despite those challenges, I am glad you are able to keep going and rise above that through Christ.

    I’m praying that your fellow students and professors will come to realize that you are just as competent as they are and that you will excel at your studies.

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