The very first place I went to after flying into Cartagena was Bocachica, a very poor island off the coast of the city of Cartagena. I spent a little over three days there and stayed with a missionary family of nine (soon to be ten). Things didn’t go expected (things never do in Colombia), but I was richly blessed by my time on the island. One of the days I got to work with a guy making a water filter. I also got to go cliff jumping, swim in the ocean far off shore, see an awesome sunrise, visit forts, and visit a secluded beach.
One highlight was watching the Colombia vs. Argentina soccer game on a screen on the soccer field. Everyone went crazy every time Colombia scored in the shootout (unfortunately they lost). Another highlight was playing with some kids, talking with them, and practicing “handshakes.” My favorite part was just spending time with the family and kids I stayed with and was able to be a blessing to them as they were to me.
I spent eight days in the city of Cartagena and was surprised and blessed by what God had for me there. I got to experience the tourist attractions of the Old City and Bocagrande, but the best part was getting to work with a ministry/project that is part of Compassion International for five days. During this week I really was forced to use Spanish because everything was in Spanish. I even led some physical activities in Spanish and shared a short testimony in Spanish. All the people I met in Cartagena are amazing and are so kind and hospitable.
All the kids I had the privilege of meeting were awesome, too. I enjoyed hanging out with them, teaching them how to play ninja, teaching them some English words, reffing soccer games, surviving the blazing heat each day, and making them smile. The kids called me Gringo. It truly was a blessing. One highlight was meeting a 10-year-old boy who wants to be a pastor. He had a great love for God’s Word and a humble spirit! I also got to pray for healing for two boys’ feet and was encouraged about a woman’s prophesy and encouragement for me. I certainly didn’t expect to spend eight days there or do the things I did, but God’s plan was perfect, and He used many people to take care of me and open doors.
The next stop in my journey was in the larger city of Barranquilla where I spent three days. I had no idea what I was going to do there and really just expected to be there a day or two just to say I had been there. My experience in this place ended up being the most impactful of all the places I visited not because of the cool places in the city, but because of the people I got to know and spend time with. I stayed with a friend (and his family) of my former roommate who is from there. This truly turned out to be a divine appointment. It was awesome hearing his story and seeing his heart for the Lord, and we were able to encourage and bless each other.
One of the highlights was meeting a group of people in their 20’s who all have the same passion for missions and ministry and desire for God. I had been praying that God would allow me to be a part of a group like this in Bogotá, but this group is many hours away in Barranquilla. Another highlight was visiting the Castillo outside the city that overlooked the ocean and coast while the sun was setting. I was overwhelmed by God’s goodness and grateful He would let me experience this. I also got to visit a “service” for a church plant in a small, poor community outside the city. The kids there were so precious.
One amazing thing that happened was that I got to pray for healing for the guy I stayed with. He had problems with his neck and shoulder for six months. Prayer and doctors’ visits didn’t do anything, and he was desperate for healing. One of the things I have been asking God for is the gift of healing, so I have been praying for people over the past few months. I knew I was supposed to pray for him and prayed three different times, but nothing happened in those moments even though I was confident something would. However, he has been telling me that over the following weeks since that time, his neck and shoulder continue to heal and he no longer has any swelling. Praise God! It was so cool to see how God collided his desire to be healed and my desire to heal.
Santa Marta is a beautiful town/small city on the Caribbean coast that is a tourist destination for people all over the world. Beautiful beaches, national parks, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and many other things are found around there. This was the place I was most excited about, but it ended being one of the strangest experiences in my life. I ended up leaving a week earlier than I had planned (even after I already bought a return ticket) and didn’t do many of the things I had wanted to do there. Almost every one of my plans didn’t work out or fell apart and I lost two different cameras. I made the decision to return to Bogotá instead of staying there longer - a very hard, unfulfilling, and confusing decision. However, in the midst of these things, God allowed me to experience a taste of the beauty of this place and have some cool experiences in my eight days there.
I got to have three different “divine encounters” while there. I met a guy from Bogotá during a hike to one of the beaches. We ended up talking and hanging out by the beach. We got to talk about Christ, the Bible, and many other things. I also met an Algerian guy at Parque Tayrona at the ticket counter. I was planning on staying two or three days, but I only stayed a few hours after I lost my camera in the ocean. When I went to buy a new camera the next day I saw him outside the mall and we ended up hanging out a little with his host family. I got to ask him questions about his Muslim faith and I shared some of my beliefs. I also got to talk a little with a guy from Europe next to me on the plan back to Bogotá. I got to pray for healing for his body where he was supposed to have surgery in a few months. He seemed very happy and appreciative.
I also got to spend my one-year anniversary in Colombia in Santa Marta on July 9. Other experiences include sharing my testimony at a youth group, helping with a children’s ministry in one of the barrios, and serving with a mission team from Kentucky who I randomly met at the church I visited. I went with them to do medical ministry in Tasajera, a poor fishing town outside the city, for one day. I met many great people and was blessed. I lost my camera again here with many pictures, but the people there helped me look for it and kept telling me to give glory to God and that God will multiply His blessings in my life. What faith! I definitely want to go back to Santa Marta in the future and finish what God put in my heart to do there.
To be honest, leaving the coast was hard. It actually kind of still hurts, and it really has really impacted me. I felt a strange “drawing” to this area of Colombia and maybe God will have plans for me there someday. As beautiful as the places were, it really was the people – the Costeños – that made it a great experience. I am encouraged to make hospitality and spending time with people a focus and to freely give to others, not expecting anything in return. I like to be alone most of the time, but sitting by the water in Santa Marta after coming from Barranquilla I felt a deep loneliness and wanted to share the experiences there with people. I pray for a heart that truly gives glory to God in the good experiences and the confusing, frustrating ones. God’s plans are often not the same as mine.
Another thing I have been challenged by is to do all that God has put in my heart to do. He will make a way in His timing and provide. I can move forward in faith and confidence. I asked several people along the way what Colombia needs most spiritually, and a common response was discipleship. It needs people to come alongside people and show them how to truly follow Christ. There are many more ways I was encouraged and impacted, but it all comes down to the people and God. I was blown away by how God directed me and cared for me in the smallest of details and in my desires. I made many new friends and connections in this area of Colombia, and many people are now friends with me on Facebook and want to practice English their English with me. It's amazing to see what God does when you are open to whatever He has for you and don't put Him in a box. It was an adventure filled with beauty, amazing people, and divine encounters that I will certainly never forget! To God be the glory!
Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”
Deuteronomy 15:10 “You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work that you undertake.”