On Friday, January 12th, I got up at 4am. Rob, a new friend here in Mexico, was waiting outside my house door with a coffee in the coffee holder of his car with my name on it. He was here to take me to the airport in Hermosillo. I had to be there by 6am in order to catch my flight at 8am. It was a nice feeling to be sitting at the gate ready to board my flight. As time lingered, I finally got up and joined the others to stand in line. We stood there for an hour until finally the agent said the flight wouldn’t take off until 9. So I sat back down. Soon I began to notice people disappearing. Just like that, my flight was cancelled. There I was stuck in Hermosillo, rescheduled for a flight later that evening. The evening flight caused me to miss my connecting flight from Mexico City to Bogota and so they rescheduled me on a red eye to Bogota. I finally arrived to Bogota the following day at 6:40am. Needless to say, I was tired, but felt okay. Russell picked me up at the airport in Bogota and drove me to his house. On the drive as I was looking down at my phone, I was all of a sudden hit with a flash of nausea. I thought “oops, I better not look down”. Well you know the story. I got to Russell’s, ate some breakfast and then laid down for a rest. I slept a bit, but woke up a few hours later to my head spinning. It got worse and worse until I was going back and forth to the bathroom to vomit about every 20 minutes. I spent the whole day in misery thinking, “how am I possibly going to get up at 3am to catch the next flight interior?”
Those hours were absolute misery. Nausea is just horrible. It boxes you in and suffocates you and you have no escape. Yet, during those hours of suffering, I was blessed in other ways. Though the nausea was horrible, the love I could feel from Steve (Russell’s son-in-law), from Rick, David, Russell and all of you sending your prayers and notes, brought more waves of tears to my eyes than the waves of nausea brought to my brain.
As you know, your prayers were answered. The nausea passed later that afternoon and I slept well till 3am. I woke up feeling ready to play soccer. That extra pep may have had to do with a shot of “Diclofenac Sodium” that Russell got the doctor to give me. I’m not sure what actually happened to me, but I think it was a combination of exhaustion, lack of hydration (I don’t drink lots when traveling so as to avoid needing to find a bathroom) and high altitude (Bogota is 8,600′).
Off to the airport we went and away we flew, Rick, David, Russell, Marina, Fernando and I. The flight was smooth and on time to the border town across the river from Venezuela. We did a few errands in town, then loaded up two vehicles and off we went into the boonies. Not long before we arrived to that border town, this video was taken at night by one of Russell’s people.
It was about a 4 hour drive. The road was rough. I was weak, but okay. The only thing I needed was a decent bathroom and there was nothing out there in those dusty savannah lands.
The drive was also beautiful in places and it was fun to have to cross the rivers on small ferries. We were making good time. The plan was to arrive at a tourist camp to rest and spend the night, then go to the P village the next morning.
I started thinking about being that close to the P village (it was about 40 minutes from the tourist camp) and not maximizing my time with them. I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough to go straight there, but time-wise, it seemed the better thing to do for their sake. It would give me one more day with them. I told Russ that I thought I should probably just go straight to the P village and spend the night there with them. I had a hammock and I knew they would take care of me, but the fact that I needed a decent bathroom was a little bothersome as I knew that once I got to the village, finding a private place in the woods would be difficult with over a thousand visiting P’s in the village. As I deliberated, we came to the fork in the road. The other truck was waiting for me to take me straight to the village while Russ and the others would go to the tourist camp. As I was stalling, wondering if I should just go get some rest and use a proper bathroom, I missed the opportunity to make a decision. While I took 20 seconds to deliberate, Russ put my bags in the other truck and said goodbye. David and others could tell I was deliberating and asked if I was okay. In my mind I wasn’t sure, but the words just came out, “yeah I’m good” and off I went to the village thinking, “whatever… no big deal…”. I guess I was just trusting that it was God who was guiding me. That might sound a little wishy-washy, but I just acquiesced to how Life was leading and trusted it to be God’s leading in that moment – walking by faith “let go and let God“.
We got to the outskirts of the village and there were guards with a road block at the village entrance. They were P guards with uniforms. They knew of the dangers pending for us North Americans with guerilla terrorists and common robbers in the area and so they posted guards at the village outskirts. I think they may have done this just for us. They stopped our vehicle. They had two way hand held radios. They called in to the village and notified them of our presence. The village was not expecting me till the following day. When the guard with the radio saw that I was in the back seat, he informed the village that I was there too. They said, “what?!“, the guard had to repeat it several times till it sank in… “yes, he’s right here, right now, not tomorrow… he’s coming into the village right now… Get ready what we had prepared to do when he arrives… he’s on his way in right now!!!”
Overhearing the conversation, I perceived that they had prepared something for me upon my arrival. I felt a little bad for surprising them (taking them off guard) with an early arrival, but that’s the way the Lord had worked it out, so on we went. As we drove into the village (Casildo, Fernando and I), we saw a large group of people gathering together near a big mango tree. They were motioning to us to come forward into the group, but at the same time making stop motions with their hands. Casildo, our driver, didn’t understand these signals so he said, let’s just get out and walk in on foot. They immediately asked him to get back in the truck and to drive forward to the crowd. What they wanted was that we pull up to the crowd but to not get out. They wanted to surround the vehicle and give thanks to God for our arrival in a formal prayer. The leaders from each sector of the P nation in Venezuela were called forward to form a circle around the vehicle holding hands together. There may have been 50 of them. As the circle was formed, one of the local leaders had a bullhorn mic and prayed thanking God for our arrival and asking His blessing on the 3 day conference which was about to take place. Casildo, Fernando and I were kind of blown away and touched by their faith and gratitude. Such reverence for God. It blessed us and stirred up the same reverence in our hearts. I learned much from their simple faith this trip. In many ways it seems much greater faith than my own.
After they prayed for us, they invited me to get out of the truck and to greet the people. They passed me the bullhorn mic. What was I to say? I had not prepared for this moment. I’d never experienced such a thing, let alone anticipated it. But I complied, stepped out of the truck and said hi.
It was a warm moment to feel their love and joy for me. I’m still humbled by it. But much greater than that was to realize this love and joy is not really for me but rather for God as it is a reflection of their deep love and joy for the One who I represent to them. This still moves me today. This must be the mutual encouragement Paul spoke of to his fellow believers in Rome when he said, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established — that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” Romans 1:11-12
After the initial greeting was completed, they excitedly led me to the house they had prepared for me. Yes, you remember they actually made me my own house. Again, their love and appreciation for the gospel and for our Lord Jesus reflected in their acts of kindness. I learned later than there were about 20 P’s who over the span of 3 months gave freely of their time, some of them traveling from quite far in Venezuela to collectively build me a house to stay in. A house to stay in for 3 days. They milled the lumber by hand with a chain saw. They fabricated square posts and beams again by hand with a chainsaw. Where did they get the tools? Who paid for these materials, gasoline for the chainsaw and gasoline for the motor boat? Who’s boat or boats were used to collect timbers and palm? All this financial and labor sacrifice was done in love and faith, prior to my arrival.
They led me to “my” house with excitement to give me this gift. The Lord spoke a truth indeed when He said, “it is more blessed to give than it is to receive“. I had seen a photo of this house which Russell had sent me previously, but I had not seen the finished product. I had not felt the cool of the shade or smelled the smell of fresh cut wood and palm leaves. They led me inside and presented that place to me. Again I was touched… humbled, but received their gift fulfilling their joy, and then in that moment, they continued on to the back end of the house and revealed that not only had they made me a house, they made me a shower and toilet room with running water! It was dedicated to me and they guarded it from the use of anyone else. I immediately thought back to the fork in the road earlier that day when I was hesitant to come to the village that afternoon, needing rest and a bathroom. That unseen Hand had guided me to the village as He had all things that I would need, prepared for me already. If I might add… that bathroom and that house was far nicer than the ones at the tourist camp.
After all the challenges I faced this trip to get there, I was witnessing in real time the Hand of the Lord, bringing me into a very remote and difficult place to get to. You had a big part in all this, in many ways. I hung my hammock in ‘my’ house, used the bathroom, took a shower and relaxed for a spell as the evening fell. Such was day one. I had arrived.
As the dust settles from this trip, something begins to solidify in my mind from the subconscious parts to the conscious, that is, this calling which God has called me to. I never sought to be this person sent to the P’s. At times in my life I both desired and contemplated leaving it. Today Paul’s words come to mind,
“For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” 1 Corinthians 15:9-10
The scriptural term for “missionary” is “apostle”. Though there were 12 primary apostles, there have likely been millions of apostles sent out into the world by our Lord Jesus to spread his light in specific places. I am realizing more than I have before that I am by God’s volition an “apostle” sent to the P’s. It is a “grace” given. The Greek word “grace” which Paul so often used is “charis” which primary meaning we understand as “grace”, God’s unmerited favor toward us. Yet there are several other shades of meaning to this word which can be translated with other English words depending on the context. One of them is “gift” and Paul uses “charis”, somewhat as a play on words, in place of “spiritual gift”. Rather than gift (Gk. dorea), he says grace (charis). One example of this use is in Ephesians,
“…of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places…” Ephesians 3:7-10
I feel a small portion of what Paul likely felt a full portion, this ‘grace’ given. It is grace because no human being is given a spiritual gift (to be used for the benefit of others) by their own merit. But by the grace of God we are all what we are. It is an honor to be treated by the P nation with such gratitude and given such a platform to be heard with such open and hungry hearts. “I” was blessed, to be sent to them. It was God’s grace to “me“. It has shaped my life and at the same time He has used it in their lives. This is His grace. Though I do not deserve this calling, it is my calling and “it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” 1 Cor 4:2 so along with the great honor comes the greater responsibility to be found faithful and to faithfully use the platform given to me to glorify Christ and to speak His truth without pretense.
More to come soon,