Our Story! :)

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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.

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I had a moment

This past Sunday, I had a moment…
I was surrounded by middle schoolers in my living room, teaching them some Spanish worship songs for their upcoming trip to the DR. One of the songs that they chose to learn was “No me soltaras”- you never let go by Matt Redman.
I haven’t sung that song in a while, let alone in Spanish.
All of a sudden, I was transported to Casa del Niño, the hospital for kids with cancer in Bogota. I was surrounded by an amazing class of 5th graders who not only sang that song, but acted it out and then prayed for and loved on the other children so well. I could hear their voices singing, see their motions, feel their hearts of hope.
This precious class of 5th graders years ago is now graduating high-school.
The tears were falling on my guitar in my living room, and while I’m sure they noticed, the American kids didn’t say a word… it has been a tough week and they know it.
I had a moment.
The in-between, bitter-sweet feelings of being so grateful to have lived such an amazing season with those precious students; yet so grieved to have missed all of their high-school experience…
and the gratitude that I can continue to use my gifts here in the US, even though my heart so desperately longs to not still be here.
Colombia is no longer my home… the US doesn’t feel like home…
This world is not my home…
It was and will be all just a moment.

Puppies!!!

The day before Leo’s surgery was a Wednesday.  It is the only day I teach outside the home, with 7 neighbor-kids all in a cute suburb.  I asked Leo before I left

“Are you sure you want me to leave you here alone?”

His response: “One of us has to keep working!”.

So, with that, I got in the car and headed towards my first student’s house.  On the way, I called a dear friend from our small group and let her know that Leo would be having surgery the next day, and to just pass the word along to pray.  She suggested that maybe instead of the group meeting at her house, they would all come over to ours to pray, worship and bring us food.  I was so grateful!

I got through my first 2 lessons with no problem, but all of a sudden, during my 3rd lesson, I got a panicked call from Leo.

“Nena!  Canela is having her puppies!”.

What?!?!  Of course… the only day I’m not either at home, or 5 minutes from home.

“Do you want me to come home??” (I had whelped pups before, but Leo’s only experience was watching the YouTube videos in preparation.).

“No, I think I can do it.”

It turns out that Leo also decided not to cancel a guitar lesson, so he put Canela outside while he taught (I would’ve paid money to watch him teach while high on the drugs they gave him… lol!).

When he went to let her in, he couldn’t find her.  She didn’t come running to him like she normally does.  He found her in her favorite spot under our hammock, in a pile of leaves that hadn’t been cleaned up from the winter.  One puppy was already out.

We had a box for her all ready to go in the kitchen, so Leo had to drag it- with his good arm- out to the back patio, reach for the puppy that had already been born, and get Canela in the box.

About every 20 minutes or so, he’d send me another pic or video.  She was such a pro!  He even had time to set up the ipad to record the birth out on the back patio.

I called another friend who loves Canela and really wanted to be there for the birth, and she headed right over to be with them.

Again, I kept asking “Do you need me to come home?”  Leo always answered the same way: “One of us needs to keep working!” So, I kept plugging away at my lessons, finished and got home with just 15 minutes to spare before people started coming over.  Canela birthed the last puppy just as I was walking in the door. It was beautiful.  She did an amazing job!

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I had just a few minutes to clean the kitchen and living room, try to organize space for 12 people, and make sure that Canela was doing well before people started arriving.

It was crazy! (But when, in our lives have things like this never been crazy?).

Worship that night was so beautiful.  We will remember that evening for possibly the rest of our lives.  We were overwhelmed with so many things, and to have our dearest friends over to pray for and encourage us, lifting up the name of Jesus in the middle of our situation… that was priceless!

The puppies were born into a house of worship, and the peace that we all felt was tangible.

 

Wednesday, April 4th in 2 de Mayo

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

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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!

 

 

 

Drowning in Details

amazon_forest_trees-wide.jpgI am a person who can’t see the trees for the forest; so organizing a trip for 24 people is a little overwhelming… let alone the fact that 14 of the people on the trip couldn’t pay for the majority of the costs.  On top of the individual trip costs, we had to raise money for the medicine, supplies, and toilet project… a total of $4000 additional.   I’m also not good at coming up with crazy ideas for fundraising, especially here in Colombia, where missions and mission trips are a relatively “new” idea to most churches.

We had our annual “Celebrate Colombia” day at school, and I was able to tell all the parents about the upcoming Amazon trip and ask for their prayers and financial support.  I like talking about the trip and getting people excited about what the Lord is doing in the Amazon; but what put me out of my comfort zone was walking up to the parents after the main celebration and asking them to donate towards the trip.  I had an offering bag, and just walked up to everyone.  It made me feel so uncomfortable, but I knew that if I didn’t ask, they wouldn’t give.  We raised enough money that day to pay for 1 ½ trips! So, it was worth it… but it was hard for me!

That same day, I was talking to a mother about putting together a worship event/fundraiser for the trip.  I think I looked at her with a blank stare, wondering how in the world it could happen.  I knew we would be able to use my church, but I didn’t have time to work on getting a whole concert together!  The mom told me that if I organized it all, she would get her dance team together to help out.  There was that word again…. Organize.  As if I didn’t already have enough to organize!

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But, we did it!  The following weekend, my middle-school worship team put together a great bi-lingual worship concert, and we had an amazing time of prayer for the Amazon, Bogota, Colombia, South America and the Nations.  The community also surrounded the team and prayed specifically for us and what the Lord had for us in the Amazon.  We felt so empowered!!!  The dance team was also a great addition to everything, as they danced while we worshiped with song!  I can honestly say that the entire evening was one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of for a very long time!  And, we raised enough money for 3 more people’s trips!

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During the months of planning and preparing, the Lord was so faithful in my weaknesses!  He would continually bring people alongside to help me, as well as allow me to push myself to get better.   However, I don’t know if planning and organizing is something I should keep pushing myself to get better at, or if I should find one person who thrives on details and organization to be a part of our team.  This is my struggle now.  I can honestly say that I drown in details.  I am so much more of a big-picture person that I get lost in the tiniest of details, and it really affects me.   The tricky part is finding a person who is going to stay around for a while.  Most of the teachers at ECA stay 1-2 years… if they stay for 3, that’s a blessing!  So, I am praying that I find a Colombian who will come alongside me and commit to these trips as much as Leo and I have… for the long-haul!