Death and Orchids

31701_10150199122680215_5953708_n

 

After breaking up with a long-time college relationship, I was talking with my best friend Jill about how I just don’t seem to be able to pick “the right guy”.  She agreed that she also struggled with this!

During our conversation, we talked about a friend of ours who made a plan with her dad.  They agreed on a specific gift that the father would give a guy when he asked for her hand in marriage.  If the father approved of the guy, he would give him this gift to give to his daughter when he proposed.  Jill and I both loved that story, but the reality that both of our dads were out of state, and not really around to give counsel/see the guy in more than just a “dad-pleasing” mode made us think of another way it could work.

We both prayed about it, and asked our Heavenly Dad to put an idea in our heads of something that He would impress on the heart of the “right guy” to give us when he proposed.  For her, the image of purple roses came to mind.  For me, it was orchids.

Now, neither of us really thought that it could really be the Father putting this on our minds, so we didn’t really put much stock in the images, but we definitely held onto those ideas!

And, it even turned out that when Jill’s now-husband proposed to her, he gave her purple roses, not knowing anything about the simple prayer that she had prayed years before!

Fast forward a few years to when I was in full-time ministry… When I lived out of my car traveling the US, I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a youth pastor in Springfield, MO.  He had just gotten back from a mission trip to China that had changed his life.  He talked about how passionate the Chinese Christians were to share Jesus… and how they were willing to pay a price for the Gospel.  I remember the drive from Springfield to Tulsa, and asking God what MY price was…. and I remember that the first word that came to my mind was “marriage”.

I had had a rough time in relationships… desperately wanting to be in one, but feeling like I was settling whenever one would present itself.  It was during that 3-hour drive that I surrendered that part of my heart to Jesus and truly died to the idea of ever getting married.  I went from bitter whenever I would see my friends find the love of their lives, to content knowing that I was enough as I was, and that Jesus was enough for me.

I can honestly say that I loved being single and serving Jesus.  I had such an authentic, intimate relationship with Him at that time… so many miles on the road with just the Word, worship cds (yes, before ipods), and my own songs sung out the car window.  It was a really sacred time.

Fast forward to a month before I went to Colombia.  My friends Jake and Bridget organized a prayer/worship night for me as I was about to head out to Colombia.  It was such a great time being with old college friends!  After everyone left, it was just the 3 of us on their couch, and Jake said “Lilia, I feel like the Lord is going to awaken something that He called you to put to death.  I feel strongly that you are going to find your husband in Colombia.”  I laughed out loud!  I honestly hadn’t even been thinking about it… but made some kind of comment about finding a Jesus-loving, dark-haired hippie musician.

Fast forward to the week after I got to Colombia.  The pastor’s family had a kind of death of their own in the family, and people started bringing over beautiful bouquets of flowers, many of them containing orchids.

I asked the pastor’s wife about it, and she said “oh, you didn’t know?  The national flower of Colombia is the orchid”.

In that moment, the Lord confirmed the word that my friend Jake had spoken…

And He answered a prayer that a silly 20-something broken-hearted girl had prayed years before.

Because of immigration issues, Leo wasn’t able to meet my family to officially ask for my hand in marriage, but the day that we were legally married Leo presented me with

a bouquet of orchids.

 

Advertisements

Our Story! :)

1929391_20028765214_6629_n

When people meet us, they are always curious about how we met, where we met, etc.  After living in the States for so long now, people just assume that we met here.  But here’s the real story…

I moved to Bogota, Colombia right before New Years in 2007.  I was invited to teach music at an international school, and knowing that a lot of my world would be in English, I asked if it would be possible to live with a Colombian family instead of with the other teachers.  I was placed with a bi-cultural pastor’s family.  We didn’t know anything about each other until I arrived, but we quickly found out that the Lord had indeed put us together!

They invited me to go on a retreat they were leading with a different church my first weekend in country. It was during that trip they discovered that I was a worship leader/speaker, and we had a BLAST ministering together. I learned a TON of songs in Spanish, and was on my way to becoming bilingual (although I had a LOOOOOOONG way to go).

The following weekend, I had been spending time with the English teachers when I got a call from the pastor asking if I would be willing to play the drums for the services the following day.  He said that their worship team had a few different drummers, but that none of them were available.  I immediately agreed and rushed back to their place so he could take me to the church.

I showed up without makeup, in a t-shirt, baggy torn jeans and crocs.  Lol!  (if you know anything about Colombian women, they would NEVER dress like that…).

None of the guys on the worship team spoke English, and, as Leo later told me, upon seeing me they decided to change the set list to translated Hillsong songs instead of their typical latino-flavored songs.

I had a blast!

I think the guys were a little surprised that I could do it.

After the rehearsal, the electric guitarist (Leo) stuck around to wait for the pastor to pick me up.  I literally had no idea how to say anything about music or life at that point… and he didn’t really know how to say anything about life and music to me, either… but somehow, after sharing our names, how old we were and how many siblings we had (thank you Spanish 1), I communicated that I write music.

Leo immediately turned on the keyboard and asked me to sit and play him something.  I started playing “We will praise You” from my Captivated:Live cd, and just as I got to the 2nd verse, Leo stopped me.  He said…

“No. No. No…. Jazz…. colors!” and then proceeded to hum the melody of the song and completely changed the chords to sounds I would never know how to make in a million years.  I cracked up!  I remember thinking “I think this guy and I are going to be good friends!”

The pastor came right about then to walk me home (he lived only a block away from the church).

The following weekend, and the ones that proceeded it, I was a part of the worship team. We had rehearsal on Saturday afternoons, and then 3 services on Sundays.  In between the services, we would all go to the cafe across the street to get something to eat and I would try my best to communicate what I’d been learning.  In addition to the Sunday services, I started helping out with the youth services on Friday nights, and teaching lessons at the worship academy on Saturdays. I LOVED it!

Leo also happened to be involved with all of those church events, so it gave us a good deal of time together, sharing life and ministry.  He was hilarious, and an incredible guitarist/worship leader.  It was so much fun to find someone with similar interests and passions!

He started walking me home more, and the pastor would always invite him to eat dinner with us.  When Leo would get home, he’d sign on to Skype and we would chat (all written) while the pastor’s daughter sat next to me to translate and help me learn what to say back.  It was hilarious.  We were NEVER without a bilingual dictionary!

One day, I was walking with the pastor and asked him what he thought about Leo.  He said “Wow!  What a guy!  He loves Jesus, loves people and is always here serving at the church!  You really can’t find anyone better!”.  But then he went on to say… “But I recommend you wait 2 years before you start to date.  Get to know him better, get to know the language and the culture better… Here, Colombian christians take dating VERY seriously.  You first start out in groups, and then the moment you go out just the 2 of you, it means that you’re serious about each other.  Dating in our church culture means that you’re seriously contemplating marriage.”

I think 2 weeks later, Leo and I were sitting on the steps out in front of the pastor’s house talking about what we really felt called to do. And, it was exactly the same!  It was at that moment when I had the feeling “I think I’m gonna marry this guy!”.

It was during that conversation where Leo said that he wanted to be my “novio”… and out of respect for the pastor, I told Leo that he would have to ask permission from the pastor if he wanted to date me.

Sidenote: it had always been an agreement between my dad and I when I was in high-school that if a guy wanted to date me, he HAD to ask my dad first.  It was a safety-net for me and to this day I am so grateful!  If a guy called the house (you know… in the ancient days before there were cell-phones), my dad would ask me “do you want to go out with this guy?”  If I said “no”, then so did my dad.  I have always encouraged young girls who are starting to date to have this same arrangement with their fathers.  It is SO important for their safety and health to have their dads involved with any boys who have interest in them.

So, Leo and the pastor met and talked one evening.  They were in the living room, and I was in the kitchen cooking (the pastor’s wife was out of town).   I was SO nervous, especially after the pastor had said that it would be better to wait 2 years, and it had only been 2 1/2 months!

But both he and Leo came into the kitchen beaming… the pastor hugged us both and said “you have our prayers, our counsel, and our best wishes!”.

A year and a half after Leo and I met, we were married in Bogota!  We just celebrated our 9th anniversary.

13254572_10156972576780215_723483712804902945_n

 

He goes before us…

Deuteronomy 31:8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

This verse was told by Moses to Joshua and the Isrealites just as they were crossing the Jordan river into the promised land.  They had been wandering in the desert for 40 years because of their doubt the first time around; and finally the Lord was giving them what He had promised… and what they had been desiring.

I think it’s interesting that even though the Lord had been guiding them to this point for so long, they were still afraid.  Moses had to say these exact three phrases two times in his speech:  “The Lord Himself goes before you”, “He will never leave you or forsake you”, and “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged”. They knew that this final step was God’s plan for them, yet they were still afraid.  I can relate!

I love teaching middle-schoolers!  They’re hilarious, random, able to understand humor, and about as ADD as I am at times.  We have a blast!  But, when I’m teaching them, I know that I need to repeat the main points (usually more than once… ha!).  Everyday, as I’m teaching, I have them repeat the main points after me, sometimes in a loud voice, so I know that it’s sinking in.  Even in our worship songs, I like having songs that repeat main points.  It allows the truth to really sink in… to our bones.  “How He loves”  and “No sweeter name” were some of the favorite worship songs this year in middle school for that reason… we allowed those truths to envelop us.

As I was sitting, thinking about Moses’ speech this morning, I couldn’t help but think how I would encourage a multitude of ECA elementary and middle-schoolers, the kids in the different ministries around Bogota, the kids in the Jungle… the people I was called to minister to the last 5 years.  I would definitely repeat those 3 main phrases, and have them say it out-loud with me. I would have them visualize what those specific phrases mean to them. There would probably be hand motions involved.

And then, I thought about myself and how I need to be reminded of those very important phrases these next few weeks… today… this minute. I probably don’t need hand motions, though. 🙂

Praise God that He’s promised to go before us (believing in an omni-present God, we know that He is already there, working things out in advance for us).

Praise God that He will never leave us or forsake us!

Praise God that because of His presence in our lives, we don’t have to have fear or be discouraged.  Perfect love casts out all fear, and He is the joy and lifter of our heads!

One of my favorite quotes that I often give to people who are in transition is:

The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it His presence and His promise. — Brennan Manning

There are so many things to be grateful for in this process:

That Leo is with our dear friends, Jonny and Suzie Pineda, another bi-cultural ministry couple (now a family!), who did what we’re about to do 3 years ago.  Leo is soaking up all the time with them… asking them the hard questions about leaving behind family, friends and ministry, and what it’s like to start all over again, trusting God to lead him as the head of our family.  Hard questions.

That there are wonderful women here that have spent hours on the phone with me through my tears encouraging me, kicking my butt, praying for me, and offering to help, etc.

That I got an email today from our mission pastor’s wife (also our small-group leader) from Vineyard Columbus informing me that because of the great need for immigration counseling within our church body (there are over 100 nations represented!  We love our church!), she is sending our case to someone we can talk to when we get to the States!  This is a huge relief to both of us!

That ECA is going to be able to rent our apartment to other missionaries, so we don’t have to pack up everything.

That Leo’s dad is coming over on Friday and Saturday to help fix random things around the apartment that we haven’t had time to fix.

That God cares about us so much that He would make it absolutely clear which way we should go!  We’d been praying all year that He would give us direction; and while we didn’t ever imagine He would answer us in this way, He did.  He heard our prayers and answered them!

There are so many things to be thankful for!

You can continue to pray for these specific things:

Good-byes (especially Leo’s family… it hit them pretty hard!)

My focus in sorting and packing (I’m really having a hard time with this… I need help!)

That God would continue to speak to Leo while he’s in the States with our friends

That if God wants the outreach, missions and worship ministries at ECA to continue, that He would put it on people’s hearts to step up to the task.

That God would rise up another worship leader at our church to replace Leo.

That God would rise up someone to continue working with Leo’s indian group.

That we (I) would stop worrying about all of the above.  Ha!

Thank you all so much for your encouragement and prayers for us!

Processing… and waiting

Leo and I are about to celebrate 3 years of marriage!  It’s crazy how fast these few years have gone, and how many obstacles we’ve had to overcome in such a short time!  The few months leading up to our wedding, and even a year and a half into our marriage, it felt like it was us against the world!  Or, at least, us against the US Immigration laws and other issues that had to do with Leo not being able to get to the States.  Now, things have kinda switched around a bit.  Leo even took his first trip by himself to the States in March… a kind-of expensive requirement that comes with having a resident Visa… he can’t be out of the States for longer than 6 months.

We are at a bit of a stand-still now, however.  Leo would really like for us to have a year-long furlough in the States sometime soon, and I agree that we need a break!  Back in October, we were thinking that we could do it this coming January… but things haven’t worked out how we hoped.  We were thinking I could get pregnant, have the baby here in Colombia (I don’t have insurance in the States), and then live the last year of Leo’s residency requirement, before he gets US citizenship, in the States being close to family in a kind-of utopian, rest-filled existence.  Well, obviously, I’m not pregnant yet, and from what we’ve seen and heard from doctors, even visiting the States isn’t a good option for me because of my hormone issues and how connected my body is to seasons.  The two 2-month trips we took during opposite seasons knocked my body off again, and that’s the reason I’m still having a hard time getting pregnant.  And, if we went to the States and were able to get insurance, we wouldn’t be able to get pregnant until we’ve paid into the system for 9 months.  So, everything is on hold, and it’s not very fun.

All that to say…I’m not doing well… in many ways.

I’ve read 2 books lately that have really helped put words to my emotions.  One is “God on Mute” by Peter Greig.  He skillfully writes about the many reasons why God doesn’t answer our prayers.  Ultimately, it’s because our life is meant to glorify Him, and He will do what He wants with us.  We can’t manipulate Him, have enough faith, or do enough good things to change His mind.  He knows what is best for us in the long-run, and He will have His way.

The second book I devoured this week is “A Million MIles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller.  I know it’s been out for a long time, but I finally had time to read it this week… I was sick at home for 2 days.   He writes about the importance of having a story, but yet knowing that our personal story ties in with the big Story that is weaved through generations of lives.   The greatest stories are those that have an obstacle too big for the main character to overcome without great sacrifice.

We don’t have many helpful answers to my health issues, but I can’t help think that somehow malaria has something to do with it.  My liver was pretty damaged during the whole ordeal, and your liver is what processes your hormones. Almost 7 years ago, I had to understand that if facing death was the price, it was worth knowing Jesus through the pain.  I knew the presence of the Lord through my pain… a kind of knowing that gets into your bones and holds everything together.   However, the last few years, I haven’t wanted to know Him in my pain and suffering.  I have wanted to know Him in the blessing… in the easy things… and nothing has been easy.  It’s been rather crazy actually.  But, in the area of my health, I’ve had to face another, very real thought:  if malaria is the price of not having natural children, is it still worth it? Is this my obstacle that comes with great personal sacrifice?

I don’t know why being in pain as a wife is so much harder than it was being single.  Maybe it’s because as a single person, serving Jesus, I knew that He was all I had… it was just me and Him, and as much as I was hurting, He was the only one who could hold me and bring healing… and I was willing to trust Him.  Now, as a wife, I serve my husband and Jesus, and my focus gets all off when I forget that my husband, while he can hold me, can’t bring healing or light to the dark, almost hopeless areas of my soul.  And while the tangible is seemingly more available than the eternal, I’m mad at both.   It was easier to believe in God’s sovereignty and timing when I thought it more closely lined up with mine.  More closely being “o.k. maybe not this month… but definitely this year, right?”.  2 years, and more un-answered questions later, I’m not doing well.

We have a beautiful tangerine tree in our apartment.  Our first Christmas together, we couldn’t agree on what kind of tree to have because Leo couldn’t understand the tradition of cutting down a beautiful, living thing just to decorate and watch die; and I couldn’t handle the feel of fake trees. So, we compromised and bought a small tree to decorate.  Bogota isn’t the best place for any kind of fruit trees because it’s so cold; but when we got the tree, it had 7 little tangerines growing.  The tree is supposed to bloom every 4 months, and then from those blooms, produce fruit.  I can count on one hand the amount of times it’s bloomed since it has stayed in the little corner of our living room that gets sunlight, and we’ve only had 1 tangerine grow since we plucked the first 7.

1916172_10150225769190215_6000129_n

This month, however, I saw little buds forming.  It was interesting to see them coming up from all different parts of the tree.  The buds have since turned into leaves or little white balls that will burst open into the most delicate, sweet smelling flowers.  This past week, I’ve been waiting for the first flowers to bloom, and just this morning, we had 3.  I remember thinking as I was tending to the tree this week that I don’t know how much bigger those little white buds can get before they break open.  They have such tension before they burst!

We are living an overwhelming amount of tension right now, and it’s easy to get mad at the tangible elements: our non-existent savings account, our tiny apartment that wouldn’t even fit a baby if we wanted it to, our lack of material things that would supposedly make things so much easier (… if I could just have a fancy mixer with all those fancy attachments so we could eat even healthier than we do now,  or a juicer so we could do one of those “cleanse” diets…), Leo’s citizenship process that is still so expensive (and will continue to be for another year and a half) that he needs to finish before we can adopt, etc.  It is overwhelming!

In the midst of this waiting for whatever is supposed to come next, however it’s supposed to come, I’m trying to choose to believe that this tension we are feeling is going to break forth into something beautiful and sweet-smelling soon.  It just has to.  We are desperate.

Pray for me… pray for Leo… pray for our hearts to be willing to line-up with God’s timing for many different things.  Pray for balance between being faithful with what we can control, and having faith for what we can’t.

Wednesday, April 4th in 2 de Mayo

For pictures from 2 de Mayo and the river village, you can go to:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151471705950215.840641.741380214&type=3&l=6671fd9562

Waking up this morning, my first thought was the girls on the porch.  I hoped that they hadn’t gotten wet in the storm that lasted all night.   Sure enough, they were completely dry!  The plastic that Neil hung up just before the storm came completely protected them!

As we were all waking up, we had a great conversation with Neil.  I asked if he led family devotions every night, or if it was just because of the movie.  He smiled and said that they’ve done it every night for the past year.  With a huge grin, he started telling us this story:

“You see, I used to say I was a Christian.  I went to church, prayed, sang the songs, did everything I was supposed to, but I also had my other life.  I would drink with my friends, and even stay away from home sometimes.  Last year, a woman at the church had a word from the Lord, saying that He wants His church to be pure and spotless… that He wanted us to turn away from our wicked ways and give all of our lives to Him.  This word also came with a warning: that if we didn’t turn away, He would bring judgment on us.   My friends and I didn’t believe this, so we continued doing what we had been doing before.  After 2 weeks, all three of our families got sick.  We all knew at that moment that the word was true, and that we needed to really give our lives over to the Lord.”

“We went in front of the church and confessed our sins, and then truly turned away from our wicked ways.  We’ve seen the Lord’s blessing and protection ever since!  We have even started going to other villages to tell them about Jesus!”

He excitedly went on about his passion for the other villages to know the power of believing in Jesus, and we listened to every word.  It was amazing!

Last year, we found out that Neil and some of the other men, aside from making money from their hand-made crafts, were also growing coca (the plant that eventually gets turned into cocaine).  The houses and boats of these men were the finest in the village!  When Neil said that he turned away from his “wicked” ways, he later explained that all the men stopped growing coca.  That is a very bold step, because in these villages… if you’re not growing coca, you’re against it.  The guerillas and other para-military groups depend on the villagers’ “willingness” to grow coca for their own financial needs, and in turn, the groups “protect” the villagers.  Last night, when Neil was praying for protection for his family, he was praying against a very real threat since he has stopped growing coca.  The love that we already had for Neil just kept growing deeper and deeper as we talked this morning!

We all had to get to the pastor’s house for breakfast, and it was tricky!  Our morning routines were a little off, anyway.  With the river being so high (and there being no latrines), we literally had to pee off the side of the house.  For guys, this is pretty easy… for girls, however, not so much!  I mean, it’s easy as long as you get over your need for privacy and realize that your butt is going to be hanging out for anyone to see!  The problem with peeing in the river is that there are little fish that follow the flow of urine up into your body and then attach themselves with little hooks to your urethra…. not very pleasant to think about!  But we were told that if we had our bathing suits on while we peed in the river, we’d be fine.  So, with my bathing suit on, I sat on the submerged front step of Neil’s house and peed into the river.  Not even 5 seconds later, there were fish all around me.  SO GROSS!!!

Anyway, most of us ended up walking through the river to the pastor’s house for breakfast, and when we got to his house, we found out that the lower level got flooded during the night!  The lower level is where the girls were camping, too!  They told us that because they could already hear the water hitting the floorboards when they set up the tent, as soon as they heard the thunder they decided to move it… it was a crazy complicated process as they had to wake everyone up and re-arrange everything.  But, at least they were dry!

Liz and Lauren said that a few of the days on the trip felt like we lived 3 days in one… and this day was no exception!!!

After breakfast, we loaded everything up in the boat and headed over to the school.  We yelled out to everyone as we were going that we would be setting up the medical brigade and the kids’ ministry stuff… so everyone was welcome to join us.  Ruben and Andrew pulled us over, and as soon as we got to the school, we realized that it was locked!  As we were waiting for the schoolmaster to come with the keys, the kids slowly started showing up.  They were really shy, and didn’t speak a lot of Spanish.  They would just look at us, covering their smiles with their hands.  Kylie found one of the sponge balls that we brought with us and started playing with them, throwing the ball back and forth in the little cement space outside the classrooms.

The boats kept coming, and the cement space quickly filled up!  The schoolmaster came with the keys, and was able to unlock the room for the medical brigade, but the room for the kid’s ministry had some kind of lock on the inside.  A kid climbed up the wall and reached through with a piece of wood and got the door open.  All the kids entered the room at once, yelling and running in circles.  They were SO happy!

And, this is where it started to get interesting.  Literally, a few of the kids understood Spanish… but the rest… not so much!

I found one of Leo’s friends, Nehemias, and asked him to help translate for us.  He was more than willing!  We started out playing one of our favorite games, “come, little sheep, come!”.  Daniel and Sara are amazing at this game!!! We then talked about how Jesus is the good shepherd, and how He protects us from all the evil around us.  We taught the kids how to draw a little sheep head and the had a good time gluing cotton balls on their little sheep bodies.

As we continued with our childrens’ ministry, it got even harder to work with a translator.  Personally, I LOVE that our students have to struggle with this!  They are so used to BEING the translators for teams and preachers that come to visit, that the experience they have actually needing to be translated for is so valuable!  My favorite part was when we were teaching the kids how to say John 3:16.  Nehemias would say a part, and then the kids would repeat after him.  They repeated everything… the words and his vocal inflection!  The Tikuna language is so beautiful!

After all the children’s ministry was over, we made sure that everyone got their oatmeal and cookies.  Then, Lili took a model of teeth and a giant toothbrush to show the kids how to properly brush their teeth.  It was precious!  She asked for volunteers to come up and model it as well, to show that they had learned.  Then, it was chaos as we started handing out the toothbrushes and little gifts.  We tried our hardest to have the kids form a line, but that didn’t work.  Then, we had them go back into the room and sit down to wait, and that mostly worked, but as soon as we gave a gift to one kid who wasn’t sitting down, we were mobbed all over again.

The little girls got beautiful barrettes for their hair, and the boys got little toy animals that grow in the water.  Some kids got little flute whistles that we could hear even late into the evening.

Once again, the students did a phenomenal job!  Diana and Mafe decided to stay with the medical brigade and help Hector pull teeth.  They were having such a fun time!  Laura was helping bathe the babies with fevers, while Lili was painting all the womens’ fingernails.   I was so impressed with each person on the team and how they found the place where they could serve the best!

All morning, we gave everything that we were to love the kids and teach them these valuable stories!   We were ready for lunch when the time came!

Once again, Andrew helped pull us back to the pastor’s house so we could eat.  Most of the people had already seen the doctors, and were just waiting in line for the dentist.  So, we decided that it would be wise for us to try to go to another village to help them with medicine after lunch.

Monica knew of another village just down-river, so we loaded up whatever medicine we could fit and were on our way.

The river was so full!  We passed house after house that the water had damaged or entered, and some of them seemed deserted.  We also passed random houses with anywhere from 5-15 people.

On our way, we had to stop at a floating police station on the side of the river.  Liz and I started sweating a little bit because we left all of our paperwork back in 2 de Mayo, and without proper documentation, they could’ve fined us!  They just wanted to see who we were, and what we were doing.  When we told them we could give them medicine on our return trip, they let us go, no problem.  What a relief!

As we rounded the bend into what should’ve been the entrance to the village, our boat got stuck.  Even though everything was flooded, the water there wasn’t deep enough for us to go farther into the village, and even though the water only came up to our waists, the current was really strong!  So, John, Pravaas, Batman and Andrew all put on life jackets and floated down into the river to let the people know we were here.  It was a really funny sight!

Slowly but surely, we were visited by different people.  They would tie their little canoes to our boat, and then come on board.  The doctors and some students were inside, running the program, while the rest of us were on the bow of the boat worshipping in Spanish and Tikuna.  It was so much fun!  We were “parked” right underneath a HUGE lemon tree… that is, the lemons themselves were gynormous!

The guys came walking back up from the village completely painted red!  They found some achiote and covered themselves in it!  They passed it around for all of us to try, and we painted ourselves silly.  We had so much fun laughing and painting ourselves before the people started showing up.  Andrew dunked himself in the water to see if it washed off, and it didn’t!  We were all freaking out as we had silly symbols painted all over our faces.  The “paint” was really oily as it turned out, and it took a little bit of effort, but we were able to get it all washed off eventually.

One of the young guys that was first to see the doctors and get medicine came back after about 45 minutes with a boat filled with women and children.  I was so happy that he had done that!  All the babies had fevers, and most of the kids had weird rashes all over their bodies.  One little girl just fought and fought and didn’t want to take the medicine!  Stefy had to try 3 different times while the little girl’s mom held her tight.  That girl was a fighter!

I imagine that we were able to serve over 60 people from that village, and even though the village is only 20 minutes from 2 de Mayo, it was obvious that the people had no hope.  There was such emptiness in their eyes.  Monica kept praying and declaring victory over abuse and depression as they were coming through the “line”.  We just worshiped and worshiped.

It was a beautiful boat-ride back to 2 de Mayo.  We stopped back at the police station, and Leo became fast friends with the police officers.  We even gave them a water-proof Bible, as one of them was a Christian.  God is so good!

We got back just in time to get ready for the evening service.  Leo went straight to the church to get the sound and movie ready (they stopped it last night about 20 minutes from the end), and the rest of us got a bite to eat… wading through the water of the pastor’s kitchen.  I figured out a few days ago that the sole of my left boot was coming un-glued, so I was walking around bare-foot, hoping that the mosquitoes wouldn’t eat all of my feet… not that there was much left after all the ant bites during the day!

The church service was packed!  After the movie finished, Pastor Burgos felt led to pray for different groups in the church body:  it was the men’s turn first, and it was powerful!  Pastor then invited the wives up, and Neil yelled “Amen!”.  He loves to pray for his wife! 🙂  As Rocio, Kylie and I went around praying for the women, there was something beautiful happening.  They were crying out to the Lord, drowning out our prayers.  One woman started singing and dancing holding her baby tight to her.  I had no idea what she was saying, so I went to one of the elders and asked if what she was singing was for all of us, or just a deep prayer from her to the Father.  He said it was just a deep prayer and to keep praying for the other groups of people.  So, we invited the youth up, and the team prayed for them.  Afterwards, we had the children come up and their parents make a circle around them as we prayed.  It was beautiful!  Parents were crying out for their little ones to grow up in the ways of the Lord, and in purity.  I still get chills when I think about it.  It was such a beautiful picture of protection and covering!

After that, it was worship time!  Sandra, Carolina and Paula all got their tamborines out and danced while the women sang.  It went on and on, and we didn’t want it to stop!  Then, the youth and children took turns singing.  They were totally bold as they did so.  They even sang my favorite song… ch-ta a ey… 🙂

After the worship time, Sandra asked that the villagers close their eyes and pray while she and her team dance over them and let the Holy Spirit minister to them.  As a team, we went around and prayed for as many people as we could.  Words really can’t describe the feelings of peace and battle that we had at the same time!  Lili and I prayed for all the kids individually, and then I went over to Neil’s wife to pray for her.  I have a feeling that the Lord is going to use her gift of music all over Tikuna land, and I prayed that He would give her new songs to declare His glory.  It was powerful!

We went to bed that night exhausted again, but so grateful for everything the Lord was doing in 2 de Mayo!  We keep praying that this village will bring many others to the saving knowledge of Jesus!

 

 

 

Tuesday, April 3rd in 2 de Mayo

Another un-eventful sleep, more bug-spray-filled air, more clunking boots on the wooden planks of our “house”, but this morning, we were packing up to move out.

The plan was to have everything packed up and ready to load into the boat before breakfast.  The team was amazing!  Slowly, the tents were emptied and taken down.  The “checked” bags were put in one corner, and the “carry-ons” in another, so as to not get confused while we were loading up the boat.  The kids gathered in the doorway, watching the show while Leo was outside talking with some of the elders.

Leo really connected with the men on this trip.  The connections would either happen in church while he was praying with them, or on the sidewalk while they were passing by.  This morning, however, he was in a deep conversation with one of the elders and his son.

The “medical brigade” that was happening when we arrived in Zaragoza wasn’t much of a medical brigade as it was a census where they handed out a few pills to help with the absolutely desperate situations.  The census was because the Colombian government passed a law that said the indigenous families will receive more money with each child they have (not much unlike the welfare system in the States).  The elder was talking with Leo about his frustration with his son because he doesn’t farm anymore, but just keeps having more and more children so he can rely on the government’s money.  The son was frustrated because he didn’t feel like his dad respected him.  So, here was Leo, helping a father and son communicate.

The son wanted to move away from the village so he could get a real job, helping with tourism.  He is a Christian, but trusting God is something that he struggles with.  He was just waiting for God to show him a “sign” about what to do next, as well as the approval of his own father.    Leo spent over an hour helping him process what his skills are, and how he could take the first steps to actually doing what he wants to do.  Leo encouraged him to not wait for approval from anyone, but to make his own way… trusting that God had given him the gifts and talents to provide for his own family.  Both men were grateful for Leo’s time, and hopefully they will take his advice.  They had a great time of prayer together before saying good-bye.

We ate breakfast, finished cleaning, and loaded up the boat.  The mud was so thick that it was hard to really walk on the land next to the boat!  We had to wash off our boots before even getting in the boat!  Stefy and Luis Carlos were doing last-minute checks on the babies from yesterday, and all the fevers had gone down.  The parents were so grateful!

Our 2-hour boat-ride to 2 de Mayo was filled with worship, prayer and laughter!  We spent a lot of time sharing as a team what we felt the Lord had laid on our hearts for Zaragoza, and our individual experiences.  The blessing of having such a diverse team is that we all connected with different people and had such different view-points of the village.  Besides meal times, boat times between villages were the only times we were all together to share.

We arrived to 2 de Mayo and were absolutely shocked.  The river had completely swallowed the village.  The current was pretty strong as well!  We arrived to the pastor’s house, and started figuring out where we were setting up “camp”.  Our team was the largest we had ever brought, and we wouldn’t be able to fit everyone in the pastor’s house this year.  We decided to split up into 4 houses… Leo and I took Kylie and the senior girls to Neil’s house.  We were happy to be able to spend time with our dear friend!  The doctors all set up camp in the pastor’s daughter’s house… “next-door”, and the boys were across the way in another church-members’ house.  The Burgos’, Monica and the puerto-rican couple and the other girl tent all set up in the pastor’s house.  It was cramped!  I think the Pastor had another family living with them as well… and they all had beds this year instead of sleeping in hammocks.

Getting a team of 24 set up in 4 different houses that you have to get to by boat was a little tricky… and time-consuming!!!  The kids all got in their little canoes to come greet us, and immediately started doing flips off the boat!  Pravaas and some of the other guys got right in the river with the kids and started throwing them around.  It was so fun to watch them!!!  As the kids gathered around, I started calling them by name… Celita, Palermo, Ronaldinho… it was sooooo good to see their faces again!!!  The majority of the team had their bathing suits in the “check-in” bag, but slowly we were able to get changed and finally enjoyed time in the river with the kids… and enjoyed cooling off!

We spent most of the afternoon just getting set-up in our different places.  Leo and Neil were talking like old friends, and we were all just getting adjusted to life in the middle of a river.  I started popping the pop-corn for the movie.  The fire was so hot, and there were crazy mosquitoes almost in a cloud around me, even though I was in the smoke.  I don’t know why they attacked me so much, but they did.  It was frustrating!

I made about 10 batches of pop-corn, and Lauren and Liz helped fill the bags.  We had a great system!  We were a well-oiled machine, I tell you!

We found out that parking our big boat next to the church would be pretty much impossible because of the current, so the village let us borrow their metal boat.  We loaded everything we needed for the evening into it, and the guys took turns walking us to the church.  The paddles kinda worked, but because the current was so strong, they didn’t work as well as having someone personally walk us around.  The guys really served us in that way!  Most of the girls were on their periods and didn’t want to spend crazy amounts of time in the river… or wet, for that matter!

The first evening in the church, the people took turns singing.  It was beautiful!  Neil’s wife has an incredible indigenous voice, and she led the women.  Then, it was the kids’ turn.  We got up as a team and led some worship in Spanish as well.  Then, we started the movie.  The kids were hilarious watching and eating pop-corn.  Pretty soon, the bags started getting thrown around in a big paper-bag fight, and the pastor’s wife had to step in and stop the kids from being so distracting.  I just laughed.

Most of us were still exhausted, so we left the Burgos’ and Leo in the church to finish up while the rest of us went to bed.  Again, it was tricky getting everyone where they needed to be, but everyone had such a great attitude!  Even trying to step from wooden canoe to wooden canoe to get to our metal boat outside the church was hard!

Pretty much as soon as I got into our tent, I was asleep.  Hearing the bugs and frogs outside, as well as the sounds of the movie in the distance was so relaxing!  Eventually, the sounds of the movie stopped and I knew that Leo and Neil would be coming back soon.  Kylie and the senior girls were sleeping on Neil’s “back-porch”, and as we could hear thunder in the distance, we knew we could be in for a long night.  Neil hung up plastic on one side of the porch so that the girls wouldn’t get wet, and pretty much as soon as he was done with that, the storm came.  Thunder, lightning, rain, splashing water… it was crazy.

Leo and I talked a little about the day, and could hear Neil in his room talking with the family.  Listening in, we could hear him blessing his wife and children.  He then started reading a Psalm and praying for us.  He prayed protection over all of us, but especially the house, that the darkness would be kept out by God’s light.  He prayed for what seemed like 20 minutes, and then the family all started singing together.  The sounds of their family devotion pierced through the rainstorm.  It was beautiful.

Monday, April 2nd in Zaragoza and Puerto Alegre

After another un-eventful nights’ sleep, we awoke early to a cloudy morning.  The smell of our home-made bug spray quickly filled the air, and with boots and long-sleeved shirts on, we traipsed over to eat breakfast and talk about the day.  Hector was going to return to Puerto Alegre and attend to the rest of the dental needs, while the rest of us set up for ministry and medical brigade in Zaragoza.  The kids, as always, crowded around the house where we ate… peeking in the wooden slits and pushing through the doors.  It continues to be hard for me to eat in front of them.  I always wonder what they think about us… gluttons who “need” to eat 3 times a day.  We always give them leftovers, but today it seems as though Monica made sure we cooked enough oatmeal for them to eat as well.  She told them to go get their cups, and they were back in a flash, steaming oatmeal in their cups… smiles on their faces.

As we were walking back to the house to get our supplies for the day, it started to pour.  With ponchos on, we started walking down the muddy slope to the sidewalk that led through the village.  With so many kids around, we decided to let them walk with us, under our ponchos.  I felt like a giant… my big rubber boots trying to not step on their tiny bare feet.  I learned quickly that the best way to do it was not with my head poking through the hole blindly feeling the little ones next to me, but to put my head under the tarp with them.  They were speaking in Tikuna (probably something about the giant with rubber boots), and I loved it!  When we arrived to the end of the sidewalk, I told them that it would be better for them to run up the hill to the church instead of slipping and sliding with me up the muddy hill.  They screamed and ran through the rain.  So cute!

While getting set up, I took the kids aside and taught them “Open the eyes of my heart” in Spanish. The first story of the day was about blind Bartimaeus, and we were making masks to symbolize that before we know Jesus our eyes are closed to who God really is… but after we meet Him, He opens our eyes.

Masks are almost a taboo topic here, especially with the practice of the Pelazo,  but we did this activity anyway.  The kids had a blast!

While the little ones were working away, there was a group of older boys sitting in the corner.  I had no idea how to get them involved with what we were doing, but I saw that they had a large string tied in a circle that they were doing tons of tricks with.  I asked them to teach me one, and I think they taught me the easiest one.  I went around to the different benches and showed the little ones, and they laughed.  The older boys were just watching and smiling.  Then, they tried to teach me one where you wrap the string around your neck and then pull but it comes loose.  I couldn’t get that one at all! I think my head is a little bigger than theirs! Pravaas and Daniel came around and knew a few tricks of their own, so a connection was made (an answer to prayer for Pravaas).  I left the boys to their tricks and walked around.

Our students were incredible!  Lily was painting the nails of the older girls, Laura, Sara, Mafe, Andrew and Diana were helping the kids color, Zach was taking pictures… all of us were busy either helping or talking.  The kids were SO into the craft!  They were so funny as we tied the masks on, too. Their beautiful little eyes were poking out of the slits of the mask with the most hilarious faces!

While the first activity was wrapping up, Leider and some other boys sat next to me and we started talking about the Pelazo.  Leider thinks it’s a fun tradition… even saying that his dad has made masks (which made me sick to think about) but the older boy shook his head to say “no” when I asked him if he liked it.  I encouraged him to change the tradition when he’s older.  I told him about other villages that don’t practice it anymore.  He seemed surprised to hear that.  I encouraged him again that change is possible.  We’ll see.

After the mask activity, Sara got up to teach the kids John 3:16.  They loved doing the hand motions with the verse!  Kylie and I helped out, too.  Then, Andrew got up and explained the colors for the salvation bracelets.  With great eloquence and confidence, he did it in a way that I had never heard before. He started with the gold bead, explaining what Heaven is like… the beauty, the angels, etc.  Then, he explained the dark bead that represents our sin and how that prohibits us from entering into Heaven.  He went on and carefully explained every color and then we gathered the kids in groups of 10-12 to help them with the bracelets.

I had made the mistake of not making a sample bracelet with the stretchy nylon to see how well it worked.  It was really hard.  I could get it to work, but a lot of the students had a difficult time.  But, by the end, all the kids had their gospel bracelets, and could tell the story.

Right around this time, someone came with the oatmeal and cookies for our refreshment.  The kids loved it!  They were so happy!

We got out the long balloons and pumps and started giving the balloons out to the kids.  It was hard to make the animals we had learned because the humidity made everything sticky.  But, the kids found fun things to do even with the popped balloons.  They would take the rubber and make their own popping sounds.  And, at the end of the activity, we had just enough for each kid to have their own balloon (praise the Lord!).  They went home happy!

I was burning up hot and really wanted to cool off in the river.  Batman, our boat driver, said that there was a spot on the sidewalk bridge leading to the school where there was a current making it safe to swim.  I was so excited!  After lunch, I told the kids that we were going to swim.  They were so excited!!!  I went to the river with about 30 of them, and we all jumped in together!  Not wanting to get bit, I stayed in the water while they kept jumping in and out, flipping off of anything they could.  I was amazed at how high the river had gotten! 2 years ago, we walked on the ground between the village and the school.  This year, as I jumped off the newly-constructed sidewalk bridge, I couldn’t touch the bottom of the river.

We had a blast playing in the water!  Leo came out just to take pictures and be with us.  John, one of the missionaries, and Andrew also came out and just threw the kids into the river.  They loved it!!! At first, Andrew was hesitant… but I told the kids to push him in, and about 10 kids surrounded him and he was completely defenseless!

As I was trying to keep submerged in the river, I felt a fish rub across my back, shocking me with little electric shocks.  It freaked me out so much that I jumped straight out onto the sidewalk!  So, since I was out, I thought it would be a good time to wash my hair.  I had bought a HUGE shampoo bottle for the team, and it took about 5 seconds for all the kids to surround me, holding out their little brown hands for a dab of shampoo.  They were hilarious!!!  Some kids covered their entire bodies with the shampoo suds, sculpting their hair into horns or mohawks.  They would jump and dance around on the sidewalk, making sure they had my attention, and then jump right into the river coming back to the surface squeaky clean.  Amazing how much fun they have with something so simple!

Leo decided that it would also be a good time to have them wash their hair with the lice shampoo.  We had to be very clear that it was poison so they wouldn’t get it in their eyes.  Some older boys came up to ask for the lice shampoo, saying that they had a bad lice problem.  As the kids were helping each other lather up, they started picking through each others’ heads, watching the lice die.  They got in lines about 3-4 kids deep, all picking through the infected hair.  It was really cute.  Then, after waiting 5 minutes, they all jumped in together.

We had so much fun!

We cleaned up and then loaded up the boat for our time in Puerto Alegre.  Zach and the medical team stayed behind to help with all the needs in the village.  There were many babies with fevers and people who needed attention!

The pastoral couple in Puerto Alegre asked us to have our service with them at 3:00pm so that the people wouldn’t need to be out on the river when the mosquitoes were at their worst.  So, we arrived and picked up Hector at the school. He told us he had a great day, and that the villagers had cooked him a HUGE fish for lunch.  We went to the church, unloaded the generator and speakers and realized that we were missing a cable.  So, Leo crossed back over to Zaragoza in the boat and took Hector with him so he could rest for the evening.  While we were waiting for them to get back, the villagers slowly started arriving in their little canoes.  There was no dry land to be seen, and the families were piled in together, dressed in their finest for the church service.  The pastor’s wife even showed up!

The students made more jump-ropes and they came in handy!  The kids had a blast playing the “limbo” and other games!  Kylie even connected with 4 little ones doing a miming activity.

Leo got back, and we were ready to start!  The church service went really well… the worship was beautiful, the drama and dance that the team did was well-received, and Pastor Burgos gave a great Word about love and respect in the family.  I think that even the Pastor’s wife (who was a little put-off that we weren’t wearing skirts) was encouraged.

We left with full hearts and exhausted bodies!  The women of the village, before we left, made sure that I had a gift of the local fruit, copoacu (that I love) and the dried yucca that they eat, farinya.  I was so blessed that they would give those things to me!  We really feel as though we have made friends in Puerto Alegre, and we can’t wait to go back!

We crossed the river as the sun was setting.  It was beautiful!  Again, we saw dolphins.

I could tell that most of the team was tired, so we made the decision to let them rest for the evening.  We had dinner together, and then Lauren, Liz, Kylie and I took 30 or so kids to the main community house to play and sing.  We had so much fun!  We gave them jump-ropes, they taught us their games, and we had a good time together.  After a little while, I got the guitar out and we sang and sang!  Then, they asked me to tell them a story, and I told the story of David and Goliath.  They had never heard that story before.  I told them that they are going to face many things in their lives that seem impossible to conquer… but with God everything is possible, no matter how small they feel.

Then, we said good-night.