In May of 1988 an older brother in the Lord, Erskine Holt, who had experienced the Latter Rain movement, invited us to accompany him on his next trip to Colombia, South America. He had spent over 25 years ministering in Colombia: helping establish churches, encouraging and blessing the saints. We had always desired to spend time with those who have known Him for so many years and thought this might be an answer to prayer. As we sought the Lord, He told us to go. Were we ever excited! We invited a young woman, Holly, who had just graduated from high school, to accompany us. We left for Colombia in June never expecting all that He would say and do.
Deborah and Holly experienced our first miracle in Colombia: for the first few days the Lord gave them both understanding and fluency of the native tongue! We were amazed and blessed at their miraculous ability to communicate so easily. Though this eventually wore off we were elated with new confidence to tackle deeper communication and establish personal relationships that have endured to this day.
At the first church we visited, just as Erskine was being introduced, he turned to me and said that he had been preaching here for 25 years and now it was time for me to preach. I immediately went into a state of shock! 2,000 people expecting to be ministered to by a man they so highly esteem because of the sacrifice of love that he had poured out, and they were about to get me, a country boy from the hills of Vermont. In submission to the Lamb and this servant of His, I stepped up to speak. My knees were shaking, the Holy Spirit fell and its all recorded in heaven. That Sunday morning began 5 fruitful years of labor with and among the Colombians.
On this first of many journeys to this country on the equator, I preached, and preached, and preachedmost days at least 3 times! As I never learned Spanish, I worked with a translator, Octavio Moreno. Octavio had attended Bible School with Erskine and they were old friends. Octavio and his wife Gloria became some of our closest friends in Colombia and their home became our home over the next five years as we traveled back and forth from the United States to Colombia. Octavio has fathered so many churches in Colombia that only the books of heaven can record them. He truly has treasure awaiting him when he departs this life for his eternal home with the Father.
We had no knowledge of what life was really like in a third world country and this opportunity opened our eyes and hearts to these people. Most people are so poor it is easy to speak about Jesus to them. They have so little and Jesus gives them hope and a promise for a futurenot in riches, but a future in heaven.
In this deeply Catholic country we were surprised at the response to the word of the Lord through us. One area that won much of the youth was our worship of Jesus, fruit of our devotion, though immature, to Him. Because of this, they wanted to know Him the same way. We had brought a few songs that we had translated into Spanish and used those as well as some of our songs in English. The young people literally swarmed us after meetings and wanted to learn the songs so they could use them to worship. They were great at praising the Lord but had not yet entered into the worship of Love they desired. It was very exciting to see their hunger for Jesus usher them more deeply into His Presence!
One very strategic event that happened on this first trip was meeting two Colombian brothers in the Lord who were called by God to evangelize their own country. They had been working together for a while and had radio programs as well as public meetings to preach the gospel to their fellow Colombians. One was a white Colombian with dual citizenship in Colombia and the United States. His name is Russel Stendal. The other was a native Colombian named Ricardo Trillos, who, unknown to us, constantly carried a tape recorder he used to tape people speaking English so he could learn our language. They had heard through word of mouth that we Americans were in Bogotà and wanted to meet us. We gathered at Octavios home and then they took us to meet Russs wife, Marina, and his family. There we talked for a long time with Russ interpreting for us. As we were beginning to leave Russ and Ricardo asked us to pray for them. All of a sudden the spirit of prophecy fell and I began prophesying over the two concerning what the Lord was calling them to do. It was a powerful word. A few years later we learned just how timely that word had been for them and how amazingly accurately God had fulfilled it. Unknown to us, Ricardo had taped the prophecy and played it on radio stations all over Colombia as it came to pass. Because of this, we unwillingly became quite well known.
As we traveled throughout the country I became quite ill from the water. After spending several days hanging onto and over a toilet I told Octavio to change my tickets because I was going home tomorrow. He went off with my tickets and came back and said they couldnt be changed until the following week. All I wanted to do was quit and go home. I know now that my tickets could have been changed but Octavio knew that I needed to grow up in order to fulfill His purpose for me in Colombia. I will always be grateful that Octavio saw past my spoiled American attitude and didnt let me run. Since overcoming that trial the Lord has given me His Grace to cross cultures as easily as walking across the street. If I had gotten my way well, who knows, but it sure would have been another long trip around the learning mountain of the Lamb.
Every place we ministered, from Bogotà to Medellin, invited us to return. We ended the journey with a brief stay in Cartagena to debrief with our new Colombian friends Octavio and Gloria. They were very expressive of the need for us to return and teach the churches the things God had taught us, particularly about eldership and worship. We promised to pray and to keep in touch.
When we returned life got back to normal: busy. Thats how it is when a group of people are living their lives out together in Him, laboring side-by-side proclaiming the Good News. As we didnt have any particular desire to travel, Colombia sat on a back burner occasionally heating up as we would share stories and look at photos of our first trip.
In December of 1988 we received a Christmas card from Octavio and Gloria. It simply said John, we need you. When we shared this with our home church here in Morrisville, Vermont, everyone prayed and agreed that God had opened this door for us and that we needed to be faithful. We did not know that one trip in June would be the beginning of many extended journeys to Colombia over the next five years.
We began to bring teams down to Colombia at least twice a year to continue teaching, preaching and worshiping with these people who had become very dear to us. On the first return trip we asked Octavio to take us out to the country to meet more of his churches in their out-stations. We wanted to touch the people right where they were, in their own environment and stay with them, not in hotels. He prayed about it then made arrangements for us to travel all together. Of course, we had no idea what we were getting into but Gods grace was more than sufficient and we had a wonderful time meeting with these poor people, eating with them, praying with them, worshiping with them. We even slept in hammocks on the back porch of one family high up in the Andes, at other times they were strung up between trees, wherever we had opportunity to preach and live the Good News among the Colombians. The hammocks were a new experience for us and to this day we still laugh saying, those were the best nights sleep we never got. The spirit of the Lord is One, no matter where we go on this planet and we discovered that in a very personal way. Also, we were more than blessed as we traveled and took in the exotic countryside and mountains.
Back in Bogotà, I taught a week long seminar on biblical eldership. On subsequent trips I continued to expand on the subject and each time we brought a new team with differing gifts and talents to minister with us. Every trip God did amazing things and knit us closely with many individuals and families. We did much equipping on these journeys. It was always a joy to evangelize, however the equipping of the saints produces fruit to this day.
On one trip I was invited to preach the Word at a Roman Catholic lay training school. As I was speaking the priest began to weep as the Lord gave me words of knowledge that went right into his spirit. His church had over 10,000 people attending, academic and vocational schools, day care, etc. He was a shepherd who loved his people and had come under much persecution because he simply wanted more of Jesus. I will never forget that day as the Lamb began to break down my prejudices toward Roman Catholic priests as this godly man wept in my arms. We were extended an open invitation to speak in all the churches in his diocese. He has His servants everywhere.
Many times we evangelized in the barrio park or took the church youth to a family vacation compound where we fellow-sheeped, worshiped and taught in the midst of a very relaxing atmosphere. Sometimes we hiked up to a mountain village of coffee growers and shared more of the Good News and lived among them for a few days. We made many close friends some of whom traveled to the USA and lived with us for a time.
We ministered in Colombia during the drug wars of the late 80s and early 90s. It was a dangerous time for North Americans to be there. One drug lord had issued a $10,000 bounty for the head of anyone from the USA. One night we were attacked on the way from the airport by a number of men. Shots were fired and they managed to get the rear door to our vehicle open, however, His hand always delivered us! Communist guerrillas came to a meeting demanding money for my protection. Another time they showed up in full military attire looking pretty scary to this country boy. At times we would have to pay money to the police to cross a checkpoint as a fine for not having the proper papers. We never seemed to have the papers that they wanted although we had them all. These were poor people trying to survive and although it was an offense to some, we blessed them all in the name of name of Jesus and they always had to listen to our testimony first!
During another of our trips a leading drug cartel blew up the DAS (Colombias FBI) building in Bogotà. One the the vehicles we were traveling in had the windshield blown out from the percussion of the blast. Our driver was only slightly cut. Some of our team were worshiping together at the time and ceiling tiles fell onto empty guitar cases, missing people and instruments alike. The mushroom cloud from this explosion could be seen for miles!
On another journey we were caught on foot in the middle of a 250,000 person protest over the slaying of a Presidential candidate by a drug cartel. Military vehicles and personnel were everywhere. We managed to leave the area very easily, as if being led through the crowds by the Lord Himself or His ministering angels!
The stories go on and on yet the one story that remained the same was that our lives were in His hand. If He wanted us to minister to the guerrillas we would have been easily kidnapped as one of our friends was. If He wanted us to depart for our Eternal home we would have. His plans are His and His alone.
After fives years, the Lord closed the door to us and we were not able to return to Colombia for several years. It had been getting increasingly difficult to travel within Colombia because of the guerrillas who were always looking for a way to get money to fund their operations. Because they would commonly kidnap a white American for ransom Octavio became quite anxious about our safety. We were not able to return again with a full team until 1997. That trip was cut short for Deb and myself when we received news that Deborahs dad had unexpectedly died. But the team with us stayed on and finished the missionary journey which included traveling to Lima, Peru for a week to minister among some Christians we knew there who had invited us to come.
We always arrived home totally exhausted, fully poured out, yet elated in spirit. Its always wonderful to obey the Lord, whether He sends us to a foreign country or to our neighbor. He is the one who will have all the glory.
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20 BACK_TO_TOP