Read Part 1 here.
Read Part 2 here.
Read Part 3 here.
After our adventures in Medellin we flew to a town called Barranquilla for a week’s stay. Barranquilla is a coastal town which served as a respite from the downtown city life we had just experienced. We were to meet other church families in the area and were staying in a hotel near the beach on the Caribbean Sea. We were there for a few days exploring the city when we were invited to attend a worship service about 30 minutes drive from our hotel. We arrived to a small apartment and had a wonderful time with the church. The real excitement started upon our departure.
Someone had called the taxi company to order cars to take us back to our hotel. The word was put out that “Americans” needed rides and by the time we left the apartment, the street outside was packed with around thirty taxis. Fights were breaking out among the drivers as they all vied for the fares. We quickly jumped into cars, three of us and one Colombian per car for a total of four taxis. We recognized we were the problem and it was best that we left quickly. The trip was swift as a result of the excitement of our driver and my taxi was the first car to arrive back at the hotel. We exited, paid the driver, and waited in the lobby for the rest of the cars expecting them to arrive shortly. Half an hour went by before the next taxi arrived and as it pulled up the back seat was empty.
Our Colombian friend got out of the front seat of the taxi in a mental haze and speaking really quickly in Spanish. We paid the driver who promptly left, hoping to avoid any connection to the story that was about to be told. We were able to find a translator and our friend calmed down enough to tell us why he had arrived alone.
The taxi behind the one I rode in was full and trying to catch up to where we were, ahead of them. The driver, being 14 or 15 years old, was pretty excited that he had won the fare and was driving fast to prove his worth. In his eagerness, he came around a corner too fast and promptly rolled the car multiple times. The two Colombians in front had seat belts that protected them amid the flips. My three friends in the back seat had none and were seriously hurt. All three were rushed to the hospital. While our Colombian friend was telling his story the last two taxis arrived with the remainder of our team, minus Pastor Dave and the three involved in the accident. They filled in the gaps on what had happened.
In tense situations, humor can be a great stress relief. It really is a gift from God. We were concerned for our Colombian friend that he may have had a serious concussion. He was acting strange and we weren’t sure if it was due to adrenaline or head injury. He didn’t want to go to the hospital to get checked out because of the cost, so someone asked if anyone knew how to check for a concussion.
I’ve been known for taking more than a few hard hits in my high school football days. It’s not so much that I was an aggressive football player but more that I was an awkward, tall, skinny kid with less than optimal coordination. Some of my favorite times as a new father was watching my kids venture into taking unaided steps as they grew. Stephanie and I would sit back and chuckle as the kids would start to lean away from security and allow the weight of their huge heads to propel them forward. It’s hilarious. Kids learning to walk is really more about trying to keep their feet moving underneath them fast enough to keep up with their massive heads that solely dictate how fast they walk and in what direction. Similarly was my relationship to football, with my small frame and massive helmeted dome. For some reason my head always made it to the tackle before the rest of me did. As a result, I was well acquainted with the concussion protocol.
I asked someone for a flashlight with hopes to shine it in each eye of my Colombian friend to see if his pupils dilated together or independently. If the pupils don’t work as a team, that’s a sign that something is wrong. No one had a flashlight. The only light we could find was the flash from a camera. I paused as I mentally debated if the flash could be used for this. I also thought about what this would look like to a guy who I couldn’t communicate with. I weighed the options and decided in favor of looking like an insane person in order to make sure his brain wasn’t bleeding or swelling. My mind was made up and I jumped forward, put my hand vertically down his nose to separate his fields of vision and started flashing the camera light in one of his eyes. I stifled a laugh as I mimicked the classic defensive hand-to-the-face move I had seen the Three Stooges use so many times as a kid. My friend had no idea what was going on. He sat terrified and paralyzed as I stood over him with a smirk, flashing the camera in his face. He kept his distance from me for the rest of the trip. Things just weren’t the same between us after that. I’m convinced that he still tells the story of the tall crazy white guy that randomly and crazily took multiple pictures of his eyes after the car accident. For the record, the camera flash didn’t work.
In due time the remainder of our team showed up to the hotel. One guy had a broken shoulder blade. His wife had a broken arm. Another guy had a neck brace on and I believe a broken collar bone. We were one rough-looking crew, but we were alive. We spent the rest of our time truly resting from the prior adventures and tried to process all God had done. There was a lot to digest.
The day before we were scheduled to fly home we went down to the beach one last time. Our team was looking to purchase souvenirs for family back home and the vendors on the beach were anxious to provide trinkets. As I stood looking at some necklaces I heard a both familiar and unfamiliar voice behind me.
I turned around to see an overweight, middle aged white man with a cowboy hat and a southern accent. Surprised I asked him where he was from. I hadn’t met anyone else from the States since we left Miami. He said he was from Texas and had been in Colombia for a long time. The conversation took a quick turn for the awkward when he told me he had been living in the hills because the cocaine was so good up there. He offered to hook me up with a contact if I wanted to bring some home. I politely declined his offer, told him I was in Colombia with a church group and wished him a good day. By the time we walked the 10 minutes back to the hotel we were told that the Secret Service had just left from searching our rooms. At this point I was ready to go home.
The next morning we packed up to head to the airport. I took extra care in checking everything to make sure no illegal substance was planted in my luggage. The flight home was uneventful and we arrived to friends and family greeting us at the airport.
To say that this trip was adventurous is an understatement. But, it’s also not the most important part of the story. To see people dedicated to furthering God’s Kingdom so fearlessly and with so much love was inspiring. Although I’ve never been back to Colombia I know I have brothers and sisters there who would sacrifice everything for the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m forever grateful to God who takes us on these adventures and allows us to see a way to live that is so countercultural to how the world works today. I pray for them often and I hope they do the same for me. I look forward to someday hearing the stories of what God did through their lives as they responded to His goodness and His calling.
I’m also thankful to a God who pushes us out of our comfort zones. I find the more comfortable I am, the more complacent I become. It’s in the moments of fear and uncertainty that I find my faith grows. He leads us deeper into the unknown to grow us more into the men and women He wants us to be; a people who trust fearlessly.
I left the United States full of fake confidence and insecurity. I landed back in the United States with a deepening trust in God and His plan for my life. He invited me into His story and was telling it through my life. I was hooked. To be used by God is addicting.