“I can very confidently say that this was the most powerful and personally satisfying trip I’ve ever had. …I will always remember the amazing experience I had with you all.”
A pretty powerful statement from e3 Colombia Director and church planter, Jeff Thompson, considering he’s been bringing teams of North Americans into Colombia for seven years now. This “powerful and satisfying” week was filled with many amazing stories of salvation, redemption and the Spirit of God moving. I want to share with you a couple of my own experiences. But first, let me jump right into the numbers.
This last week, June 8-22, we had a team comprised of 32 people from 4 states, encompassing 7 different U.S. churches. A little bit different demographics than what we are used to. We also worked with 14 fledgling Colombian churches and of course many interpreters (some of which were from Venezuela). From the 1,367 gospel presentations delivered during the 4 days of in-the-field work, we saw 618 individuals make a life-changing decision for Jesus Christ.
While the numbers are impressive they are not the most important thing. What I think is the most important thing being done through these e3 expeditions is discipleship. Each of the churches we work with has made a commitment to reach out to these new believers, love on them, teach them, disciple them. After all, the Great Commission does not say go and make converts and that’s it. No! Matthew 28:19-20 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”
Just the other day I received an encouraging text from Pastor Carlos, the pastor in Caicedonia, the first location my team worked in. He sent me a picture of a family that someone from my team shared with. He said that after he and a brother from the church visited with them they are now attending his church. He concluded by telling me he wanted to let me know that the work we did there was not in vain.
One last thing before I go into my storytime. The interpreters that we had this year were phenomenal. I point that out because a little over one week before the start of the expedition we were still in dire need of many. It’s not that Sebastian, our hardworking translator coordinator, was lying down on the job, on the contrary. This year he was working harder than ever due to the previous year’s student strike at the state universities. The strike lasted several months and forced students who would normally have had time off in June and July to continue attending school to make up for lost time after the strike ended. Therefore our normal pool of translators was greatly depleted. As time was growing short God pulled through in a big way. My good friend Santiago, unbeknownst to Sebastian, was working behind the scenes. He was preparing the professor of his second year English class to allow students who wanted the opportunity, to have time off to work as interpreters for e3. After hearing the news, Sebastian and I quickly did an impromptu interview with the students and in no time at all we had 14 additional translators signed up. The awesome part is that even though we had many new and inexperienced interpreters we had no complaints from any North Americans. I think that was a first!
Story number one;
Wednesday starts day number three. A new location, a new barrio, a new church. The morning went well, we started the day in Montenegro with some follow-up visits with families who were reached in last year’s expedition. That is not our normal strategy but the pastor really wanted to go by and encourage them, so we did. We took a break for a great home-cooked Colombian lunch then we hit the streets again. This time to share the gospel. We walked across a concrete soccer field to a fresh location. Seeing my favorite “target”, a group of young men, hanging around a makeshift exercise area. Some shirtless, some tatted up, I decided to stop and talk to them. Approaching one, hanging from a pull-up bar working on his “muscle-ups”, we greeted him and introduced ourselves. I shared my testimony and then the Evangecube. After the gospel presentation, no one accepted my offer of the free gift of salvation. One, who was asking questions said, “I can’t do that right now.” I asked him why and he told me it was a process. He explained to me how he had to get many things in order first. Realizing they didn’t really understand the concept of salvation being a free gift, I suddenly had an idea. I remembered I had a bag of candy in my backpack. By this time a crowd was beginning to form, taking the bag from its hiding place I presented it and asked if anyone would like some candy. Of course, all the youth quickly put their hand out and I started distributing the loot. When I got to the young man who said he thought it was a process I offered the candy and when he stuck out his hand to accept it I quickly withdrew my offer and told him, “Wait! Before I give you this candy you first have to work for it. I want you to drop down and give me 800 push-ups first.” Well, he looked at me like, yeah right 800, then he looked a little confused, wondering why it wasn’t free. “If I make you work for it then it’s not free, is it?”, was my response to him. I told him, “God wants to give you a FREE gift of salvation, He doesn’t expect you to work for it.” As he pondered this new revelation my attention got pulled away by others asking more questions. The questions were followed by more questions and before I could regroup and get back to the original young man he walked off. You can imagine my frustration thinking I just let him get away. But the questions kept coming. One after another but from different people who were now walking up. At one point we had a pretty good crowd going but it thinned as a new group of four youths demanded my attention. I asked my translator Dahiana to give another gospel presentation to them and then their questions started to fly. These were deep philosophical questions. I was surprised. A couple of times I had to just tell them, “I don’t know the answer.” They were reluctant to accept God’s offer of salvation so Dahiana and I stood there for almost an hour. In classic tag-team style, we answered every question that we could. It was now four o’clock and I noticed the crowd started to resemble my teammates and their interpreters. I realized they were waiting on me and I needed to wrap this up. I cut to the chase and dropped “The” question, “If you were to die tonight, where would you go?” To my surprise, they all answered, almost in unison, “Hell!”I followed up with, “Are you ok with that?” Again to my surprise, they each shook their head vigorously and said, “No!”I almost yelled at them at that point. “That’s what I have been trying to tell you! You don’t have to go to Hell. You can have salvation, NOW!” BINGO! They got it! Each one bowed their head and asked Jesus to be their Savior. Praise God!
Story number two;
Three generations and a surprise for Jhon
Our last day in Montenegro and the last day in the field, we no sooner walk out of the door of the base church (the house church where we were serving) than we are met by a woman named Rubiela, who apparently had been waiting for us. I think she must have heard us praying and preparing to set out for the morning work. She approaches the pastor, with her oxygen tank in tow, and asked if we could pray for her. Pastor Andres looks at me for approval and I give him a nod and say, “Of course.” She leads us across the street and a couple of doors down, telling us of her recent surgery and of her failing health. Entering her home she invites us to sit down where she proceeds to tell us, through much sobbing and tears, how her adult son had a heart attack and died while she was in the hospital. He had been away working in a distant city when the event happened and she was grief-stricken that she wasn’t able to be there for him. Feeling her pain and trying to comfort her we prayed. “Rubiela, may I share with you a story about God?” is how I tried to break the uneasy silence after the prayer. She said yes and I began. Using the “cube” I made it halfway through when her daughter entered the room. “Let’s start again,” Dahiana piped in, “so she can hear the whole thing.” I agreed and we started over. After presenting the gospel and the invitation, Rubiela said yes but her daughter was unsure. She explained that she had children, and the father, Jhon, was not her husband. He still lived there in the home with her but was away working in Cali. He came home for the weekends. Cali is a city about four hours drive to the southwest. Correctly, she was worried about living in sin after accepting forgiveness. We lovingly counseled her that continuing to live in sin is not what God desires for her and that she should address this with Jhon as soon as she was able. She agreed and excitedly accepted Christ as her Savior. After praying and then celebrating with her and her mother, we took a moment to share with her the great news that she is now a new creation in Christ! At that point her son, Juan, (Rubiela’s grandson) entered the room.
Eager to give someone else practice at using the Evangecube, I asked Maye, the woman with us from the local church, if she would like to share with the boy. She said, “yes.” Before I could hand her the cube his mother stood up and said, “No! I want to do it. ” With no hesitation at all, she shared with her son and led him to Christ. I have never experienced that before, it gave me chills. Before it was all done, Juan’s two sisters joined us. I know it sounds strange, everyone appearing one at a time, but that’s the funny thing about Colombia, we rarely seem to get them all together all at once. The children prayed to accept Christ and by the end of the morning, the whole family, three generations, were all now new members of the family of God. Except for Jhon. I think Jhon is in for a bit of a surprise when he returns.
In closing, I would like to mention how I never tire of seeing people transformed by the power of God. And not just the Colombians either. Each year there are countless North Americans who leave Colombia after a one-week mission trip with their lives radically changed. I know, I was one of them.
Thank you for reading,
To God be the Glory