We work as a team one week a year and then we’re gone. We pray, we tell our story, we tell God’s story. Some people even accept our invitation to know Jesus personally, but…Are we really making a difference, are any lives really being changed. I recently had a unique opportunity to catch a glimpse into the answer to that question. An opportunity that most everyone else who participates in these expeditions may never have. One that I have not had until now. One that I thank God for.
On the Armenia expedition mentioned in my last post, I was working with my translator and friend Jenniffer. We witnessed to a young man in Calarcá named Marco. He said he used to believe but he now was far from God. He said wanted to accept Christ and re-commit himself. We prayed with him and talked for a while then we left. At the end of 4 days of hard work we have a victory service, which celebrates what God has been doing during that week. We eagerly wait and search the doors to see if anyone we witnessed to, and subsequently invited, would actually attend. To my surprise and Jenniffer’s delight we see Marco. We celebrate with him, praise God with him, and worship with him and everyone else present. We hear a great message and when it’s all over we hug, cry and say goodbye, and that is usually where the story ends for us, as missionaries. Will he continue in his walk with the Lord? Will the local church be successful in reaching out to him and attempting to disciple him? We may never know, this side of Glory. But God is good! And sometimes he confirms to us that what we are doing for Him is important and is working.
A couple of weeks or so after this expedition ended, I was invited to Calarcá again for a separate, unrelated event. Many churches were joining together to participate in a powerful night of worship and gospel music at the local theatre. My job, along with many others, was to go into the streets and share the gospel and invite people to the celebration. I went with Natalia and her brother. Afterwards, while we were waiting outside the theatre before the performance began, Natalia noticed some of the members of the church that we worked with in Calarcá. I went over with her to say hello, and lo and behold, who did I see there, with his new friends from the church, but Marco! Smiling big, very happy, and waiting to attend a night of praise and worship. He HAD been connected with the church. My heart was full! I thanked God for this awesome chance to see the fruit of our hard work. And an answer to my questions.
Friday, August 3rd marked the last expedition of the 2018 season for the e3 group I volunteer my time with. I was in Manizales in a supporting role for Jeff and Alex, doing what ever was needed to help lighten their work load. Something I enjoy doing and I believe is very helpful because of the many moving parts of an expedition. On Tuesday, Jeff and Alex had an all-day meeting scheduled with Bernardo, the national director of e3 Colombia. Rather than sitting in a long meeting they thought I would be a bigger help by joining a team for the day. I didn’t know what was in store for me.
The day started slow, I was working with Daniel, a young man from California, and our translator named Juan. There was not a lot of excitement before lunch. After lunch Daniel and I spent a lot of time walking and discussing the difficulty of the awkward feeling we get each time we begin to engage someone. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking to people about God and Jesus, but it is incredibly hard for me to get through the opening of a conversation with strangers, at their door or in the streets. Sometimes is smoother than others but always it’s at least a bit awkward. The day was almost over and still not a great breakthrough. When we reached the end of the street where we decided before hand that we would turn and head back, we noticed a small park hidden next to the last house. Down the grassy hill we saw three youths sitting on the retaining wall, backs towards us. “I think they’re doing drugs.” Juan said. Then I said, “Then I think we should go talk to them.” When we reached them we greeted them, three young men ages ranging from 17 – 20. We quickly noticed that the one in the middle was holding a small amount of marijuana in his hand, slowly working it into what was needed to be able to be rolled and smoked. It was at that point, because of my past and my testimony that I knew I wanted to talk to them, and silently I tink Daniel agreed. After asking if they had anything we could pray for them for and finishing doing so, I began with my testimony. Being raised Catholic, drifting away from the church after leaving home. Drifting into drinking and drugs after highschool. And being saved at age 25 when God began to open my eyes. For whatever reason I was really pouring into them. Maybe it was because of all the questions two of them were asking me. Especially the one on the end, Sebastian. During my testimony he started with, “Why did you stop doing drugs?”, “How did you feel when you were doing them? Did you feel empty?” All the while his friend next to him continued to work the small stash in his hand. Sebastian, pulling rolling papers out of his wallet, then asked me, “Do you still have both of your parents?” I answered, “My dad is still alive, I lost my mom to cancer sometime back.” “So you were an adult when she died?” “Yeah, I was, it still hurt though.” After finishing my testimony, I believe I felt the spirit leading me and I asked, “Sebastian, did you lose your mom?” He said, “Yes, ten years ago. I was 9. Then my dad left me.” “Who raised you?” I asked. “My grandparents.” ” I’m really sorry, that must be hard.” I tried to console him with words. By now the weed changed hands and Sebastian was putting it in the paper and beginning to roll it. I moved on to telling him the gospel. This was a first for me, sharing the gospel with someone who was actually preparing his drug of choice. Hoping the policía would not show up I continued. And so did the questions. “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” I told him about the fallen nature of man, how God does not cause the evil. “We live in a sinful broken world. The devil has become the prince of this world and we are all sinners.” I explained. I then shared with him the good news, “God doesn’t want us to stay in this condition, He has given us a way out, a way to be free from the guilt of our sin. He has given us His son Jesus wo died for us!” With all of the questions I really thought was I connecting. The other young man, although not asking as many, was just as engaged. The third, on the other end, not so much so. I carefully brought the conversation to “the decision”. I asked, and waited, and while praying silently I was shocked at what I heard. In a quiet but firm voice, Sebastian said, “I want to reject it.” “¿Por qué?” I said before really even thinking. He told me, “I don’t even know if I believe that there is a God! If He exist how could He take my mom who loved me and leave my dad alive, who was no good! Why is this world so messed up?” My heart was breaking for this young man. As he took a lighter out of his pocket I asked if he wouldn’t mind waiting till we were through before lighting it. He quickly agreed and apologized, he set the joint down next to him on the ledge where they were sitting. My mind racing, trying to figure out where to go next. I began at the begining. “I agree.” I said. “This world is messed up. full of sin, full of garbage! But you know what? You don’t have to look too hard to see some real beauty in this life. There are so many things that point to the existence of a creator. Do you not agree?” He did. I continued, “Don’t you think a creator would want to let you know that He is real and that He loves you. That is what the bible IS.” I was almost yelling at this point. “So you agree that there must be a God, and you agree that He loves you. So I’ll ask you again, if this is true wouldn’t you want to follow Him and allow Him to give you a new life?! A new begining? Freedom?” Tears began to fill my eyes when I heard him say, “I want that. I really want that.” I was overwhelmed, with relief and joy in my voice I led him and his friend in the prayer of salvation. We hugged each other and rejoiced, I welcomed him into the family of God. I gave him a new testament Bible and showed him 2 Timothy 5:17-21 and explained to him what just happened to him. That he was now a new creation, with a message and a ministry. That on the cross Jesus took all of his garbage and gave him all of His righteousness. In the midst of all this happiness though, I am sorry to say the last boy didn’t want to follow. Sebastian, looking down at the freshly rolled joint sitting next to him, looked back up at me and asked a final question, “What do you think God thinks about this?” “After all he made it, it’s natural, I’m not hurting anyone when I smoke it. Do you think this is a sin?” Trying not to look discouraged I said, “I could tell you what I think, but that’s not really important. Why don’t you ask God, you’re His child now. When we leave, just take a moment and pray, ask God, ‘So what do you want me to do with this?’ Then just do what you feel God is telling you to do.” Before we left Sebastian gave me a big hug and a deep heart-felt, “Thank You!” And we parted ways. As we walked away, talking to Daniel I said, “Though there is all this awkwardness and embarrassment, and it seems so difficult to share the gospel, this is why I keep coming back year after year, time after time.” But that is not the end of the story. Remember my question? Does this stuff really work? Remember the victory service that we do at the end of every expedition. Well once again, while waiting for the service to start, my eyes were darting around the room. I’m wondering to myself, “What are the chances I will see this young man here tonight.” Asking God to work in his heart whether he showed up or not. Suddenly I see Juan heading in my direction, a huge smile on his face, telling me and Daniel, “He’s here! The guy from the park, Sebastian, he’s here!” I hate to admit that I almost knocked the poor old Colombian woman sitting next to me out of her chair when I jumped out and ran to the aisle. When I saw Sebastian he gave me such a big hug that it literally squeezed the breath out of me. As the service came to an end and we were standing around talking, he could not quit thanking me and saying it was from the bottom of his heart! That his heart was full of peace and joy.
To God be the glory