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.
The last thing I am wanting to cover in wrapping up this experience is about the preaching that I made mention of in the other posts. Not my preaching. My preaching was uneventful to say the least. I got through it alright, although at one point I was seriously doubting if I would be able to. Because of a cold and sore throat that I had a few days before the trip I ended up losing my voice on Saturday evening before I was supposed to preach a message Sunday morning. But God is good and He gave me just enough to get it done. As I have said before, I am not a natural at this speaking in public stuff, but I am getting a little better with it and they said I did a good job. With the full schedule that we had for the two weeks we were to be there, when all was said and done, I believe between Jordyn, Natalia and myself there were ten different speaking assignments. I was thankful I was only scheduled for two. As it turns out, pastors are eager to have missionaries speak when visiting their churches. Hmm, who would have thunk it? At least Jordyn was kind enough to tell me before hand to have a couple of sermons ready to go.
I found out quickly that Jordyn is very comfortable behind a mic and I knew that I wasn’t, but I had no idea what to expect from Natalia. Up until this point I have never had the opportunity to see her in that capacity. She had told me that she leads the youth service on Saturdays at her church and that she has spoken in front of the church congregation before. But all I really did know about her was how she would get nervous when translating for me in a group where there were other interpreters present. So I found myself eager to discover how she would do in this new, (to me), role. I didn’t have long to wait as her first time to speak was scheduled for Saturday night, before my first time Sunday morning. As we waited for the group to assemble for the service, I couldn’t help but be nervous for her, saying a silent prayer for God to lead her in her words. When she took the stage and began to speak I was blown away! I would have never guessed that she possessed the ability to connect with people like she did. Although the fact that she was speaking Spanish made it difficult for me to completely follow, I caught enough to understand the message, but what really hit me was how she was so natural in her speaking to the audience. When she concluded I was speechless. I couldn’t wait to tell her what an outstanding job she did. I have to say that I felt a bit like a proud papa.
Sunday morning came and went and as I said I made it through the morning service with a lot of help from God. After lunch we went with pastor Christian to Isla Fantasía to visit his small sister church. A very modest wooden structure serving as a church building for the local indigenous people in the area. The subject came up that they would be having their Sunday evening service there that evening and pastor asked if I would like to speak. Well, being that my voice had not gotten much better and the fact that I didn’t have another sermon at my disposal (and the fact that I don’t really have the gift of coming up with one on the fly), I politely declined. But with the Saturday night service still fresh on my mind I quickly volunteered Natalia. For a moment, I must admit, she kind of had the deer-in-the-headlight look on her face. She tried to decline as well, saying that she didn’t know if she was up to it. If she was ready. But something inside of me was saying that this was her time. I felt compelled to encourage her, to tell her about how her preaching the other night had touched me. I explained to her that ever since that night I couldn’t help but feel that she was not there to just be my interpreter. That God had called her on this mission trip because He is wanting to use her as well. And that She may be the real reason that we were there. You see, part of her testimony is, how she felt she was being called to be a missionary. With a little encouraging from me and Jordyn she said she would do it. The evening quickly approached and after a short bit of preparation, she was ready. She delivered the preaching with the same skill as before, maybe more. I could see she was deeply touching some of the people in attendance. One woman in particular. I remember when she had finished, how that one woman came up to her in tears and they had a very tender moment together. Afterward, I asked, “What was going on with that woman?” She answered me by saying, “I can’t believe it. While I was preaching I felt compelled to change my sermon a little and talk more about the love that God has for them. For each one of them.” She told me, “For some reason that became my main point.” She continued, “After the sermon the woman came up to me and told me this story, ‘I have been feeling very insignificant lately and was wondering what my purpose in life was.'” Feeling very discouraged and depressed, she said she prayed and asked God for some answers. She then said that God spoke to her and told her that He would send somebody to show her just how much He loves her. The woman finished her story in tears saying that God had sent someone just as He promised. Natalia told me, “I feel really bad now about not wanting to preach in the first place, I almost missed out on this opportunity.”
An Awesome Testimony
I first met Natalia Cuenca in July of 2015 but I didn’t realize it at the time. I know that sounds kind of strange so let me explain. July 2015 is when I returned to Colombia for my second e3 expedition. My team and I would spend 2 days sharing the gospel in Calarcá and then 2 days in Armenia. Yaneth, (pronounced like “Janeth”), Natalia’s mother, was the host for our team. The host was the one who made sure we were all well taken care of and had a delicious lunch and snacks for the day. Yaneth was a gracious host, she and her family provided us with gifts and made us feel very welcomed and loved.
Natalia was there, but being a shy 15-year-old who didn’t speak English, she stayed quiet and unnoticed by me. I feel bad about that now because she has had to show me photos of her with me at that time to prove to me she really was there. In my defense, I was trying to lead a team and had many other distractions around me as well. That was the “first time” we met. The second time was in 2016, after a special training trip to Colombia in March, I decided I was ready to try my hand at living here for a few months. I flew in on June 12, 2016 and stayed until August. During that time Yaneth heard I was back in Colombia and got a hold of me through pastor Alex and asked if I would like to join her and her family for ice cream in Armenia. I accepted. Not knowing who was going to be with her and knowing only her son Jose spoke any English, I asked Alex’s daughter, Laura, if she would join me. Laura is an exceptional young lady herself and is fluent in English. So Laura and I find Yaneth, Natalia and Jose in Parque Sucre, (a square in downtown Armenia), where we enjoyed ice cream and some catching up. Once again, being shy and not speaking English, Natalia may have spoken five words. This was the second time we met, although I thought it was the first. Roll the clock ahead a few months to December, I am back in Colombia for another three months. I don’t remember exactly when but I think it must have been early January, 2017. I receive a text message from Natalia, in English, asking me If we could meet because she wants to ask me questions about missionary work and about translators. Well let me tell you I was more than a little surprised. First, that out of the blue, Natalia was texting me. And second, it was in English. Very good English. I replied saying, sure we can meet. When? And Where? So we made our plans and set the date. Now at this point I was still living in the home of the Lopez family. I told them of my plans and Laura asked if I wanted her to go with me to help with translation. I said, “No, I think it will be fine, I think over the last year she has learned English.” “Natalia?!” Laura said. I said, “yeah”, and showed her the text. Handing my phone back to me she sheepishly said, okay. The day came for us to meet for coffee and conversation. I show up, Natalia is already there waiting for me, with notebook and pen ready. We greet each other and nervously she asks about Laura, While seating myself, I tell her I didn’t feel like I needed her for this one. I have been working on my Spanish, I still had a long way to go, but I thought I would be ok, after all, you texted in English, remember. She begins telling me of her desire to be a missionary and wanting to one day be a translator. “Your English is pretty good!” I tell her. Of course she is speaking with a heavy accent and struggled on a few words, but with my limited Spanish we had no problem getting around that at all. Then she started with her testimony. How she was raised in the church, that she has always loved God and Jesus for as long as she could remember. The happiness in her face quickly faded into sadness as she continued. “Two years ago,” she said, “My dad was murdered. He was working and living on a farm. He was separated from my mom, he was not really a good husband to her, but he was always a great father to me. I loved him very much.” Her expression didn’t change as she explained, “He was bunking with the other men who also worked on the farm. There was apparently a mix up and confusion over a cell phone that quickly turned violent and my dad was stabbed.” With tears in her eyes she said, “I asked God Why?! Why did this happen? Why did you take him?” She was only fifteen when she lost her dad. I was sitting there in silence, gripped by her story, when she stunned me even more by saying, “It hurt me so bad, I didn’t know what to do, all I could do was reach out for God even more. I needed a father, and God took on that role for me.” She finished her story, and the joy slowly returned to her face as we continued to talk about her Christian walk. I was caught off guard by a casual remark she made, stating that because she accepted Christ at a young age and her mother raised her in a loving Christian enviroment, She said she has always felt that she didn’t have much of a testimony to share with people. You know, no grand moment that changed her life when she accepted Christ. I almost fell out of my chair as I exclaimed, “Are you kidding me? You have an awesome testimony!” Looking surprised she said, “Really?” “Yes!” I said. “Do you know how many fifteen year old girls, after losing their father in a violent way like that, would have turned away from God? Would have been so angry at God it would have ruined their lives? But you didn’t do that! You turned to God instead. You grew closer to Him. You said He became a father to you. Do know how awesome that is?”
We changed the conversation to address her desire to be a translator someday. I told her why some day? Why not now? She looked shocked. I said why not? I think you’re ready. “Oh, no!” She quickly said. “I am not ready.” “I think you are.” I told her. “Look, we’ve been talking for an hour here and I understand you just fine. I have an expedition coming up in June, why don’t you translate for me?” “Really? I could do that?” She said. I answered her with, “I believe so. I can talk to our translator coordinator and I bet we can make it work.” She was very reluctant but I assured her that she didn’t have to be nervous, we would make a great team. And the rest is history, as they say. As I have written about in my blog.
Now if that testimony was not enough, I am about to really test your faith here. The funny thing is there is a backstory going on here that I didn’t know about until much later. You see, Natalia never learned to speak English. She had her brother Jose text me, writing what she wanted to say because she couldn’t do it. Sure she took the standard English class in school but as she tells it, “I was terrible at English, my teachers hated me. I could not understand when someone spoke to me, when they would ask me, ‘How old are you?’ I would reply, Yes – I – am.” But, Natalia is a little girl with a BIG heart for God. She truly wanted to learn about how to be a missionary, and she really had a desire to one day be a translator. One day far off in the future. So, here I come, walking up for our scheduled meeting. She sees me coming alone! “Oh my gosh! Where is Laura?!” She thinks to herself. “I thought for sure she would come with him!” Natalia, now in a panic, does the only thing she knows to do, and that is pray! She asked God, “Please give me English! I need to be able to talk to Randy!” And that was it! She was elated when I started talking and she could actually understand. I know that may sound far-fetched to some reading this post. believe me, I had trouble with it myself at first. I know we serve a big God, but did this really happen? You see, at that first meeting I questioned her about her English. “How did you learn?” I asked. “Did Jose help you at home?” “No.” she said, “He never had time, or really wanted to.” “Did you take classes?” Was my next question for her. “No, I was always horrible in English class.” Was her reply. “Then how?” I continued my interrogation. What she said next was a bit of a surprise to me. “I prayed. I prayed and asked God.” “What, really?” I couldn’t believe it. She said, “Yes, I asked God to give me English and He did!” Now I didn’t want to press the issue so I took it at face value. She didn’t tell me it all happened right then. I was thinking over a period of time she had been praying (and probably studying) and learned really fast. It wasn’t until much later that I questioned more and she told me, “No, It happened that same day.” I really struggle with stories like that but what could I say to her. I had to believe her. In preparing for this post I was searching for some verification on the story. As it worked out I was able to have a conversation with her mother while Natalia was at work. (My Spanish is getting a little better now.) I brought up the time when I first met Natalia. I asked her if she remembered that day. She said, “Yes of course.” I asked her how Natalia’s English was before that day. She kind of chuckled and said, “English? Haha, she wasn’t able to speak English, she was very bad at it.” I explained to her what Natalia told me and asked her about what their reaction was that day when she got home. She told me, with great emotion in her voice, that when Natalia got home she was ecstatic! She was so excited, saying, “Mom! I talked to Randy and I understood everything he said!” “What?!” Was Yaneth’s reply. “How did that happen?” “When Randy arrived he was alone, Laura was not with him and I became very nervous. I prayed for God to give me English and He did!!” Was how her mother explained Natalia’s response. At this point of the conversation my eyes started filling with tears, oh my gosh! Did this really happen? Is what I was thinking to myself. Her mother concluded the story by telling me how later that week Natalia told her pastor what happened and he was thrilled and gave the glory to God.
Now, you have to decide for yourself. Is this true? Or just a made up story. There is nothing else I can add to this, other than just say, as for me, I will choose to give all the glory to God! He is still in the miracle-working business!
Thanks for reading,
TO GOD BE THE GLORY!