Chapter 1 “In journeys often”

There are times when walking in accordance to the leading of the Spirit of Christ is uncomfortable. Deep inside the conscience each of us have a sense of what the Spirit is moving us to do. There is a drawing, a slight pulling towards a certain direction. When that direction appears uncomfortable, we are at times reluctant and we check it over with the Lord to see if indeed it is He who is leading us. Such was the case as 2022 came to a close when I was contemplating this recent trip to Colombia.

I don’t know that we are ever 100% convinced that any leading of God is indeed His leading and so we must take steps of faith into what is somewhat unsure, trusting with each step that we are going in the right direction and that if not, He will guide us, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” [2 Cor 5:7] It seems that as we walk by faith, the fruit which the Spirit produces in our heart (and in the hearts around us) is linked to the faith we have.

Robin and I prayed about this trip together. She was more unsure than I was, so I wanted to pay attention to what she was sensing. We talked about it for several weeks and prayed together. Once we were both of one mind that this was a step of faith which the Lord was leading me to take, I booked the tickets to fly. I have, over the years of our marriage, come to believe that as a couple, the Lord’s leading is confirmed by being of one mind and it is a rare thing for me to go forward with something my wife is against.

Early in the morning on January 10th, I hopped into Fred’s truck as he drove me to Hermosillo at 4:30am. It was a nice drive and visit together with Fred, a semi-retired brother who winters here in San Carlos and graciously drove me to the airport on his own dime. It’s always a good feeling to get on board the plane and relax. I had a window seat, in fact the plane was so empty I picked a row all to my self. It was the first time I got to fly into Mexico city in the daylight. I was so impressed with the size of the city and also the terrain as it changed from desert into tropics. Golf courses, organized neighborhoods and massive amounts of buildings could be seen. I wondered how many people were down there. I wondered what they were all going through and how life looked from their perspective. I wondered how God looked at each of them. Then I wondered what the P’s were doing at that time as they too were traveling towards Colombia, though by land, road and river.

My flights into Mexico City and then on to Bogota that night were uneventful. Russell was there at the airport door waiting for me. I had left San Carlos in the dark and arrived to Bogota in the dark. Russell, so hospitable, took me to his home. I had a good nights sleep and the next day we loaded his Toyota Land Cruiser up with sound equipment, suitcases, books and lastly a guitar. I didn’t see why we were bringing the guitar but Russ was listening to the Spirit’s leading in his own heart and I wasn’t going to interfere. Russ’s son Dylan, and daughter-in-law’s brother Cody joined us on the trip as did Casildo (a Sikuani believer who works with Russell in that border area of the country). None of this trip could have happened without Casildo or Russell. What gifts indeed.

We left Bogota, it took about an hour to get out of the city as we were going towards a back road route. Bogota is some 6000′ elevation so the weather was cool. We wound our way down through the mountains to the flat lands referred to by the locals in Bogota as “tierra caliente” (hot land). It was actually nice to feel the heat again. I lived in that tropical humid air for 10 years of my life. We stayed that night at a rather humble motel in the middle of nowhere where the pavement on the road ends. We had arrived about midnight. There was a food vender working across the road and she sold us some grilled chicken skewers which were a nice midnight snack for me. The motel was not clean or pretty, but it provided me with a bed and an AC. I slept well. I was tired so I just crashed on the bed and figured to take a shower in the morning. Unfortunately the water didn’t work, so I put on my dirty clothes and off we headed again at 5am on the dirt road. A tool fell off the roof rack and we stopped to fasten it. I got out to stretch my legs and noticed the sun rising as Dylan tied on the axe. I snapped a photo. When traveling in the outback of these areas there is nothing. These ‘highways’ are mud and rutted roads so it’s nice to have shovels, tools, four wheel drive and a winch for whatever may come.

Strangely, right before our trip during the first and second weeks of January, though typically the middle of dry season, there were unseasonable rains… torrential rains, massive, heavy downpours of water. Consequently, these hard packed dry clay roads when they get rained on get very slippery. In all my years of Canadian winter roads, I’ve never experienced a more slippery road than these ones. The base of the road was hard like a marble floor, but the top two inches was pure grease. Combine with this the fact that the roads are not flat but rather crowned, uneven or sloped it makes it hard for the truck to stay on top. Miserably and slowly creeping along, sliding from side to side, entering into ruts and crevices we made our way along the road averaging about 30 miles per hour but at many points just crawling along. The truck was soon covered in mud. I wondered how quickly this trip would have been on a typical 4 lane freeway we are used to in the north. It took us 3 days to do 600 miles. We may have been able to do it in two long days, if it weren’t for the unforeseen, which was awaiting us our second day.

Repeatedly crawling in and out of ruts in four wheel drive over greasy clay would seem to put a strain on the drive train of the vehicle. At one point as we slid down into a another rut and Russ accelerated to climb out of it, we heard a hard knock from below the vehicle, as though someone hit the undercarriage with a hammer. At that same moment we felt a loss of power. “Ugg… that didn’t feel right…” and we were in the middle of nowhere. We stepped out of the truck into the 2″ brown grease to take a look. You could hardly walk on it with out slipping and immediately your clean shoes were stuck with piles of gumbo. I was glad I didn’t wear my nice shoes on that trip. I actually had thought about what kind of footwear to use on this trip. I like to look more presentable in airports and cities but I had realized that an old pair of tennis shoes was probably the more practical. This was the first moment (of many) in which I was glad to have only taken that one pair of old black sneakers because they immediately turned brown and I didn’t care to have to keep them clean and presentable.

We walked toward the back of the truck and lo and behold – ‘ugg’ was right. The rear axle had sheered/snapped right off of the mounting plate of the hub. Here we were in the middle of nowhere broke down. I think I heard Russ say that this section of ‘highway’ was the longest section of un-serviced highway in the world. His truck has two large gas tanks for that reason. I stood there on the squirmy soles of my feet looking at that broken axle wondering what we could do. On the one hand, I had confidence in Russell since he goes through things like this all the time, but more than that my heart was at rest in God, knowing that He brought us to that point and that He would have a solution. Yes, just walking by faith, not knowing the outcome but confident that He did. Faith also seems to have the continual aspect of letting go of your own idea of how things are meant to work out and trusting that God’s ways are better in the end than what you think.

Fortunately, we had a four wheel drive vehicle and could continue on with the front axle. But, if you’ve ever tried driving on those kinds of greasy roads with only front wheel drive you’d know that fish tailing would take on a whole new meaning. It was everything Russ could do to keep that thing on the road. As soon as there was any slope, the back end would slide to the side of the road and cause the truck to snake back and forth. At one point we lost it and slid to the side. There happened to be a sharp cut ditch at the edge of the road and if we went into it, it would swallow our tire whole and possibly even turn the car over on its side. The front wheels were spinning with everything they had. The tire treads packed slick with clay, we had virtually zero traction and I think we came within an inch of that ditch. It was on Cody’s side and he bellowed out an “oohhhhhhh”, somehow trying to communicate that we were about to go into it, when barely, just barely the front wheels pulled us slowly towards the center of the road. From that point on, we were blessed with deep ruts in the center of the road which kept the rear end from fish tailing. Unfortunately though, due to the accumulation of more water in the ruts and thicker greasy clay, we just couldn’t keep it going and we came to a halt. Stopped again… but this time by the mud. Russ never seems to give up and I think did a phenomenal job at driving. He put it in reverse and it moved a little, then forward, then back rocking it back and forth ever so slightly until he gained more and more movement. Wheels spinning like crazy he got the vehicle to move back and forth until we gained enough movement to create some inertia which was able to power us through the stuck spot of the mud. Once we were moving forward, he was careful to maintain forward movement and keep us going, but it was painfully slow movement and felt unstable. It took what seemed like forever to keep crawling and we finally came to a part of the road that had some gravel on it. It felt good to be moving again as we approached the next little town called Primavera (if you want to look it up).

On the way to Primavera, we stopped for some food at a roadside shack restaurant. They made us some beef. It was tough and chewy, but I was thankful for food. ‘Coincidentally’, there came a guy from Primavera on a motorbike. Russ makes friends with everyone and soon they struck up a conversation and we learned that the guy had the contact information of the mechanic in town. Russ called ahead (we had a slight cell signal since we were near town) and arranged for the mechanic to be ready for us. We made it to town about 3pm and pulled into the ‘shop’ which was a dirt driveway with a roof over it. The mechanic, in his sandals, with a few crude tools tore into the rear end effortlessly. It was impressive to see someone at work who obviously had done this many times before. He said, “these trucks are notorious for this problem”. All 6 bolts were sheered off inside the hub. They had to be removed. I wondered if he would use an ‘easy out’ tool. Russ said the last time they did this they mechanic tacked on a spot weld to back them out. But this time the mechanic took it over to another guy who makes bolts and he just drilled them out. I was amazed at the talent of these outback mechanics. They know how to make things work. The guy drilled out the bolts and re-cut new threads a little larger than the originals and he happened to have just enough bolts to put it all back together. Surprisingly, the next day we were on the road again all fixed up. It felt good to have all four wheels driving the vehicle again.

Since we got a very late start that day, it was unthinkable to try to make our destination. Russ tries to avoid driving out there at night. There were no more hotels or towns in that remaining section of the country, but there was a farm along the way, where Russ said we could spend the night and get a meal. He had made friends with the farmer there on the last trip when the same thing had happened with the axle. That’s right. The axle that broke had broke on his last trip and had been totally rebuilt in Bogota. He’s still wondering if there is something else causing it to break. Night fell, and we moved onward. Russ said that the farm we were looking for was just ahead somewhere and that we would be able to recognize it since it was right on the side of the road. But somehow, in the pitch dark night, we missed it! The unrecognizable night views began to play with our minds. Things look different at night and I think Russ was also getting somewhat fatigued. The guy is a machine that doesn’t quit but under these circumstances he started wondering if we had taken a wrong side road off into someone’s “laboratory”. That part of Colombia’s barren country is full of drug lords who have hidden drug processing plants back in the trees. The GPS Garmin was a new one which did not have the route we wanted programmed into it yet, so we were off in the night just ‘shooting in the dark’ as we selected which path to take. It actually got comical listening to Russell over the next hour as he went back and forth wondering if we were lost or on track, wondering if we got turned around and were heading backwards, forwards or sideways. There were several paths which continually branched off. If we were to stay on the most beaten path, we ran the risk of getting stuck with all the mud and water in them. Finally, after a few hours of not knowing where we were going, something finally looked familiar to Russ and we regained our sanity. It was by then about 10pm and it didn’t make sense to go backwards to the farm so we decided to go all the way to our final destination that night. At that point being hungry, we stopped for a break. We had been anticipating a cooked meal at the farm but that wasn’t going to work anymore. Russ had some survival food in a duffel bag. We stepped out into the still night. The sky above pitch black and the stars stunning. It was peaceful and the tuna was actually quite good. It was a tuna can with vegetables at the base. We pealed off the lid of the can, shaped it into a spoon and enjoyed dinner under the stars.

The only other pending issue ahead of us was the three swamps. Russ had not wanted to go through them at night, as you just can’t tell where you are going. In the daytime, you can at least get your bearings from the trees and landscapes around you, but at night you may just drive into a deep hole. “Well, one thing at a time” I thought. “The Lord is with us and will make a way.” Indeed He did make a way since for some reason there had been less rain at the swamps and they were virtually dry. Other than deep canyon type ruts and crevices, they were rather uneventful and we just drove right on through. It was relieving, to have some food in our stomachs, to know where we were and to be through the swamps. We finally got to our final destination about midnight. The Sikuani family that cared for the place was there and got up out of bed when we rolled in. The girls quickly got to work and hung our mosquito nets and hammocks under a roof structure with open walls. Then finally, about 1am, we were off to bed. The night air got cold about 3am. I slept anyway, though always semi-conscious of the cold, sleep was more valuable than temperature. I would learn in the following nights to put more clothes on. But it’s hard to put clothes on at bedtime because it’s still hot in tierra caliente for most of the night. I ended up keeping a jacket next to my hammock to grab whenever it got cold. The system seemed to work and I was thankful for the hammock and the rest.

We arrived that night 3 days earlier than the P’s were going to arrive. Russ had other things to do there, so during that time I explored a bit, but mostly spent time reading through the scriptures the Lord had put on my heart, praying and reflecting over them. I would read them in English and then in P. It was fun, meaningful and alive. My heart was filled with many thoughts as I read and I began to get rather excited at the thought of the P’s showing up on the 16th. I also enjoyed several great conversations with Dylan, Cody, Cody’s dad (who came by plane the next day) and Russell during those days. Whether they realized it or not, I knew that my time to visit with them was pretty much limited to then since once the P’s would arrive, I would be inundated with hungry and eager hearts. There was a gentle confidence in my heart as I could sense the presence of the Spirit. He brought me there and would surely perform what He had intended. My place was to rest in Him and resting in Him would prove to be my strength in the trying days that were to come.

t.

Back

After a rather eventful return flight/flights last night from Bogota, I arrived safe and sound back to Mexico, though without my suitcase. I had a good rest last night and am off to teach my first class this morning at the Bible School.

It was a rich, full, emotional, spiritual and edifying time with the P’s. I look forward to relaying more when I have time and when I can get my photos organized.

For now, I just wanted to let you know this. Thank you for your prayers,

t

Heading off to Colombia

HOWARD AND SUSAN: Howard and Susan pulled into their driveway here in San Carlos at 4pm Friday. It was an amazing sight to see the motorhome sitting here in their driveway with the sun shining on them. They actually made incredible time, though they had to traverse some winter conditions in Canada and strong side winds from Idaho down to Tucson. At the US border, they had to convince the officials what ‘encephalitis’ was. Then at the Mexican border, Howard and Susan’s daughter, in a car behind them, were warned to turn back due to Chapo’s son being arrested and potential road blocks. They said no to that and Mexico let them in anyway. There were no road blocks and they pulled into their home on time!

Susan was SO relieved and happy to be home. I can’t imagine actually all she’s been through and she still has a long way to go. But thanks be to the goodness of God, she and Howard are home. She said she slept SO good in her own bed. We off-loaded Howie through the side window of the motorhome on a flat board. Red Cross came to assist and settle him into the hospital bed we had installed in their bedroom.

Over the past 3 days since they’ve been home, Howard seems a touch better to me. Yesterday as I was with him for a few hours, his eyes were the most attentive that I’ve seen, tracking with me where ever I moved. I read him the first 5 chapters of John. I kept looking up at him, wondering what if any he was getting from the reading. God only knows. We trust. This morning, we moved him into his own bed using a lift so that Maris could tend to his bed sore and put him on his side for a while.

CONFERENCE IN COLOMBIA WITH THE P’S: This morning, I’m packing my bag to head to Colombia. The P’s are excitedly awaiting this Bible conference. I fly to Bogota tomorrow, Jan 10th, and return on the 23rd. Once into Bogota, I will hop into Russell’s bullet proof Toyota again (as we did last year) and make the long grueling road trip to an undisclosed location near the border.

At times I ask myself, “why am I doing this?” In some ways, it doesn’t make sense, but there is a steady unseen hand which seems to be guiding me to do so. Teaching and personal contact is valuable and there are many topics to discuss. We don’t know exactly how many P’s will be there. E said possibly about 500 people. I received a voice message this morning from G. I could hear the joy, the enthusiasm and youthfulness in his voice as they are very much looking forward to the time together.

As I mentioned earlier, the Lord seems to be impressing on my heart the theme of ‘unity’. It would be nice to hear a message from delegates of each various area or group of P’s to share what they feel the Lord is putting on their hearts as we seek the one mind of Christ. It would be nice also to have a sort of question and answer time, times of prayer and worship as well. I hope to speak on certain passages of scripture like 2 Cor 5 on reconciliation and Phil 2 regarding the lowly mind of the Lord. We shall see how the Lord leads. I know it is encouraging for the P’s too. Just to be shown that they are important and loved in itself means a lot to them.

These kinds of trips are exhausting for me. I would most certainly appreciate your prayers for strength, health, headache free, good sleeps as well as safety. Russ told me last year, some of the places along that border are some of the most dangerous in the world. We are avoiding those hot-spots and keeping a low profile. He has not been kidnapped since 2012 and has been frequenting this hidden location of his regularly. On a recent trip there in October, the indigenous groups had road blocks on the dirt highway but when they recognized that it was Russell, they let him through and wanted Bibles from him. The paramilitary commanders even wanted Bibles and the FARC requested Russell’s help to join in a peace process to disarm. So even though these are potentially dangerous areas, God is always at work and seems to be giving Russell favor to pass through these territories. I am trusting that favor continues on. Once we get to the hidden location (12,500 hectares of land), Russell has some facility there where I think I understand can have a bedroom and bathroom. It’s way out in the boonies.. so no cell service.

Appreciate your prayers and thoughts in whatever way the Lord impresses on your heart,

t.

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature”
Mark 16:15

EXTRA NEWS: The audio version of the P NT is now available! As you may recall, six P’s went to a border town in Colombia last year to record the NT in their language. After mastering it in the US, it was completed and now available online. In time, they will also load it onto audio devices to distribute in remote areas. If you are interested in hearing how it sounds, click here: https://live.bible.is/bible/PIDIPI/MAT/1?audio_type=audio_drama

Howard and Susan – ON THE ROAD!

Susan (I assume with the help of some firemen) loaded up Howard this morning in Kelowna, BC onto the motorhome and they are well on their way. They crossed the border without issue (other than the border official didn’t know what encephalitis was and had to look it up before he let them enter). Howard is snoozing away in his bed as they make the miles down the freeway and are already already into Oregon. Susan texted and said how relieved she feels.

Jerry and I installed a hospital bed into Howard and Susan’s bedroom yesterday. We await their arrival and the road to recovery for our brother Howard. There is a fungus here which is breathed into the lungs (fungal spores in the air) called Valley Fever which doesn’t bother most people. In talking with others here, we got to wondering if that may be part of the underlying issues complicating Howard’s condition as in a small percentage of people it does cause severe issues and even death. A neighbor here died from it just two weeks ago. The good thing is that if it is, there is an anti-fungal treatment for it. Reading online it says that with about 1% of people that get it, “the infection spreads from the lungs to other parts of the body, such as the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord)”.

If all goes well, they should arrive here at the end of the day on Friday the 6th. Many thanks for all your prayers and loving support for our co-workers. Lots of unknowns for Susan. She had to forego their medical insurance to come back home. That was a big blow for her, but she feels strongly this is the place to be. To be back home. The doctors in Kelowna said there is nothing more they can do and that Howard should go home. These are big steps of faith for her with a large task of home care ahead of her and a life going forward without medical insurance.

Howard’s condition began at the time of his brother Murray’s passing. I believe he heard the news, but it was right about that time that he himself slipped into a severe state of encephalitis and wasn’t even able to consciously grieve the death of his brother. I’m reminded of the Proverb which says, “A merry heart does good, like medicine, But a broken spirit dries the bones.”

Who knows, maybe the combination of the West Nile Virus Encephalitis together with Valley Fever and a Broken Spirit has resulted in this severe condition he suffers today. Once he’s back here and I’m back from Colombia, I hope to see him reguarly and read him words of life and hope from the scriptures… daily if I can, because a merry heart goes a long way. It does good, like medicine.

Arturo

Tonight after tennis was over, I sat down on the bench while the other players left. Arturo lingered behind as well to pack up his things. As we were putting our rackets away, he began to ask how long I would be around. Arturo is likely in his 60s, a very polite and good hearted soul, always respectful, joyful and kind. I told him I’d be gone to Colombia for a couple weeks, which led him to ask me what I would be doing there. After about a 15 minute summary of the history of our work, the hunger of the P’s and especially the presence, purpose and meaning of life in God at the core of all we do, he sat perplexed a bit and pondering. He then, gently but honestly, confessed in a mild voice, “I’ve read parts of the Bible. Genesis, Exodos, Leviticus, Numbers etc… but I have never felt that presence that you talk about. For me, I’m an agnostic. I can’t deny the presence of God, but neither can I prove it and I just have never felt that which others talk about.” He went on to give more reason for his agnosticism based on some of the horrific things he has seen people do in the name of Christianity. He said, “for example, 5 people get killed and the one standing by who survives says, ‘oh thank God that it wasn’t me'”. He looked up and said, “Where is the love for the people who got killed? Where is the compassion of the mothers of them?”

I said, “Very good Arturo! So true!” I went on to acknowledge and compliment his honesty. I said, “I respect that you say you are an agnostic. It’s one thing to say you’re an atheist. In that case, one must be able to prove the absence of God which is really impossible to do. So the fact that you say you are an agnostic is respectable and honest.” I could tell he felt affirmed that I recognized the virtues that he valued. Yet then I said, “But I do have a question for you. What is honesty? Where does it come from? What is the honesty that you desire to have? Why do you have it? Is it biological? What is it and why is it in you? Likewise, the justice that you require for the person who only cared for himself when the five others died, where does it come from? Actually, what is it? Is it muscular? or cellular? or in the blood or brain? Is it physical at all? What is the conscience and why is it there? These are things that are non-physical. They are beyond the material realm, but no one would dare say that they did not exist. My question is: if there is no God, then what are these things and where do they come from?” His eyes lit up and said, “Yes, there must be a God. Nothing else makes sense. But I just don’t have that feeling myself to know for sure.”

We went on to have a very nice conversation about spiritual things verses physical things. Then all of a sudden in the middle of the conversation, an expression of interest came over his face. His eyes lit up, he looked me in the eye and said, “You know! I’m going to read the Bible again!” I said “Good. Read it. That is great. But you know what is the key to knowing God yourself? It all comes down to whether you yourself call out to Him. It’s one thing to study about God and contemplate. But it’s another to cry out to God yourself and ask Him directly. Cry out to Him yourself and ask Him if he’s real or not. I guarantee you, He will reveal Himself to every heart that cries out to him with a genuine heart.” He said, “Maybe I will try that someday.” He went on to ask me what religion I identified with. I told him, “With none of them, but rather with every person who calls on the name of Jesus Christ in sincerity.” I said, “Read the gospel of John. It says right at the start of the book that Jesus Christ was in the beginning with God, the eternal Word. He is the declaration of the invisible God. He changed the entire world. There’s no other person in the history of all the world that has influenced the world like He did.”

We made our way off the court and as I was saying goodnight and that I’d see him again on Thursday, he said, “Yes okay. See you Thursday.” But then I could tell that more than tennis, he was appreciating the conversation we just had and he said, “Yes, but thank you for the talk. That was a very good conversation.” I smiled, agreed with him and said goodnight.

Pray for Arturo as the Spirit leads you. I really enjoyed getting to talk to him tonight and sense he’s on an awakening journey.

t.

PS. More on my trip to Colombia and the P’s in the next update!