Some of you who read my last blog post may remember my promise to blog throughout the week in Colombia.
That obviously didn’t happen.
I have good reasons, though. Promise. 😉
Last Thursday, July 14th, I flew with a small group from my church–my dad and family friends Mrs. Misty and Mrs. Joyce–from Atlanta to Miami and then from Miami to Bogota. In Miami, we met a couple from London; they were headed to South America for a two-month holiday, and asked us with the coolest accents (I’m a sucker for cool accents) if there was a reason we were “queuing in that particular queue.” We caught up with them again standing in line for Customs in Bogota and were able to discuss our trips and our homes.
We had several travel difficulties that caused us to miss our flight from Bogota to Pereira on Thursday evening and then miss it again on Friday morning after getting three hours of sleep Thursday night. Friday was spent dozing in the airport waiting for medical updates. We were finally able to fly to Pereira, arriving only 24 hours late. 🙂
We jumped right into ministry on Saturday morning with our two missionary families (Mike and Tisha, with kids Jamie and Kolby; and James and Heather, with kids Gabi, Piper, Josiah, Jonah, and Judah–and Zoe, who lives in the States) and the NY team (Mr. Paul, Josmel and Julissa, Ruben and Rosdaly, and Mike and Tiarra). On Saturday and Sunday, we worked with children from a group of people, doing a VBS-type program that Josmel and Julissa created. It involved Spanish worship songs, a Bible story with a skit, and crafts and games to reinforce the Bible story. On Saturday we had over 100 kids, and on Sunday there were over 50. Volunteers from a church in Pereira came out and helped us both days. They were great with the kids and such a pleasure to get to know. We had a late lunch with them once ministry activities were finished.
On Sunday I sat for quite a while talking to four young girls from the group, Mrs. Joyce, Dad, Mr. Paul, and Cecilia (a volunteer from the church). The girls wanted to know everything about us–did we like it in the States? Did I have siblings? Why did we have strange names? Was Mrs. Joyce’s hair a wig? (The members of this group of people always have black hair.) Dad, ever the Tennessee Volunteers fan, told the girls that he wanted an orange wig, and I explained why. He took off his hat to show his receding hairline, and Cecilia asked him if he had sinned–just like the disciples asked Jesus about the man born blind in our Bible story from John 9 that day. She then proceeded to very clearly lay out the plan of salvation to the girls. Dad and I were able to talk to Cecilia quite a bit that day, and she’s such a sweet and strong lady with a real servant’s heart.
Saturday and Sunday were very hard health-wise. It seemed that all my worst fears about my health were coming true. I was so physically and emotionally exhausted from the stress and little sleep of Thursday and Friday that I was barely functioning. I wrote in my journal,
I have never been so tired in my entire life… I’ve constantly been in this semi-awake state where I’m zoned out and voices swirl around me and I don’t know what they’re saying or what language. I can’t focus on anything. Mrs. Misty asked me to go in a store and get apples (apparently)–I went in and told the lady my dad wanted scissors… Last night I kept waking up because I was nauseous, and there was a thunderstorm… I’m dizzy just lying here writing this… God, give me strength.
Late in the day on Sunday, I started feeling better. We drove to another town and got settled in a hotel there, and I went for ice cream (twice) and played Uno with several team members. (No, I do not cheat by looking in the mirror at people’s cards.) On Monday and Tuesday, we did ministry in the afternoons instead of in the mornings, and I was able to sleep much later. I woke up on Monday morning feeling physically better than I have in months, and I stayed that way for the rest of the week. Thank You God!!!
This town is the one that I went to last year, and it was so wonderful to see familiar faces–the waitresses at our favorite restaurant, and other members of our group of people. I’m really obsessed with this town–last year, Dad described it as looking like a movie set. There’s a cathedral in the middle of the square, cute little shops, a small park, and of course the breathtaking mountains.
On Monday afternoon, we headed out to a finca (farm) to work with more people from the group. They are such a beautiful people, and the children are so polite, grateful, and well-behaved. Something that really made an impression on me this year is how kids are really the same everywhere. Yes, these kids look different than American kids, live on the side of a mountain, speak Spanish and their native language, and don’t have all of the “stuff” that most American kids think they can’t do without. But when a little Colombian girl colors a picture and comes up to show it to me, the look on her face–pride in her creation, expectancy of my affirmation–is the exact same look that my six-year-old has when she gets off the bus and comes running down the sidewalk to show me something she made at school.
Dad and Mr. Paul, who are both video producers, filmed a Bible story video with the kids on Monday. We did some of the VBS activities, including the skit of Jesus healing the paralytic, and then just played soccer and hung out with the kids. Around 6:30, we headed back to town and had dinner and ice cream.
Tuesday morning followed pretty much the same schedule as Monday–a late breakfast, some down time that we used to check out a few panaderias (bakeries) in town and play Uno at the hotel, and then heading out to the finca around lunchtime. Our mode of transportation all week was Jeeps. If you like amusement park rides and have an iron stomach, you would love these Jeeps. You stand in the back as the driver flies around bumpy curves in the Andes mountains, just on the edge of the cliff, with the wind in your face and the scenery going by at what sometimes seems like alarmingly rapid speeds.
We did a few games with the kids at the finca and then moved on to crafts that reinforced the Bible story of Jesus and the paralytic. I was kneeling on the porch reviewing the Bible story in Spanish with one of the little boys, when another little boy–who had arrived late–came up and gave me the sweetest smile and a big hug. Later in the afternoon, we again had some down time where we colored with chalk and just hung out with the kids.
In the evening, we showed the Bible story video filmed on Monday to the kids and some of their parents. They loved seeing themselves on screen and asked to see it again. This group doesn’t have the Bible in their language, so we are always very excited to show them the Bible story video with the narration in their language. We also had a prayer time and sang “God is So Good” in Spanish, English, and their native language. For me, those few moments spent singing the song were some of the most meaningful moments of the entire trip. It was like a little taste of heaven, when people from all nations, tribes, and languages will praise God.
I teared up as we left and the kids called, “Ciao Hailey!” I certainly plan on going back, but right now, our next trip seems a very long time away.
On Wednesday morning, we headed back to Pereira, with a stop along the way for arepas de choclo (sweet corn cakes with queso fresco inside) and maracuya (passionfruit) juice.
We settled into what was my fourth and final hotel of the week. Mrs. Misty and Mrs. Joyce and I went out to walk around Pereira. We bought some souvenirs, went inside a beautiful church, and stopped at a cafeteria for a snack. July 20th is Colombia’s Independence Day, so there were flags and people everywhere. Last year I didn’t go anywhere in Pereira beside the airport, so it was fun to walk around. The town felt very Latin American.
In the evening, we went to Crepes and Waffles (my favorite restaurant ever–why can’t we have one in the States?).
We then went to a park outside the restaurant for our final devotion and debrief. We prayed over Mike, Tisha, James, Heather, and their kids. After all, they are the ones running the marathon; we only joined them for a short sprint. It was such a special moment. I sat listening to Julissa lead the devotion as the city–lights, noise, people–swirled around us, and I prayed with all my heart that His truth would penetrate Pereira, the two other towns we were in, and all of Colombia.
Thankfully, our three flights on Thursday the 21st went very smoothly and we arrived safely home around 1 A.M. on Friday. There was another quick connection, but we made it this time–if someone in your group has a wheelchair, you all get to go to the front of every line. 🙂 Dad and I had dinner together in the Miami airport; his sandwich and Sprite and my salad cost more than the cost of all of the Colombian meals he and I had eaten all week long. Toto, we’re not in Colombia anymore. Sigh.
Many people have asked me what my favorite part of the trip was. I don’t think I could choose just one thing, but here are a few thoughts that really impacted me (I’m wrapping this up, I promise).
My new favorite saying is “you can’t save people, you can only love them.” We planted the seed of the Gospel, and now–as our pastor said a couple of weeks ago–what happens under the dirt is none of our business. Our job is to love and to tell. God will take it from there.
Singing with the group of people was so special to me; so was that moment in the park on Wednesday night, when we all discussed how privileged we felt that God would let us be part of His plan to reach the people of Colombia. I had not been to Colombia for a year and a half, and had forgotten how much I love that country and its people. About a year ago, I felt that I was being called into ministry–to be a missionary in the States working with kids through softball, and a foster parent. Going back to my “little piece of heaven” definitely solidified that. After sightseeing on Wednesday, I lay in my bed at the hotel praying that God would help me boldly reach people and thinking about more ministries I could be involved with back home. This trip has gotten me into a great mindset of being intentional about sharing Christ as the school year begins, a mindset that I pray will never leave me.
Another big part of each trip is the fellowship with the NY team and missionaries. It’s amazing each year how God brings together very different people from very different backgrounds and unites us so well.
Finally (if you read this far, you’re allowed to give a sigh of relief), I want to leave you with this quote:
It’s a funny thing about coming home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You realize what has changed is you.
F. Scott Fitzgerald