The headlines startled many Colombians as much as they did me.
The dollar had lost a full five per cent of its value in the first quarter of this year and inflation continued in double digits. Exports plummet as the price for Colombian leather goods and other products goes up. Even the countryside is affected as the pesos they get for the coffee they sell drops dramatically, lowing the income for many small farmers. The collapse of the U.S. dollar over the last five years has been as dramatic as it has been constant. This has never before happened in the history of bilateral relations between the two countries.
For years we could count on a constant increase in the value of the dollar and so we planned our budget accordingly. Any inflation was always offset by the increase in the value of the dollar. The year of 2001 ended with the dollar bringing us more than 3,000 Colombian pesos. But the next year the increase stopped and the dollar began its decline late in the year. Everybody, including the government was shocked. At first the Central Bank attempted to buy dollars to support its value but not even spending billions managed to support the U.S. currency. The following year saw nearly a twenty per cent devaluation of the U.S. dollar couple with inflation running at 12% or more. We currently get less than 2,000 pesos to the dollar and prices internally have climbed rapidly each year.
This has affected the country as a whole but it has affected our missionary program here in Colombia as well. We live and work in pesos, not dollars. At first we assumed things would change and simply tried to make of for the deficit by deficit spending and diminishing our own personal income. But as time passed with no relief in sight, we had no choice but to begin reducing or eliminating programs. This was tragic as many of these programs had proved very beneficial to the church here. One example, in 2002 we could provide a semester long college scholarship for $100 U.S. dollars. Now it takes over $800. We suspended granting any new college scholarships and curtailed other programs as well. Every other program and our own living expenses suffered a similar effect.
At the same time problems at some supporting churches meant a cut back in giving and a couple dropped support altogether. This has made it very difficult to be as effective as we could here in Colombia. At the same time God opened to doors to a spectacular opportunity to train national leaders and bring the indigenous church into closer compliance with New Testament doctrines and patterns, we have been unable to take full advantage of that incredible opportunity.
The ministry here in Colombia is a joint effort between all of you and my wife and me here. We take great risks and made significant sacrifices. We know that all of you also sacrifice to see the Lordâ€™s work move forward. We know that you are as anxious as we are to see the work progress. So we want to share the realities facing the ministry here in Colombia and we pray that you will take that into account as you plan your missionary giving in this year and in the future.