The response to my very first blog post was overwhelmingly supportive and emotional for me. I am so grateful to everyone who even made it possible for me to get here whether through words of encouragement, finances, or prayers and all the love I’ve experienced this past year. Having that said, I don’t want to keep all of it for myself. It deeply satisfies me to be able to share everything with all who desire to listen.
Today, I finally get to sit down and reflect on what Colombia was like. The hard parts, the beautiful parts and all the wildness that happened in between. It's a story that unfolds in three parts but encompasses the love and patience of God in a way I hope to experience all over again. Thank you for reliving a small piece of it with me.
The Amazon was the place our team went to die. I know it sounds intense but hear me out for a second. All of us come from westernized parts of the world, all of us were accustomed to air conditioning, iced water, toilet paper, dishwashers and all the other simple luxuries we never thought we’d have to part with. The Amazon jungle is no place for these luxuries. It is hot, it is wet, it is dirty, and yet it is one of my favorite places in the world because there The Lord showed us the grandness of His splendor and the depths of His love. We died and we met God on the other side.
It is all very biblical when you think about it, it illustrates the call of dying to our flesh to live in the fullness of Christ, that to follow Jesus we must first encounter death. (Romans 8:13) The process of dying to your flesh isn’t this horrifying or punishing process. It’s the painful but remarkably beautiful process that unravels us from all the inner turmoil that seeks to keep us depressed, anxious and unaware of the greatest love we could ever know. To die is to let pride, selfishness, entitlements, and hate be set aside so that we may be filled with the fullness of love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control. The fullness of the Spirit of God.
The people who served there loved and served God beyond what we had ever seen. Though I could spend hours writing about all the people we met, I want to focus on one very special family who showed a level of servanthood that would mark us for the rest of outreach. Jennifer and Wilmer had 3 boys and one dog. We met them on a boat that would take us down the Amazon River onto a YWAM base deep in the jungle that they had personally built and served at for the past 9 years. Jennifer and Wilmer worked tirelessly cutting down trees with machetes, sleeping in tents with each new baby boy they brought into the world, and hauling tons of supplies down the river and up the mile long muddy terrain to their base. Though all of this would have been reason enough to give them all the honor and respect, what made them stand out all the more was the oldest son, Josué.
When he was just four years old, Josué became very sick. The doctors didn’t think he’d live, he had severe seizures that damaged his brain and gave him difficulties walking and speaking. Everyone expected that they would step away from missions at such a tragic time, but they remained faithful. They would walk miles in the jungle and if Josué had a seizure, Wilmer would carry him all the way. They would travel back and forth to get medicine and see doctors. They did all this while still continuing to build the base because it is what God told them to do. They didn’t see it as an excuse to leave. They knew God was going to do something in the jungle and they were desperate to see the seed be sown. And in response God was faithful to them, Josué is stronger than ever now with manageable seizures and lots of love to give. He draws his prayers, he gives hugs and wants to build relationships with the people he meets. He embodies true joy.
Something people may not understand about missions is the western world has perpetuated a culture of fast paced results. We want to see the numbers of bibles distributed, mouths fed, children in homes, souls saved and while all those things are wonderful - it is equally as exciting walking with God through the type of labor that will take decades to see true fruit from. The relationships they build with the native people are slow, the things they build take patience, projects take months or years to be completed. This is the type of Christian I want to be. Not obsessed with a platform, not consumed with the hype or the results, but faithful and patient with what God is doing with my daily ‘yes’. Putting faith in my intercession for the people I am building for, putting faith that God provides even when it is impossible. I want to know God the way I did in the trees for the rest of my life - near, present, comforting, and still incredibly powerful.
The native people who had welcomed them and invited them to their communities were overwhelmed with a newfound joy to know someone came all the way to meet them and take care of them. In their time of following Christ, they saw healings, miracles of provision, families restored and personal encounters with their creator.
The Amazon prepared our souls for Botota. Bogota is much more developed and westernized in a lot of ways. It’s a huge city (7.1 million people) with lots going on at all times. The amazon gave us the courage to slow down in Bogota. It reminded us to depend on God for everything, but it prompted us to test something different - our minds. With so much happening all the time, our minds became the battlefield we had to be mindful of. My thoughts would easily be overwhelmed with fears, doubts, and even temptations.
I began to quickly doubt my own qualifications for being there, I questioned the character and intentions of my own teammates, I questioned the effectiveness of what we were doing. But looking back, it was incredibly prideful to think any of it was about my own expectations. I know God worked, I know God moved, and He continued to prove himself faithful when I didn’t realize it.
It was in Bogota that I was challenged to speak for the first time. Me and my teammate Matt were asked to prepare a message for a rehab center full of men. Immediately I questioned that my leaders heard from the Lord correctly. Who was I to speak to men battling drug addiction? Who was I to encourage men who’ve lived a life I could never even imagine? How would God use me? But He immediately took me back to the basics. He took me back to the roots. He took me back to my pain of rejection.
God began to instruct me on what and how to share. I used the story of Samson as a symbol of rejection and overcoming betrayal. Then I began to share my own testimony. Though I had never walked their steps, I too had sinned because I felt rejected. The Holy Spirit prompted me to see these men in a new light, the way Jesus saw them. I had the honor of looking them in their eyes and telling them I believed in them. Though I had been hurt by men, God gave me a new faith and a new hope for these men.
That is what it means to love like Jesus. In Community Development school we learned this quote that reminded me much of this moment. It says
“Christ’s compassion was prophetic. Instead of being a gut level response to pictures of starving children, it grew out of a prophetic insight into the root causes of human misery. Jesus went to the source of suffering and death with it.”
-Vishal Mangalwadi in Truth and Transformation.
We can keep starting rehab centers, we can keep being kind and moral people, we can keep giving the homeless money, but if we are not submitting our hearts to Christ and allowing ourselves to see into the source of their pain and speaking redeeming life into it, then we are not true followers of Jesus. To love like Jesus is to love fully no matter the cost and we should do so to our greatest capacity.
It no longer mattered that I was not qualified because God qualified me in that moment and gave me a fresh heart with fresh eyes to see the source of their pain and call forth the abundance of life their Creator placed inside of them. Overcoming the mind made way for the Holy Spirit. No longer did I see with my own thoughts and reasoning, instead I was filled with a hopeful truth that multiplied in that space.
However, it wasn’t until Barranquilla that I saw the Holy Spirit move the most. As a team we had a lot to overcome, we repented where areas of our flesh and mind got the best of us and it freed us to see God move in a way we were desperate to see. One thing our contacts in Bogota warned us about immediately was that the spiritual warfare on the coast was a whole different beast. We were advised to fast all secular music and shows, and be very mindful of our thoughts and our language because it could open doors to some scary things.
Colombia has a long and very dark history, it is too much to get into right now but I will say it is no accident that it has the terrible reputation it does. Long before human trafficking and cocaine Colombia had a long history of iniquity. From slavery, to witchcraft, to human sacrifices, the Caribbean coast became a breeding ground for the enemy to disrupt and distort creation. All that to say, it wasn’t something we were taking lightly.
I want to take these last few paragraphs to tell you about a man named Kevin. There’s not much I can say other than simply share his story. I want you to consider the ways we had prepared and opened ourselves to be available for the Holy Spirit to move. I hope it provokes you and stirs your faith. This story is often what I remember most about Colombia, along with countless more.
Kevin lives in a small community in a city called Soledad. This community is home to some of the kindest people you will ever meet, nearly 200 kids and about 50 families. However it has also been condemned to high crime, drug abuse, poverty and disease. Kevin is 17 years old and he has been abusing drugs for the past year. Him and his friends commit crimes because in their minds there is no better way to make money and no better way to see justice for the pain in their lives.
One day Kevin is walking out of his house because he hears a group of missionaries are giving out free food in the courtyard and there he meets a man from Norway. This man tells him his testimony, about how he spent his whole life knowing Jesus but it wasn’t until he surrendered all his sins that God began to transform his life. So Kevin and his friends let this man from Norway pray with them and the Norwegian prays that they will allow God to move in their lives to reveal Himself as Lord and then Kevin doesn't think much of it.
Unbeknownst to him, his mom had met a girl from the U.S. who decided to sit next to her and ask her if there was any way she could pray for her. After hesitating his mom started to open up about how hard it is to watch him go through the things he is going through. She started to cry thinking about her son, Kevin and a man from Colombia and the girl from the US started to intercede with her for Kevin. The Holy Spirit fell upon all three of them as they all sobbed and felt God’s deep love for her and her son.
Kevin eats the free meal and he heads to the pastor’s house where they had invited the other missionaries to eat with them. Along with some of the missionaries, he sits next to his friend and his girlfriend, a 14 year old girl who is pregnant with his child.
While he is sitting next to her, one of the missionaries from Brazil asks to speak with her privately. She pulls her aside and tells her that God told her to speak to a pregnant woman today because he had a message for her, his beloved daughter. When the girl from Brazil said these things to her along with words of encouragement and identity she began to sob. Even though the missionary from Brazil found out later there were pregnant women all over the community that day, Kevin’s girlfriend was the first one she saw, God had hidden all the rest just so she could meet her.
The missionaries had no idea all these testimonies were related until a couple days later, and they praised God for how he works in mysterious and sovereign ways. The night before, Kevin was participating in a robbery with his friends, the police caught them and even though Kevin shot at the police they miraculously didn’t fire back at him. He was detained and sent to jail that night. When his mom got the phone call, she remembered the faith and hope she was filled with when the missionaries prayed with her and instead of submitting to fear, she trusted God was working in his heart, instructing him and teaching him. When the missionaries found out about this, they knew God was humbling him, that because he prayed and gave God permission to change him, he would be taught many things and his life would never be the same.