Read Part 1 here.
The Colombian church was fairly new and attracted a lot of younger people. Part of my role on the trip was to be the worship leader. I brought a guitar along with me and invested my time connecting with the Colombian worship leader at the church. It didn’t take long to recognize he was a very gifted guitar player, of which I was not. However, what we did have in common were the songs. They took English worship songs from the U.S. church and translated them into Spanish. We were able to play the same chords and sing the same songs, but in two different languages. I choked back tears as we went back and forth, from Spanish to English and back again. We played songs like “Light the Fire Again” and “Your Love is Better Than All Things.” We found our niche and would use it to witness to the people of Medellin in the coming days. We would communicate the good news of Jesus using music.
The next day our group of about 20 people walked down the streets of Medellin. We stopped on a corner and began playing a worship song. As the song was being played, we switched between English and Spanish lyrics. I got lost in the beauty and excitement of the moment only to open my eyes to a crowd of over 100 people. The pastor boldly stood on a box that he brought along and preached the good news of Jesus to the sea of onlookers. Then the police showed up.
It’s worth taking a second to clarify what the police force looked like in Colombia. There were no uniformly dressed officers with hats, badges, and sidearms. The police that showed up were guys younger than me carrying shot guns, automatic rifles. and often riding on dirt bikes. They were dressed like they were ready for jungle battle in uniforms that resembled more national military than local law enforcement. The police did not come across as a disciplined force.
Being one of the few responsible for gathering the crowd now seemed problematic. The police thought we were trying to elicit a riot and showed up in force with guns and dogs to disperse the crowd. I held my breath as an intense conversation played out in a language foreign to me between pastor and police. By God’s grace things de-escalated and we moved on.
At that point, I wasn’t really sure how to get back to the house. As we walked away I was certain we were headed home to gather ourselves, pat each other on the backs, and tell stories of how we literally and figuratively dodged the bullet. We walked for about 5 minutes and stopped at another corner. The worship leader looked at me, winked, and started playing again. “What? We’re doing this again?” I quickly came to the realization that these people took the truth of Jesus very seriously and were willing to be jailed or killed furthering God’s Kingdom in Medellin. Jesus said, “… I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven…” These people truly believed that nothing could hold Jesus’ Kingdom back and that they held the keys of His hope in their hands. What else could I do but play my guitar and sing as loud as I could.
DON’T LET MY LOVE GROW COLD. I’M CALLING OUT LIGHT THE FIRE AGAIN. DON’T LET MY VISION DIE. I’M CALLING OUT LIGHT THE FIRE AGAIN. I AM HERE TO BUY GOLD, REFINED IN THE FIRE. NAKED AND POOR, WRETCHED AND BLIND I COME. CLOTHE ME IN WHITE SO I WON’T BE ASHAMED. LORD LIGHT THE FIRE AGAIN.
Another crowd formed, another sermon preached, another round of police interaction. We moved on to the next corner and did it again. For the first time in my life I saw the potential cost of following Jesus and was inspired by these people we thought we had come to help. How wrong we were! The believers of Medellin had something far greater than anything we could offer: total trust in Jesus.
We walked home after the day’s end broken up into pairs in order to not attract further crowds. My adrenaline was still flowing from the events of the day as I walked with Marty, a pastor from Bellingham, WA. We had done a solid day’s work between the corner scenes, mimes, and visiting a hospital. At one point, I remember being on a train traveling across town and playing a guitar. It was fun and I was spent. As we walked back to the house Marty and I rehashed the adrenaline-packed events of the day.
I had the guitar that I carried slung across my back as we walked slowly down a side street along a section of abandoned store fronts. I imagined this road used to be a popular place to shop five years prior but it was now fairly empty. Marty was telling a story and I looked up occasionally to ensure we were still within eye sight of the duo we were following back to the house. During one of those glances I happened to lock eyes with a Colombian man walking toward us. The look in his dark brown eyes was pure hatred, the kind of look that makes you shudder. It was terrifying and shook me to the core. He either hated Americans, wanted my guitar or something worse. His look didn’t sit right and I couldn’t shake it. I needed to keep an eye on this guy but I wasn’t really sure how to do so without being painfully obvious. We walked on the right side of the road and I was to the right of Marty. I quickly realized that I could fairly easily see the reflection of what was happening behind us in the store windows across the street. I was positioned perfectly to observe the scene as it unfolded. I saw the image in the window of the man walk about ten strides past us, reach behind his back and pull out a knife as he turned around to follow us.
I didn’t know what to do. Marty continued a story I was no longer listening to. My heart raced as I kept watching the man in the reflection close the distance between us as we now walked the same direction. My blood went cold as adrenaline pumped through my system getting ready for the inevitable fight-or-flight response. As every second passed our pursuer gained a couple steps on us. Our ability to react was diminishing. All I could think to do was two things. First, I prayed.
Lord please let this not be happening right now. Please stop this guy.
Second, I reached over and unstrapped the guitar that was across my back. I was at least a head taller than this guy which didn’t mean much since I wasn’t a fighter and he had a knife. However, I did have a guitar and could defeat him with the power of music, or I could just hit him in the head with it. I decided to plant my foot, turn around and smash this guy with the guitar. The idea of how bad it might look for a tall white guy to be in active combat with a Colombian on the streets of Medellin didn’t cross my mind. He was about two steps away. It was now or never. My heart raced as I planted to turn only to watch him simultaneously stop, turn around, put his knife back and walk away. The potential energy of the moment dispersed. Marty looked at me confused as to why I stopped walking. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. Jesus also said, “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” He was going to build His church and the gates of hell would not be able to hold it back because He was going before us and protecting us. What more could we ask for? I re-strapped my guitar and continued walking back to the house with Marty none-the-wiser to what had almost just happened.