As I wait for my flight back to the great state of Arkansas, I am filled with many emotions. I am here at the Bogota Airport, and I miss my family. I cannot wait to kiss and embrace my wife and swoop up my three boys into my arms. I can already see their smiles in my mind. But my anticipation is bittersweet. Though I have yet to depart, I am already missing my new friends here in this beautiful country. Let me tell you about them. Let me tell you about my journey. And let me tell you what great things God is doing here in Colombia, South America.
My experience in Colombia begins with bouncy friends, bouncy music, and a bouncy car ride into the mountains.
I came to Colombia to teach Biblical Theology to a group of pastors. But the night before I left Arkansas, I realized that I was coming down with a cold – not a good feeling when your voice is a key instrument in teaching. So I began to pray and stock up with medicine and cough drops, for with a sore throat or not, the time of departure was upon me.
I arrived in Bogota at 9:30, but it was not until 11:00 p.m. that I exited the airport. Outside of the doors, four men greeted me. “Are you pastor Jeff?” they asked in a foreign accent. With a quick “yes,” strange names began to fly out of their mouths – names that I never heard before – “I am pastor Guillermo.” “I am pastor Jorge from Ecuador.” “I am pastor Eduardo; I will be your interpreter.” And “I am Mr. Eduardo.” They were friendly. They asked me about the details of my flight, offered me water, and grabbed up my bags as they showed me to the car.
But that is where the real bounciness began. The roads there are bumpy and curvy, as the mountains are large and steep, and the traffic is beyond chaotic. Pastor Guillermo is a skillful but aggressive driver – which I learned later is the only way you can drive in a city of 9 million people who are trying to get to the same place at the same time. There dividing lines on the road mean nothing. In fact, there don't seem to be any rules at all. Where there are two lanes, four lines of cars seek to drive abreast with motorcycles buzzing around anywhere they can squeeze in. Cars will suddenly pull out in front of you as if you are not even there, which causes knee jerking stops. It is a madhouse to say the least. Bogota reminds me of a disturbed ant-mound that has been kicked by a pesky kid – so many people group together that they are running all over each other. I have been to a lot of large cities – Los Angeles, New York, Paris, London, Rome, but no city I have ever been to can compare to the vast amount of people and vehicles that are squeezed into a single space.
So, imagine late at night that you’re in a car that is going up and down, from side to side, from top speed (as if you are in a drag race) to squelching stops. All of this on a bumpy and curvy road as the car is dodging other cars, large trucks and flying motorcycles. It did not take long before, along with my sore throat, I had motion sickness. And it did not take long before my new friends cranked up the Colombian music. The music is bouncy all right – like party music driven by an accordion. With the music rocking, my new friends began to sing, tap their feet, and move with the beat, which caused the car to rock back and forth, as we were already moving in all directions. So round and round we went.
“Two hours to our destination,” they informed me. With the news, I became hot and queasy. And it was only then that I became thankful that United Airlines no longer offered an in-flight meal. I understand that all things work together for good, and an empty stomach is preferable with motion sickness. So like a ball thrown into a blender, my journey in Colombia had begun.
Thankfully, without any unpleasant incident, we made it to the retreat center sometime around 1:00 a.m. There I was to lecture 21 times over the next four days. A Colombian meal was waiting on us and a little over 50 pastors, from all over Colombia, were already sleeping in their rooms and tents. After a good meal, I went to bed.
The next day, like the next four days, was full of food, juice, coffee, and teaching. I taught 6 times per day. My sore throat had not gotten any better, but I knew my church family in Conway, AR, was praying for me. The Lord was gracious. Not once did my voice hinder my teaching. But before I tell you about the teaching and seminary here in Colombia, let me tell you a little bit about this wonderful place.
Colombia is amazing. It is tropical and breathtaking. When I woke up, I could not believe the beauty that was all around me. Massive and irregular shaped mountains encircled the place, which caused me to understand why the roads were so crooked and steep. Flowers. Wow! Flowers of all kind were everywhere. Fruit was hanging on almost every tree. Everything was blooming, budding, and flourishing. There was fruit that I didn't even know existed. There were avocados the size of footballs. Truly, this is a land flowing with milk and honey. And birds. Wow! All kinds of birds were flying around and chirping. I woke up to a pleasant and relaxing melody of tropical birds singing to the glory of God. To top it all off, the weather was perfect. It is as if this is the place where God abides and personally sets the temperature – in the mid seventies, no humidity, and with a cool and gentle breeze keeping the air fresh. In fact, if I had to imagine the Garden of Eden, I would think it was similar, if not identical, to Chinauta, Colombia.
The beauty of the place was only the backdrop to the even more beautiful people. Colombians are a diverse people with a variety of skin tones. In many ways, Colombians are like Americans. They like to joke around, laugh, and play sports. But they are a little more affectionate and generous. They are a little more welcoming. Maybe it is the music, maybe it is the food and tropical climate, but whatever the case, they are an endearing people. Take these natural qualities and put Christ in them, then you have a group of people that you cannot help but quickly fall in love with. It is amazing how kindness and love can transcend any language bearer. They would reach into their pockets and give me candy, buy me ice-cream, and bring me coffee as if I was someone special. But this is how they treated each other as well. These men love each other as they love “Christo.” Being around such beautiful people makes me long for heaven where there will be people from every nation and people group of the world.
God’s Work in Colombia
My trip is almost over. Though I am headed home, I am taking much with me. I am leaving with a better understanding of the words of Christ, who said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” America is saturated with the gospel and various gospel ministries. We take our access to the gospel and Christian resources for granted. We have access to many resources, books, and churches. Colombia, on the other hand, is in great need of all these things. They are hungry. They are grasping on to almost anything. Those like myself who travel here to teach are readily heard, and every book that is translated into Spanish is quickly consumed. (This is why it is important to provide solid teaching.)
I am also leaving with a greater commitment to supporting indigenous ministers and ministries. We can spend thousands of dollars in supporting American missionaries, who often need as much money to live in a foreign country as they do in America. Most American missionaries last only four years on the field. But indigenous ministers are there to stay, and they don’t need money as much as they need training.
Because they are hungry for a basic education of the Bible, I am convinced that one of the best ways to support foreign missions is not by sending American missionaries (except for the unreached people groups of the world), but to provide Biblical training to the pastors already living in those foreign lands. Colombia, for instance, is vastly Catholic, about 70%, and the Evangelical influence is mostly charismatic. The prosperity gospel, sadly, is popular there as it is in America. They need solid resources and training to combat such influences. This is something that our churches can support. This is something that I am convinced is making a huge difference.
With this in mind, I am thankful for Reformed Baptist Seminary’s support of the Biblical training program that is overseen by Guillermo Gomez, pastor of Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Bogota. This program is called “The Marrow of Theology.” Because of limited options and a great hunger for the truth, “The Marrow of Theology” program is attracting men from all over Colombia. Afterwards, they are slowly reforming their churches or planting solid Reformed Baptist churches throughout this country. In this one ministry, hundreds of ministers are being trained and sent out across Colombia. This is changing, and will continue to change, the landscape of South America.
In addition to my desire to support “The Marrow of Theology” program in Bogata, I plan to start a Spanish branch of Free Grace Press. Eduardo Fergusson, who translated my teaching and preaching this past week, has agreed to assist in the translation of our English books into Spanish. Jorge Rodriguez, from Ecuador, has agreed to oversee the printing and distributing of these books throughout South America. Because the books will be translated and printed in South America, the cost will be a fraction of the expense of books printed in America. 100, 200, or 300 dollars can make a major impact. What an investment for the sake of the kingdom.
With all of this, I am going home with a new passion for international missions. I hope to communicate this passion with my church family and friends. I am excited about what God is doing in South America…so please join me in praying for these beautiful people in this beautiful region of the world.