Monday, June 21 around 9:15 p.m. “What was that! It sounded like a small explosion.” Lily answered my question by telling me she has been hearing yelling and chanting outside for a while now. “Really?” I continued, “Is this because of the protests?” “Yes, it is,” She said.
The “Paro Nacional” has been going on here since late April. It is a national strike being carried out by many Colombians who are upset/fed up with the “current state of the government”. So much so that they are willing to take this all the way to a revolution, some say. It has consisted of protests, violence and destruction of government and local properties. There has been a stoppage of truck deliveries and roadblocks leading to a shortage of food in the supermarkets.
Moving toward the window, I began to open it to hear a little better the disruption she was talking about. “NO! Don’t open the window,” she said. Startled, I stepped back away from the window. Wondering why she was so worried. We live in an apartment that is one floor below street level from the front where we enter, but being in Manizales, a city built in the mountains, our terrace patio in the back where the window is located is about 4 floors off the street, so I felt pretty safe. Boom! Another small explosion. These are not bombs though. It’s common in Colombia to hear these homemade devices going off usually in celebration of Christmas and the new year, they are not dangerous to us, just noisy. We see a flash and, boom, there goes another.
From our studio/office we don’t have a good vantage point to see out around the corner of the building so we move into the bedroom to look out the sliding glass door. We can see a little better but we’re still too high to see the action outside on the street. Lily leaves the room for a moment and I am beginning to hear the chants and yelling from outside more clearly now, “…VIVA EL PARO NACIONAL!”
“I’m smelling something burning, ” Lily tells me as she reenters the room. I didn’t notice anything but that’s not uncommon, Lily’s senses are much keener than mine are. Just then I noticed that my eyes were beginning to burn and I was smelling something also, not burning, but a chemical smell. “Oh no, the police are using tear-gas I bet, and it’s coming in through the windows,” I said. Because of the climate in Colombia and especially here in Manizales, homes do not use air-conditioning and therefore the windows don’t have to be airtight. The tear-gas was coming right in through the gaps in the windows. “That’s why I said ‘don’t open the window,'” Lily explained. “Hmmm, good point,” I thought. Lily was wetting a towel to hold to her face for protection from the gas and was encouraging me to do the same. I was scrambling to get some packing tape to try to alleviate the problem of the windows. Quickly taping the gaps we no longer smell the chemical and begin to relax a bit. This was a surreal experience that lasted till early into the morning. I never really felt that we were in any grave danger but the fact that it was so close did make me a bit nervous though.
This turn of events in Colombia saddens me. I love this country, the people, the culture, the landscape. I really hate to see a country so rich in natural resources struggling so much. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not taking sides. Being a foreigner and a guest in this country I don’t know enough of their history, their heartache and their struggles to form an educated opinion of my own at this point. Are the protesters going about this in the wrong way? Is the government to blame for all the evils in the country? I hear a lot of opinions from different people and I try to be careful not to speak too strongly about issues I don’t understand.
What I do know is this country is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I was reminded of that this last weekend as Lily and I celebrated our one-year anniversary in a gorgeous little “Finca”. Finca means farm in Spanish but this was not a farm like you think of in the U.S. Finca is also what they call these little resorts tucked away in the mountains that provide rest, relaxation, good food and beautiful scenery.
Far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Lily and I saw more varieties of beautiful birds and butterflies than I have ever seen before. Not to mention the exotic plants and flowers that were in abundance for our enjoyment. We had such a good time doing little more than walking, talking, eating and resting.
God has truly blessed this country with many resources. Mountains, great climate, tourism possibilities, some of the most beautiful and friendliest people on the planet and let us not forget coffee. Colombia is the third-largest producer of coffee in the world behind Brazil and Vietnam, (But Colombian coffee is by far the best.)
With so much going for this country, it is hard to watch it struggle like this. Would you please join me in praying for peace in Colombia? Pray for wisdom for its leaders and guidance for its people. Pray that God will bring post-pandemic prosperity and new opportunities into this wonderful place.
As I am finishing up writing this post on Wednesday, June 23 about 9:30 p.m. BOOM! Looks like we’re in for round two. Please pray.
As always, thanks for reading and to God be the glory!
Video footage of the protesters and police in our neighborhood
On March 1st, after saying a difficult goodbye to my fiancée, I boarded the flight that would take me to DFW. (For those who don’t know, I proposed to my girlfriend on Feb. 28, 2020, and she said yes!) This short three-week trip was planned early last year before Lily and I were serious. I was returning to Texas for my granddaughter’s first birthday. Along with that, I was planning on taking care of a few other things while in the states. Things like selling my truck, collecting some needed documents and oh yeah, getting that tiny spot on my nose and my neck checked out.
Lily had been worried about the one on my neck for some time. The one on my nose was barely noticeable by anyone else other than me. I told her I thought the spot on my neck was a scar that I had behind my ear that I kept irritating while shaving. At least that’s what I was attributing it to for a couple of years now. Before leaving I promised her I would have it looked at, hoping that would make her feel better about something that I thought was nothing and make her feel better about the three weeks that I would be gone. As the time for my trip grew closer, Lily and I grew closer, and those three short weeks began to feel like they were going to be an eternity.
Enter the “Coronavirus”!
I could just feel it in my spirit that Lily was not comfortable with me leaving. I tried to reassure her that the time would pass quickly. That I would be back before she knew it and we would pick right back up where we left off. At this point in the game, the Coronavirus was just beginning to be “big” news. It was surprising to me to see how many people in the various airports I traveled through were wearing protective masks. I filed this “foreshadowing” away as them just being germophobes, and didn’t give it much thought.
It seems I had barely been in Texas a week when the talk started bubbling up about quarantines and lock-downs and sheltering in place. I stayed optimistic through all the news driven-panic and social media hubbub, keeping a close eye on my March 23rd flight back to Colombia. I kept myself busy with all the to-dos on my list. Jade’s birthday party, check. Dinner with dad and the kids, check. Meet with my financial planner, check. Lunch with friends, and so on. All the while hoping I could beat the panic and make it back to Colombia before things got crazy. What happened next was not what I was expecting.
The visit with the doctor
March 12, I am happily sitting in the examining room waiting for the dermatologist to come in and see me and to tell me, “All is well, don’t worry!” adding one more “check” to my list. Looking closely at my skin with her magnifying tool it didn’t take her long to say, “Well, I need to do a biopsy on it. But I can tell you right now its Basal Cell Carcinoma, skin cancer.” Huh? Uh… wait, what? That’s not what I was expecting. “So what do we do now?” was my obvious question. “I get a sample, send it to the lab and when the results come back we schedule you for surgery to remove it” was her frank answer. She explained that Basal Cell isn’t dangerous unless left untreated. Ok, that makes me feel better but I have a flight in 11 days. Can we get this done by then, was my primary concern. I even had a short-lived thought about getting this done in Colombia. Ok, probably not a good idea.
Well, the tests came back positive and the Coronavirus went “viral.” It wasn’t long before I received the news that Colombia had closed its borders to all travel. Like Tom Hanks in the 2004 movie The Terminal, I felt like a man without a country. (Ok, that’s a little dramatic but you get the idea). So, I guess that takes the pressure off of getting the surgery done quickly, which turned out to be a good thing.
A case of “The Cure is Worse Than the Disease”
A little graphic, continue at your own risk
March 23, the day of my surgery (ironically the day I was originally supposed to fly out). This day I’m having Mohs surgery performed on my nose, the one on my neck will be another day. I’m told it’s a good option. They only remove a small amount of skin at a time, test it under a microscope and only continue if any cancerous tissue remains. Ok, perfect, let’s get ‘er done. After a series of painful shots near the end of my nose, I’m good and numbed up. Lying back in that chair I feel the doctor scraping away. Being right there on my face it feels pretty aggressive. Round one. After testing the doc says, “Nope, didn’t get it all.” Round two. Ok, better results! “We got it all that time, let’s sit you up and take a look.” I was happy to hear that, but I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. Holding up a mirror the doctor says in a nonchalant voice, “Well, the question is now, what do we do with THAT?” Taking a look in the mirror my heart stops. I am looking at a circular hole on the side of my nose that is about the diameter of a Canadian dime. A perfectly round hole I could put the tip of my finger in. I’m talking a third nostril. Certainly not what I was expecting! My mind racing, I’m yelling to myself in my head. What happened to Mohs surgery is the better option? Being less invasive! Better results! This doesn’t look like better results to me! While staring in the mirror I am feeling a wave of emotions, fear (how the heck do we fix that?), depression (what now?), anxiety (I will never be the same!). Then suddenly, like a warm blanket being placed on me during a cold night, I feel at peace. I feel God’s embrace. I hear God telling me that I am blessed. I hate to use the cliché “it could be worse”, but that is exactly what I heard. Taking a breath and calming down I listened to the doctor as he went over the options. I didn’t like the simpler skin graph option, easier to perform but less than optimum results. There is a chance it wouldn’t take or the skin tone wouldn’t match. Not a good option to fill such a big hole. We went with the second option. Although it is more invasive and requires more surgery and has a longer recovery it should yield better results.
Option 2 consists of making an incision down the length of the nasolabial fold (otherwise know as the smile line of the cheek) and back up towards my eye to release a thick flap of skin, maybe about an inch long. That flap will be swung over so that the end can be stitched into the hole while the flap remains connected to the top of my cheek, in order to keep blood flowing. My cheek will then be stitched closed at the nasolabial fold. We then wait for some healing of the cancer site before separating the flap from the cheek and making it all look pretty again. Which is where I am at the time of writing this post. Waiting, with a gauze bandage covering a weird flap of skin crossing over from my cheek to my nose. I have now had the spot on my neck completed. It required a bigger section to be removed but the hole was easily stitched closed. I now have had the stitches on my cheek and my neck removed and they are both healing nicely.
Although the extensive surgery on my face and neck is certainly not what I expected, nor the Coronavirus pandemic. Not to mention the weeks turning into months being separated from my love. I am feeling that I am very blessed. This extended stay is allowing for plenty of time to heal, time to think, to prepare for the future and to reconnect with God. During this time I have been amazed by the healing power of the human body (please, someone try to tell me we are not intentionally and lovingly designed by a creator) and thankful for the wonder of the internet (and video chat) which has kept Lily and me connected for well over a month now.
I pray that all who read this post are doing well. Remember to take time to be thankful, count your blessings, love your family (and your neighbors). And take care of yourselves and each other.
Before I delve into the history of e3 Partners I feel I need to put a little disclaimer out there, so here it goes:
I am an independent missionary, I am not on staff with e3 Partners, nor am I in any way an “official” spokesman for them. I do however volunteer my time serving the needs of “e3 Colombia” while living here, (so forgive me if I refer to them as we at times).
Now that the “lawyerly” stuff is out of the way I can honestly say that e3 Partners has played an enormous roll in changing my life. As I type this post my ears are catching the sweet sound of Spanish coming from the children playing in the street below my third-story window. Sitting in my small apartment located in the quaint barrio of La Arboleda, in Armenia, Quindio Colombia, I can’t help but feel blessed. Nine years ago I had never been on a mission trip before, six years ago I had never given Colombia a second thought. All that has changed now and in earthly terms, I owe 95% of that to e3. Of course, I owe 100% to God, but you know what I mean. They showed me that by using a simple method and by giving me simple tools, I could actually go up to strangers and share my testimony and ultimately the gospel. Something I have always felt I should do but never thought that I would have the courage to do it. But before I go too far into my testimony, which I want to save for a future post, let me introduce you to e3 Partners, from the beginning.
“e3 Partners” has only been operating under that name since 2005, but really their roots began in 1987. Mike Downey, a pastor from Oklahoma, after leading his church on two short-term mission trips to Mexico, planting 5 churches and seeing hundreds saved, decided to leave the pastorate and pursue a new ministry. A church planting ministry he called Global Missions Fellowship. After 16 years of leading successful missions, GMF was merged into Global Partners Ministry, on January 1, 2004. The name was then changed to e3 Partners. Today, e3 Partners leads hundreds of trips a year to over 50 countries around the world. Training thousands of U.S. missionaries to confidently go out and reach the world for Christ and possibly change theirown lives along the way. They have developed and use many innovative strategies such as the “Four Fields” training, the “Three Circles” gospel sharing method, outreaches such as “I AM SECOND” and creating the “Evangecube” (a unique and crafty tool that makes sharing the gospel easy), just to name a few.
I AM SECOND is the brainchild of none other than Norm Miller, Interstate Batteries Chairman and long-time friend of e3 partners. In March of 2008 while doing his devotional it dawned on him that he would turn 70 years old that year. Making him think that he may not have a lot of time left on this earth. Wondering, “Have I done enough to lift up Christ in my area?” Thinking, “Sure, I’ve done a lot with different ministries but have I gone for broke! Have I done all that I could do.” The answer came back to him as, No, you haven’t. Wondering what else he could do he thought, “Well if I was trying to sell more batteries what would I do? I would run a media campaign.” Looking for help with this idea he reached out to his friends at e3. He told them what he was thinking and they jumped on it, saying they have been praying for a U.S. ministry. They came up with the name I AM SECOND and the rest, as they say, is history. I AM SECOND started December 3, 2008 as a “local” campaign in the Dallas Fort Worth area of Texas, but thanks to the nature of the internet, within six weeks it was in 56 countries worldwide. Today I AM SECOND has been viewed by more than 18 million people in 220 countries. I have loved the whole concept of I AM SECOND for years now. Their website, their wristbands and merchandise. In fact, I found them in 2010, four years before I ever connected with e3 and have been sporting one of their wristbands ever since. You can imagine my enthusiasm when I discovered they were connected!
The three E’s of the name e3 you may have noticed, if you read the fine print beneath their logo, stands for, Equip. Evangelize. Establish. That can also be found in their mission statement:
OUR MISSION: EQUIPPING God’s people to EVANGELIZE His world by ESTABLISHING healthy, multiplying, transformative churches everywhere.
And that is what I love about this organization, they are committed to that mission. I don’t have a lot of experience with other mission organizations but I have known many people who have been on other evangelical trips to different parts of the world and from what I have learned from them, I see e3 as being far different. How? Their focus is not just on sending a group of North Americans into a foreign country to share the gospel with as many people as possible before they leave. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it has its place, and it’s a great experience to be a part of. But e3’s goal is to go much deeper. On these mission trips we work alongside the locals, helping establish networks and plant churches. We “partner” with the local church in a way that carries on long after the North American leaves and that is where the word “Partners” comes into their name. Investing in individual lives with a strong “country strategy” is foundational for e3 Partners. I know this personally, I have seen it up close and in action. I have witnessed it and I have participated in it. You see, I have worked closely with Alex Lopez, e3’s Regional Coordinator for the Coffee District in Colombia. He and his family have become dear friends of mine. They took me into their home, basically adopted me when I first arrived in Colombia. They have become my “family” in Colombia. Alex also played a big part in why I am here today. He has an amazing testimony, and with his permission, of course, I would like to share a small portion of it with you.
An amazing story of redemption
As a young man, Alex left Colombia and headed to Boston to live with his father, whom he had never met. He attended High School there, learned English and learned he didn’t get along with his father. After High School, he headed down to sunny Miami to try to make it on his own. It didn’t take long for him to discover that life on his own was tough. Making friends with other Colombians living in Miami he began to notice something. They were driving nice cars, they lived in big houses and had plenty of money. Envious and curious he asked them how they were living so well. They told him it was easy and he could do it too. All he had to do was make a few trips to Colombia and bring back some extra luggage. Sounding like a good deal he stepped into the world of drug trafficking. It didn’t take long for that deal to turn into a dud. When returning to Miami, after one of his trips to Colombia, he was stopped by DEA and was found carrying a sizable amount of heroin. Arrested and awaiting trial he learned that he was up for receiving 20 years in prison. As a young man 20 years seemed like forever, he lost all hope and decided he would kill himself that night. While being led back to his cell he passed by a guard who called out to him, “Do you know that God loves you!” Alex told him, “You’re crazy, God can’t love me! I’m a bad person!” “God’s love is greater than all of the bad things you have ever done.” was the reply that came from the guard. And that was enough to keep him from following through with his plan. Alex heard about a “church” gathering being held there in the prison so the next day he decided to attend. When he walked in he saw many inmates, happy, singing, clapping. Thinking that the whole thing seemed a little strange but envious of their joy, he stuck around. Before the end of the meeting God was pulling hard at Alex, then and there he gave his life to Christ. He was given a Bible, he took it back to his cell and began reading it. His whole world had been changed! His trial date arrived and when the evidence was presented they found the amount that was brought to trial was not enough for the full charge. Alex tells this part of the story by saying, “Hey, I know how much I was carrying and it was a lot more than what they presented. I don’t know what happened to the rest of it and I don’t care.” As it turns out the charges were reduced, and long story short, Alex was released after serving only 4 years. Being sent back to Colombia with a heart on fire for God, Alex attended seminary and became a pastor. Six years ago Alex became a trainer for e3 Partners and in his newsletter, he sums it all up like this, “I don’t know where I’d be had I not had that church in prison. Knowing personally the power of starting churches to reach the lost, I have since dedicated my life to spreading the Kingdom of God by multiplying his church.” Planting churches is in Alex’s heart, I guess that’s why he works so hard at it.
I realize that to some people this “church planting” may be a new concept. What is it? How does it work? Well for e3 Partners it’s simple and biblical. When you think of someone or a group of someones starting a new church, what do you think of? First, they need a building, a large place to meet. Next, they will need a trained pastor to lead. Then there are the scores of other necessities as well. All of this, of course, would have to be headed up by a committee. In Colombia and other countries around the world, the need is for churches, many churches, within walking distance of the populous of the cities and towns in which we are working. Following the system above would make it impossible to meet the demand and certainly not in any reasonable time frame. Now, I did say it was biblical, if you search Acts and other new testament books you will not see the fore mentioned method at all. What you will see are churches coming to life in the homes of people, ordinary people who heard the gospel, responded and had a home they could open up for teaching, fellowship and the breaking of bread. Acts 2:46, Acts 5:42, Acts 20:20, Romans 16:5, Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 1:2. All of these passages and more speak of meeting house to house or mention someone with a church in their house. That is the example e3 is committed to following. Biblical church planting. Finding “People of Peace” who hear the gospel, respond and are willing to immediately obey the great commission and begin to disciple the people in their circle of influence. Finding local churches who are willing to be trained in this simple church planting procedure and willing to begin a multiplication strategy in their church. That is the basic mission of e3 Partners, rapid multiplication of churches and to disciple people to go and make disciples who make disciples, to reach the world for Christ. It’s that simple.
Why am I telling you all of this? Why am I taking this much time out of my life to tell you about e3? I’m not on staff, I’m not getting paid. Why do I choose to spend my retirement years in Colombia volunteering my time and effort? Why? Because since the first time I went to Colombia with this organization in 2014 I could tell they had something special. They had a long term strategy and a simple way of making it happen. I saw the way they were approaching missions as fresh and very practical. I could see the long-lasting benefit of investing my time and money on a mission trip. In Colombia alone, the Mentor Network has trained 1,102 leaders and is still growing. We have seen 9,545 decisions made for Christ. There are 62 mentor Networks located in 45 cities throughout Colombia. In 2018 202 new churches were formed as well as 400 new small groups.
I’m also hoping to spark in you an interest in missions, or at least the Great Commission. I’m taking the chance that there may be some of you out there who, like me, were afraid of missions until I gave one a chance. I’m praying I may have sparked in you an interest to look a little deeper into e3 Partners, whether it be with e3 Colombia or another target country. I am praying that God will unlock something inside of you that will set you on your own adventure of changing lives for Christ. And maybe even changing your own life in the process.
I thought this day would never come. But here it is. And here I am, sitting across the desk from the woman who has the authority to grant or deny my visa. I sat there nervously while she opened up my file on her computer. So much work and money I have put into this process and it was all riding on what kind of day she was having.
No, not the Colombian border, the Israeli border. And no, not in the airport when I passed through customs and immigration. But returning from Jordan after a 2 day bus trip to see Mount Nebo, Petra and the Dead Sea. What was I doing in Israel? you ask. Continue reading ““Trouble at the Border!””
Partly sunny and mid-eighties. In late January? I’ll take it!
I know I said, “The ‘people’ is what I love the most about Colombia”, and I still stand by that. But this climate in Armenia, Quindio is nothing to sneeze at! No pun intended, (ok, maybe just a little). There is so much to love about Colombia that I feel I need to take a moment and share. Continue reading “Simply Colombia”
In concluding this trilogy of stories from the Amazon, I would also like to include an awesome testimony. An unbelievable testimony of a special young lady. A testimony that I wanted to share in an upcoming post, but as I was getting my thoughts together for THIS post it dawned on me that now is the time to share it. Well, not right now, but in about 5 minutes.
…”My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. -2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV
Not your standard go-to-quote for missions. But this was not my standard mission trip. I felt I struggled with this one early on. I felt weak, like I wasn’t going to be useful. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it was because of the climate (Like Texas in July with no air conditioning). Continue reading “Colombia, Peru, Brazil cont.”
Boy, it’s good to be back in a cooler climate. The past two weeks have been a challenge and a blessing for many different reasons. There is so much to tell you that I think it is best if I attack this in a few “shorter,” rapid posts than trying to download this all at once. Continue reading “Colombia, Peru, Brazil”