Every Tribe, Every Tongue
Having been saved, Joanna Avendano felt called to missions from a young age itself. And the Lord opened doors for her. What started out as a month-long visit turned into a full-time commitment to be a missionary in Colombia. Currently, Joanna and her husband, Camilo, are in Colombia, where they serve their local church and evangelise to their local community.
Give us your testimony and tell us about your family.
I am from a small town in Ontario, Canada. My parents weren’t believers. They were ‘Christian’ only in name. I heard about God from a young age, and thankfully, the Lord took everything I had heard and made me realise that I was not saved.
I became a Christian when I was 8 and when I was 13, I knew I had to testify to my salvation and live for the Lord; He showed me that I had to follow Him. It was the kindest thing He did for me.
I helped with kids’ clubs and Sunday school in my small town. Later, I got an opportunity to go to Toronto, and while on the trip, the youth leader exposed us to other cultures by taking us to see mosques and Hindu temples. The exposure to different cultures began to pique my interest in missions.
So, when I was 17, preparing for university, I went to Ireland for 6 months for a short-term mission trip where I did door-to-door evangelism. It was while I was there that I realised that I wanted to be a missionary. I was sent out 8 years later.
I knew I had to testify to my salvation and live for the Lord; He showed me that I had to follow Him. It was the kindest thing He did for me
Once I graduated from university, I taught at a Christian school, and this gave me the flexibility to travel to Colombia to visit my sister who had a teaching job there. While preparing for one of my trips to Colombia, I contacted all the missionaries in Colombia associated with CMML (Christian Missions in Many Lands) and was referred to a missionary family.
The family was happy to have me, and I spent a month labouring with them in the mission field. After my trip to Colombia ended, I returned to Canada, where I felt encouraged and emboldened to share the gospel with my students. Looking back now, I can see how, little by little, the Lord was preparing me for long-term missions.
Why leave a normal career behind?
When I was 8, I asked my parents if I could go to a different Sunday school to learn the Bible. So, I stayed with that church for 10 years. I watched my mom go back to the basics of Christianity; I watched her learn and grow in her faith. I witnessed her life change, and how she valued, even more, the things of God. And as a result, I realised that I could not take my faith lightly.
I sought the help of my youth group leaders at a camp, and they were more than happy to help me in my faith. The Lord set in me the will and the way to do it. It was a slow, weaning process to set aside the things of the world and move on to missions.
What are some things that your counselors at camp did to encourage you?
There was a missionary who had come to speak to us about missions. During his talk, with tears in his eyes, he said: “Consider missions!”. Though I was just 15 at the time, that struck me and left me with burning questions like: could I really leave everything behind for missions? Could it be my calling?
Where are you serving? How did the Lord call you to this specific mission field?
When I would visit Colombia, I thought that it was only my training ground. But over time, the Lord showed me that Colombia was where He was placing me indeed. And so, in 2016, I finally moved and settled down in Colombia.
It was a slow, weaning process to set aside the things of the world and move on to missions
I currently work with young women and children, sharing the gospel with them through Bible studies. In addition, I work with university students, but that is temporarily on hold. This is because all the classes have been moved online because of the pandemic. I have a musical background, so I write songs based on Bible verses in NKJV whenever I have time.
I took a Spanish class in university, which didn’t teach me much. But I had learned French and I found Spanish somewhat similar. I also found myself in many situations where I had no choice but to practice and learn Spanish.
How has marriage changed your ministry?
I met my husband, Camilo Avendano, at a camp many missionaries were working at. We worked together in 2015 and 2016 building new roofs for a facility and in music. He also helped me with my Spanish pronunciation.
When I had to return to Canada due to visa problems, he sought permission from my parents to date me. We began dating In 2018, and got married soon after.
Now that we are married, we invite young people — especially my husband’s friends — into our home. Camilo teaches and shares the gospel with them. Before, men were not really my focus as a single woman. I make more male contacts currently through my husband and together, we share the gospel.
What does evangelism look like on a day-to-day basis?
If the conversation with someone we meet turns to spiritual things, we suggest doing a Bible study as a means of maintaining a connection with the person, and often they would have never read the Bible, let alone study it. I bring my ukulele if there are children.
We pray together and see how far it goes, even if we only meet for a Bible study 3 or 4 times. We also invite them to church and pray for them to stay strong against persecution from their families because coming to the church for the first time, especially for Catholics, is a big deal.
Here, everyone differentiates between Catholic and Christian, unlike in North America. When people pick up the Bible for themselves, the Lord really speaks to them. The Catholic environment does not encourage people to read the Bible for themselves; they receive excerpts to read, not the whole Bible.
It is expected that the Pope, priests, and the Catholic Church ought to suffice because they are divinely ordained. The customs, such as the Holy Week and drinking culture, are instilled in people from a young age.
What is one challenge that you faced, and what did the Lord teach you?
As he talked about all his struggles, Paul mentioned he wanted the believers to stay strong and he prays for them.
When you pour your heart into working with someone, and then they turn away, it is so sad and discouraging. I had such an experience with a lady who was my neighbour. I really felt the burden of her lost soul. This is one of the difficulties of the mission field.
When people pick up the Bible for themselves, the Lord really speaks to them
How has the pandemic affected the church?
Amid the initial panic of the pandemic, many people asked me for Bibles to study at home since we were not having church meetings in person. Many took the time to work with their family members and share their faith. And as a result, the church has grown.
The pandemic helped many in our church wake up and realise they need to commit their lives to the Lord. Our little church grew!
Since we are in the most Catholic country in Central and South America, we are very grateful for those who have been Christian for over 2 years; they are our support system.
What is your favourite verse/quote?
It is a simple reminder from 1 John 5:11-12: “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
How can we pray for you?
Please pray for my family as well as the people that we are working with currently. Please pray for the young church in Colombia, that the Lord will sustain and grow it and that it will be a beacon of light in our community.
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