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.