Conviventia Bogota Colombia Mission: Saturday

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Today was our last day on mission and the second day of community outreach. As our bus climbed the hills high into the Bogota communities, the material poverty seemed to reach up to the sky. Living in the comforts of America, I never seem to become numb to material poverty when I go on a mission trip. It’s not that I believe everyone should have equal riches, but I believe everyone should be able to earn necessities that provide for human dignity.

The destination of our climb was La Isla, Soacha, and our bus finally stopped in front of the library—one of the village’s first buildings. We set up the medical and dental units in different rooms, while the tents were erected, and musicians gathered under an awning across the street to protect their instruments from the occasional rain shower. Families started arriving, and a few local pastors, including Pastor Ramon Valbuena and his family, came to support our community day.

While Jeisson played guitar with the local band who sang out praise and worship music, Pastor Ramon’s kids line danced in the streets. A few others and I grabbed several of the children’s hands and danced them into the street. Let’s get God’s party started.

The kids also loved Heaven in the Street, where they colored their dreams onto white canvas. The team and volunteers circled the kids, touched their head/shoulders, and prayed for them while they painted. These children are the future of Colombia, and we needed to pray for them to be all that God has called them to be.

After lunch Conviventia hosted an oral hygiene demonstration, and afterwards, the kids were encouraged to take a free toothbrush/toothpaste. As the kids stood in long lines, I got to ask each of the kids their names, so Conviventia could document who got a hygiene pack.  It was an opportunity for me to exchange a few words with each child.  Families were also encouraged to sign up for locally donated clothes. They sorted through them excited at the prospect of something used yet new.

The tent was again set up for families to bring their pets for vaccinations. I assumed this free government service benefited the community by curbing disease—especially rabies. Just when I thought the medical outreach was winding down, an army of kids dressed in school uniforms descended upon the area. Where did these kids come from? I then realized how many kids didn’t go to school—seemed at least half. The sad true is that without an education, these kids won’t likely step out of poverty.

Because of the activity in the streets, I was only able to briefly touch base with the triage team to find out how they were doing with the medical issues. They had run out of several basic medicines such as antibiotics yet were managing with what they had available. Sarah, the baby nurse, who was giving eye exams all week, said she would be happy not to have to do another eye exam again.

Our flight didn’t leave until midnight. We were blessed to grab an hour nap, and then dinner, before leaving for the airport. Darin and I did get one final stop at Crepes and Waffles for an ice cream with fresh fruit dessert waffle. As I finally sat in a chair by the gate waiting for the flight to board, I was able to reflect on the entire week. Regardless of what happens, there’s no such thing as a bad mission trip, because I always learn valuable lessons and get incredible insights for the future. My mission take-aways from the field were:

  • Leaders don’t do everything. They do what they can and ask others to do what they are called to do.
  • With leadership a top 5 core value, I don’t have to lead, but if I’m not leading, I have to be led well.  If a mission is not led well, I can’t be part of it.
  • Darin and I made a friend for life in Brigitta.
  • Marriage ministry, teaching, and workshops will continue to be a major part of my mission field.  I feel like it’s time to go global in 2020 and create a 20/20 Vision for marriage ministry.

The Conviventia mission has come to a purposeful end, and now it’s time for me to focus on our next mission trip, which is to drill a water well in a youth prison in El Salvador. I thank God every day for the opportunity to serve and learn in the most interesting and inspiring ways. My prayer is that some of the words and stories shared in my journal entries will inspire you to go serve locally, nationally, or internationally. If you’re looking to find more of yourself, you’ll find it through serving others.  God bless!

My Two Life Scriptures

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” [Jeremiah 29:11, NIV]

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 5:15, NIV]


Conviventia Bogota Colombia Mission: Friday

Friday, August 3, 2018

What a fun, fun, day, because we got to be with the people! Today was the team’s first community medical outreach in La Maria, Soacha, where Darin and I had facilitated a leadership workshop for the Pastor Alvero and his staff the past Sunday. I was hoping we would bump into some familiar faces from the church service. What I didn’t know as we drove past Iglesia Christiana Lugar De Encuentro Con Dios was the back story from much earlier in the morning. The original plan was to setup the medical outreach between two warehouses, but when Diana (CDA medical leader) and her team came earlier to ensure a smooth setup, they were informed by the “community” leaders that they couldn’t have access to the warehouses as they had committed.

Praise God; His will be done. Instead of panicking, the CDA staff walked from house to house, knocking on doors, asking whether families would open their homes for medical and dental teams to set up their equipment and serve the community. Three families (non-Christian) opened their doors, pulled out their living room furniture, and invited the team to use their home to help the people. What a beautiful story of how God works through people, when the devil tries to undermine God’s work.

Our team arrived by bus and congregated on the enclosure basketball court. We did praise and worship to kick-off the day. We were instructed that we were only allowed around the sports court and down the alley road where medical treatment would be underway. While the doctors and nurses saw patients, the government set up a pet vaccination station. Not only where people in line for their needs, people brought their pets. I noticed that many of the cats were on leashes like a dog. How the Colombian people treated their pets was a far cry different than in Central America, where the condition of the dogs broke my heart.

The student hairdressers from the Conviventia vocational school set up their tent and were giving free haircuts. There was a line—especially of kids and older men. We gave everyone a thumbs up—looking good. Later we walked down the street, meeting and talking with the locals. Brigitta was an engaging translator. We recognized many people from the church service. Although I don’t speak Spanish, eye contact, a big smile, and saying, “Hola,” made a meaningful connection.

We thoroughly enjoyed talking with all the locals and learning of their struggles. We heard stories of wives leaving men, who then had to take care of their kids by themselves. Many kids weren’t in school. One boy dropped out of sixth grade and wanted to know how he could get to America to be successful. We talked about having a vision for your life, and I told the story of myself growing up poor and how education was a ticket out. I encouraged him to focus on school, so that he would have options. I believe he was more inspired after our conversation.

The medical/dental staff was overwhelmed with the need, and many people had to be turned away, because only so many patients could be seen by 3 pm. First come, first served was the rule. Everyone was happy to receive free medical treatment, except those

who were getting their teeth pulled. It pained me to see kids being held down, so rotten teeth could be pulled to prevent infection, and yes, they had Novocaine. The dental care team pulled a record number of teeth and many left the chair with pearly whites after their cleaning. A common example seen by the triage team—a woman who had suffered with a urinary infection for 2 years, because she had no resources to pay a doctor. Something so curable with an antibiotic goes untreated every day. So sad that many do not have access to basic medical care.

While the nurses and doctors were treating as many patients as possible, we were learning of Conviventia’s initiative to create a fair-trade connection with local coffee farmers in the area. Dag was leading a pilot program and buying his first 50+ pound batch of honey-roasted beans to sell in Houston area. What a wonderful success story this could be.

As we packed up our equipment and headed home, several messages resonated with me from this day on mission:

  • When plans do not work out, do not despair. Trust God. He will open doors. Turning to God gives you an opportunity for Him to show you His miracles.
  • People just want to be known and recognized. Make eye contact, smile at strangers, and say a word of welcome.
  • I don’t care how broken our medical/dental system is in the United States, you should appreciate it. At least you can walk into an ER and be treated.

Conviventia Bogota Colombia Mission: Thursday

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Thursday was the last day of workshops for Darin and me before joining the rest of the team for medical outreach. We facilitated a half-day leadership intensive for CDA staff in the morning. With more material than time, we were not able to get through it all, but it was obvious that the attendees loved the instruction and discussion. With only 10 minutes left, we asked what remaining topics would be of most value. The answer was how to lead an effective meeting. I think we spent 15 minutes on that topic just hitting the main points of before-meeting preparation, in-meeting behaviors, and post-meeting strategies. Bad meetings in business must be a global phenomenon. You would think that with the amount of time people spend in poorly run meetings, there would be an outcry for change.

We re-joined the rest of the team at CDA’s Family Strengthening Center which was a short walk from the PTI [CDA’s vocational training center]. After lunch, Darin and I headed out with a few team members to experience a family strengthening session. We had been on a few home visits during our May 2017 vision trip; however, CDA had changed the format, and we were going to see the new curriculum in action. Instead of providing encouragement and prayers, CDA had targeted activities to take the family through.

We observed how the CDA team worked through communication with the mother and her two children, and surprisingly, we were asked to participate. The goal was to understand how each member of the family was communicating [silence, outbursts, etc.] and to have them start identifying and expressing the positive qualities they saw in each other. As observers, we were asked to share our positive observations of each family member during the conversation. Although the process was very rudimentary, I thought it was effective because it empowered change with skills and tools.

We had some free time before dinner, so the team headed out to the government district in Bogota—the heart of the city. With Jimmy as our body guard, we were able to get a sense of the city. Despite the graffiti, I enjoy Bogota and plan to explore other parts of Colombia—especially the coffee region.  Instead of wine tasting, I’ll sip coffee. An undoubtedly Colombia has the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.

IMG_0699_brToday there were many things left unsaid. I haven’t shared many of the small events that tell a bigger story but are part of the key messages:

  • The best offense is sometimes a good defense; know when to play and know when to stand
  • Humans have more in common with each other than they don’t; yet focusing on the differences builds a wall or digs a canyon between them
  • Happy people make great friends; what’s your happiness quotient

Looking forward to Friday where we will walk the streets and greet the people!

Conviventia Bogota Colombia Mission: Wednesday

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Today was both my favorite day on mission as well as the most exhausting. The day started when the alarm went off at 5:15 AM and ended when our heads hit the pillow after 11:00 PM. Before I get to the night’s marriage event, which only solidified what I believe God is calling Darin and I to do on a global basis, I want to share some brief mission highlights leading up to Coffee for Two.

Wednesday was a repeat of the medical outreach, workshops, and programs of the day before but delivered at CDA Lucero Alto School. True to my word, I let Darin lead the workshops. The parent attendance was lower than at Cazuca, which I felt led to rich dialogue with the audience. The leadership workshop attendance was also lower, because most of the men had jobs in this community. We were forewarned to expect push-back from 3 white-haired community men, who were supposedly going to teach us what leadership was all about.

Soon after the leadership session started, the spokesman of the 3-men group stood and emphatically expressed that leadership was a position and only leaders have these positions, because they know what the people need. After putting his leadership stake in the ground, we respectfully shared our views of servant leadership. As we said, “…everyone is a leader because everyone has influence,” the women in the audience adamantly shook their heads up and down. You could feel the energy of empowerment build in the room, and soon enough, the older spokesperson chose to sit silently.

I enjoyed spending time with the triage group [my sister-in-law Siovhan, her sister Stephanie, and my niece Sarah] as they took medical histories, vitals, and conversed with the families grateful for medical attention. After the medical outreach and workshops, many of the mission team had fun playing basketball with other CDA staff and students. This 56-year old woman in boots got on the court but was taken to the grown on a foul while shooting a basket. [Darin got it on video, so if you want to see a laughable moment I’ll send it to you on request.]

After some souvenir shopping, Darin, Brigitta, and I were once again whisked away by car as guest speakers at the marriage strengthening event. As darkness settled, our driver delivered us to a door in a very questionable part of the city. Passing across the door threshold, we were once again surprised to see a huge room with lots of couples sitting around tables, laughing, and snacking. As the saying goes: you never know what goes on behind closed doors.

Pastor Daniel Guasca and his wife, Pastor Adelaida, of Ministerio Altar de Fuego Y Fe introduced us to their family, told us about their church marriage ministry, and explained the night’s agenda. Fifty couples (100 people) were downstairs eagerly awaiting the start of Coffee for Two. There were a number of non-Christians attending, and 20% had never been to this church. As we sat at our little table in front, the pastors kicked off the event with some marriage messages, praise, and worship. We took the stage for an hour and a half, unpacking marriage vision, mission, love languages, needs, communication, and conflict resolution. Through the generous donations of our family and friends, we were able to gift each couple with The 5 Love Languages in Spanish.  The couples were thrilled and broke out in loud applause.

IMG_0675_br Pastor Daniel closed the event with a final marriage message and prayers. We were asked to join the pastors, who walked around the room laying hands on the couples, praying for them and their marriages. Couples were hugging and crying. Some shared how they had achieved breakthrough that evening and gained greater love and appreciation for their spouse. As we tried to pack up and get back to the hotel, the couples kept coming to the stage to thank us, hug us, and ask for a photo with us. These people don’t have access to the resources as Americans to improve their marriages. We wished we could have stayed longer, but we will be back. Perhaps next time, it will be bigger and better.

IMG_0671_brAlthough this journal entry doesn’t capture the fullness of the day, a few reminders from my experiences were:

  • Sometimes people need to be told they are empowered for them to believe they can influence change
  • You can’t force your opinions or ideas on others; you need to just lay out your words and let God do the work on others
  • When you don’t speak the language, play sports; it’s a universal language
  • When you serve people with what you love to do, people are changed

Conviventia Bogota Colombia Mission: Tuesday

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Today was another day I wouldn’t have planned for a mission, but one where God spins for good what the devil tries to undermine. Bogota is a city with an elevation of ~ 8600 ft above sea level. Living in Houston, which hovers near sea level, I always struggle with migraines when I travel to high altitude cities like Denver and Bogota. This trip was no exception and even more so than usual. I was popping migraine medicine every 15 – 20 hours to manage the pain.

The alarm today was set for 5:15 AM, because the team had to eat breakfast, share a devotional, and get to CDA Cazuca School by 8 AM for medical outreach, purity talks, family strengthening, and workshops that Darin and I were scheduled to lead with Brigitta as translator. Parents were attending to learn about parenting leadership and strategies. We would follow this session with a general leadership workshop for parents, school staff, and community. I cannot tell you how excited I was to deliver the information I worked so hard to prepare (slides and pamphlets). And, Brigitta had translated all of it into Spanish, so she was intimately engaged with the content.

At 4:15 AM, I suddenly awoke with a massive migraine, which had me running to the toilet to throw up. My legs were shaking uncontrollably, and I didn’t know how that was or was not related to the migraine. I immediately took my medicine and knew it would be hours before it would take effect. I woke Darin and asked him what we were going to do. I couldn’t walk out of the hotel room. I could barely stand without vomiting. Would we have to cancel the workshops today?

My initial thought was Darin wasn’t prepared, because he hadn’t been involved in the prep. Although he’d heard the concepts before, I assumed he wouldn’t be comfortable teaching. Darin’s reply was, “Either you’re coming with me or not? Either way, the show will go on!”  I trusted him and Brigitta to carry on.

I laid in bed for hours wondering how the dynamic duo was doing. Later in the morning, Darin texted me photos of the crowd and said all was well, very well. I exhaled a big sigh of relief and felt feelings of worry leave my body! I used my quiet time to pray. God boldly gave me a message:

Leaders don’t do everything. They do what they can and ask others to do what they are called to do.

Oh boy, a statement right out of the leadership presentation I created. God was throwing my own words in my face. It’s true! I have to fight the tendency to do too much or lead too often. Darin and Brigitta made a great team to deliver the messages the parents, staff, and community came to hear. God made good use of my illness by sending a message I needed to hear—and hear strongly.

IMG_4304Before returning to the hotel, the team traveled to Monserrate—the highest point in Bogota and home to a church dedicated as a shrine. They saw the sun set over the city while singing praise and worship. I joined the team for dinner and informed Darin he was leading the next day’s presentation. I was going to follow as he and Brigitta had already created the formula for success.

Two key messages for the day:

  • It’s true that leaders don’t do everything. They do what they can and ask others to do what they are called to do.
  • I should take my own advice more often.

Conviventia Bogota Colombia Mission: Monday

Monday, July 30, 2018

Frankly, Monday was my most stressful day on mission because most of the day was spent in a collision of where I have no gifting or deep interest. First, I only speak a few words of Spanish, and second, my “gifting” does not include carrying out planned activities with preteen girls. I love and whole-heartedly support girl empowerment and development, but I’m not one to be in the thick of playing games, doing hair and make-up, singing songs, and making crafts. You can find me [as I have done] hosting a girls’ weekend retreat involving conversation, education, and debate of challenging life questions. When you couple crafting with my language barrier, I was not only out of my element but struggled to keep mentally engaged. I hope I faked it well enough, but I’m not taking a survey.

I’d heard that the day before was a struggle for some women because of the girls’ behaviors and less than half spoke Spanish. This morning the CDA staff and mission team discussed whether the retreat would be called off for the girls. The consensus was that boundaries were now defined, consequences communicated, and the team had a detailed plan of engagement for the day. The girls’ retreat would press on!

We showered the girls with love and the translators did a great job keeping everyone informed of what was going on. Near the end of the retreat, as the girls were creating their “positive word” shirts, each where given the opportunity to go off in private with two of the mission women to ask for prayers.

I was privileged to hear Sally’s story which broke my heart. [Her name has been changed to protect her identity.] When we asked how we could pray for her, she immediately broke down sobbing. Sally shared her story of sexual abuse that started with her uncle. When Sally’s mother found out, she banished the uncle from their lives. Sally’s parents were divorced, her father lived hours away, and her mother had remarried many years ago and birthed another daughter. Her stepdad was sexually abusing her now. Despite Sally’s mother repeatedly asking her, she didn’t have the courage to tell her mother the truth. Sally didn’t want to ruin her mother’s happiness. She felt she had no one to tell that could help her. She could not tell her father for fear he would kill her stepfather. Sally could go live with her father but that would mean leaving behind all her friends. I felt helpless. We prayed for her to have the courage to make a decision that would take her out of the abuse: (1) tell her mother, or (2) go live with her father.

Sally’s story was the catalyst to remember my own childhood story of sexual abuse and how blessed I was that my story ended so differently. When I was ~ 11 years old, a friend’s father molested me. I had the courage to tell my mother, who protected me by avoiding this man at all costs. My incident was a one-time event and outside of the immediate family. With a country limited in child protection services and the abuse taking place by an immediate relative, I was at a loss for words to share with Sally. We prayed for peace during this demonic storm and for her stepfather to stop his abuse.

Tenjo House had an interesting history with its use as a temporary home for kids rescued from abusive situations. It was operated by CDA as part of their missional outreach. Pastor Carlos led its operations, and the goal was to eventually return kids to their families. When the government became involved, CDA was forced to close when they refused to drop its Christ-focused program.

Monday on mission was certainly an emotional day on many levels and much different than Sunday, when my primary focus was leadership training with the church staff. I took away several messages from my day with the girls:

  • Mission will take you places you’d rather not go and put you in situations you’d rather not be
  • The test of your character is not when it’s easy but when it’s hard
  • Someone always has it more difficult than you—you just may not be aware of it
  • Difficult circumstances may not necessarily grow you, but they can certainly change your perspective
  • Learning conversational Spanish must become my priority

Although this wasn’t the day I would have planned, I do love every day on mission because of how it stretches me, challenges me, and teaches me. I wouldn’t have changed this day.

Conviventia Bogota Colombia Mission: Sunday

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The first outreach was for the team to host a 2-day retreat at Tenjo House for 16 girls and 16 boys, so they could take a break from their normal lives and have the team encourage, empower, and share the love of Jesus with them. These hand-picked 11- to 13-year-olds were struggling in life, and needed love, a different perspective, and hopefully a deeper relationship with Jesus. While the team focused on camp activities with the kids, Darin and I, along with our dear friend and Spanish translator, Brigitta, were whisked away by car to a remote community to invest in a small church staff with leadership and evangelism training.

As we slowly navigated the dirt roads in the small community, we wondered where Conviventia was taking us? How safe were we? Eventually our car stopped in front of what appeared to be a store front with doors that opened wide to reveal a stage and pulpit. We had arrived early to Iglesia Christiana Lugar De Encuentro Con Dios (LED), where LED Pastor Alvaro Virviescas was still preaching his Sunday sermon. An usher motioned for us to sit in the front row. We were more comfortable viewing the stage from the back of the church as we waited for Pastor Alvaro to finish his message.

When asked to use a restroom, I was led up the staircase into the Sunday school class and out a door onto a second story patio, where a shed was built that housed the toilet. Women were cooking food in the classroom and smiled, probably wondering: “Who are these people?”

IMG_0417Returning to my white plastic chair, our group waited in the open doorway until the service ended before taking the stage. Darin stood outside playing hand-slap games with the kids as the Spanish sermon continued. After the service, the parents and kids circled around us, shaking our hands, saying “hello”, and asking lots of questions. With Brigitta translating, we asked and answered questions about us, our family, America, and the big state of Texas.

The soda and bowl of egg/cheese stuffed arepas were put out for the congregation so they could socialize, drink, and eat. Yum! I loved how the church was not just about the service but about the community.  Eventually the families dispersed, and the church leadership remained to hear what we had to share on leadership.

Our main leadership focus was to define leadership, describe leadership gifts, and discuss how to apply them for the benefit of the Kingdom. Our hope was the church leadership would come away knowing that…

…everyone is leader, because everyone has influence!

Because we were able to describe leadership in tangible ways (visionary, strategic, tactical, team-building, etc.) and share critical skills for success, the staff expressed eagerness to apply these concepts. We also framed leadership in a Biblical context—servant leadership. In cultures of material poverty, I believe servant leadership can be difficult to put into practice as many people struggle with daily survival. Leaders tend to become defined by title, status, or position and not necessarily by the condition of their hearts. I could tell these people were thirsty for leadership.

IMG_6574After our discussion, CDA Pastor Carlos spent an hour training the church leadership in the interactive 3-Circles tool for evangelism. Little did we know that Pastor Carlos had another persona—Charlie the Clown—a character who loves to perform magic tricks while sharing The Gospel. Our message and time spent together was warm and welcoming. We hoped to see many of the leaders again when we returned to the community later in the week for the medical outreach.

IMG_0421This was our first opportunity to take leadership training outside America, and I can honestly say I could travel the world helping people become better leaders. Several messages I took away from my day in the mission field:

  • Don’t underestimate the impact you have on other people when you just show up
  • Be generous with your time, talents, and treasures, because you make people feel valued
  • Put yourself in uncomfortable situations, because you’ll always learn something
  • Lead with your spiritual gifts and see how people respond when they know you care