Saturday, January 31, 2015

DAY 5 PART 2 - FESTIVAL VIDA DAY 2

The second day of Festival Vida proved to be just as alive with activity as the first.  As we arrived at the city square early that afternoon, it was already brimming with activity.  Feeling fully recovered from my little episode earlier that morning, I quickly brandished
my camera and went right to work.  But not before receiving a stern warning from Mafe about staying hydrated.  She made it her personal mission to see I was provided a steady supply of water-bags throughout the afternoon.

As per Day 1, much of the story is visual.  Here's a sample of my findings:






As I mulled about square, I came across a man sitting on some steps around the parameter of the plaza.  As my eyes wandered in his direction, I did a double take.  For some reason he looked familiar.  Before I was able to move on his gaze met mine, eliciting a friendly smile from the both of us.  So, I walked up to him to say hello.  By the time I stood in front of him, I had come to realize that this was the same man I saw the day before roaring and shaking the barricade in front of the stage.  Mildly intimidated, I greeted him and asked him his name.  "Carlos," he said warmly through a bright smile. 

It was then I noticed in him the same striking feature I saw in the woman the day before, after she had been delivered from a demon.  Carlos' eyes seemed to sparkle with life.  They had such a palpable lightness to them and seemed to sing with a joy and peace previously unbeknownst to their owner. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent documenting the art installations we had set up through the square.  Some amazing talent in the local artists who contributed:



As evening began to fall, I conscripted Mafe and Janice to help me find a vantage from one of the surrounding buildings in order to take an aerial shot of the festival.  We had tried this the day before to no avail, but there were a few more high-rises we hadn't tried.  So we ventured on. 

Success was finally found at a building to the back right of the stage.  It wasn't the best angle but we gave it a shot anyway.  As we walked into the apartment lobby to ask the receptionist if there was a way we could access the roof.  A man that looked in his early 30's informed us that he was one of the residents and could let us have access to the balcony on his floor.

I cannot remember the man's name for some reason, (likely due to the fact that I'm still writing this recap 6 months removed from the trip) but he was quiet and kind.  He lead us up to the balcony and I proceeded to take some shots of the plaza.  Though the angle wasn't the best, God seemed to have us up there for a different reason. 

After getting the shots I needed, I felt I should ask our chaperone a bit about his relationship with God.  This shouldn't have come as too big a surprise to him considering we had explained that we were missionaries earlier in our conversation.  Either way, he paused for a moment as the question hung in the air.  Rather matter-of-factly, he eventually explained that he felt distant from God.  He implied that he believed in Him, just didn't feel a closeness with Him.

I was quick to explain to the man that I understood that feeling, but such a perceived distance is something that can be bridged simply by taking the initiative to engage God.  I proposed that God is always right there with him and has been.  I then asked the man if he'd like to pray to God and ask to restore that closeness that  the man had hinted at having at some point prior.  He said yes.  So I then asked if he would like to pray himself, or if he'd rather me lead him.  Given his quietness, I was surprised to hear him say that he was comfortable praying.  And just like that, we huddled together and bowed our heads. 

A few seconds went by, and the man remained silent.  "He must be nervous,"  I thought.  About ten more seconds, and still nothing.  At this point I began wondering if something was lost in translation.  After another prolonged bout of awkwardness, I quietly asked one of the girls to see if he was still okay with saying the prayer.

 "Oh, he says he is praying," was what came back to me. 

Heh, guess I never did specify that I intended the prayer be out loud.  "Oh good!  Can you ask him if he wouldn't mind praying aloud so that we can come along side him in prayer?" 

He didn't seem to have any qualms about the request.  So we joined him as he humbly and sweetly asked God to rekindle their relationship.  As we closed in prayer, I was left with a sense of realness in how simply the man approached the whole interaction.  His words were nothing profound or impassioned, he just simply spoke his mind to God.  There was a  practicality and dutiful nature to his prayer that I really appreciated. 

As we rode the elevator down,  we thanked the man for going out of his way to let some strangers take pictures on his floor.  Nearing the ground floor, I felt compelled to leave the man with a Bible verse.  Since we used the word "God" a lot and not so much, "Jesus," in our conversation, I felt like I should specify the reason we can have a restored relationship with God in the first place.  So, I shared Romans 10:9 with him.  (To better convey the gravity of this particular event, just know that I am terrible at remembering references for scripture.) 

"If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."  Romans 10:9 [NIV]

He seemed to receive it well.  And after saying goodbye to our hospitable friend, we were back out into the action of the festival. 

Here's the view from the balcony by they way:


The night continued much like the night before.  Lots of singing, dancing… art-ing.  There was even a marriage proposal!


The plaza was swelling to capacity when time came for Scott to give the Gospel message.  Again, like the day before, hundreds of hands shot up signaling new, budding relationships with Christ as Scott implored the crowd to see the love and life that lay before them; offered only by the person of Jesus. 

As the volunteers dispersed into the crowd, and as prayer for healing and restoration began wafting over the plaza, I decided to abandon the stage for a bit and walk amongst the people.  As I went, I prayed.  I prayed for the people around me, the people of Armenia.  Something beautiful was happening and I wanted every single soul there to realize it.  I wanted them to catch hold of what has come to shape the entirety of my life, and the lives of countless others who've experience the unfathomable love and freedom found in the sacrifice of Jesus. 

As I passed face after face adorned with tears and expressions of worship, I came upon a rather portly, weathered looking older gentleman.  Covered in dirt and carrying what seemed to be all he owned with him, his appearance made no effort to subdue the joy I saw beaming from from behind a plume of wiry, white whiskers.  A volunteer was at his side already, so I decided to come along the other. 

I put my hand on he man's shoulder and he wrapped his hand around by ribs and drew me in tight and shouted out in a booming voice, "Alleluia!! Alleluia!!" 

I joined in.  "Alleluia!! Alleluuuuia!!"   

Even as I write this, I can still feel the fervent grip of that man's hand pressing into my side. 

Soon after, I made my way back over to the stage entrance.  There I was met by Jerryl and a small troop of kids.  She informed me that they were from the neighborhood we had been ministering to that morning!  One of them asked for prayer of their hurt ankle, so I obliged.  I makes my heart so happy thinking of those kids enjoying the festival hand feeling God's love that night.  My hope is that each one of them carry it back into their neighborhood and become the generation that changes the reputation of Simon Bolivard. 

The time of prayer soon transitioned right into a performance by Nathan Ironside and the Stirring.  This time Nathan himself was there to front the band.  They were amazing!  Again, the worship was infectious and I was soon bounding around the stage, drinking in the atmosphere. 






Finally, the night, and the entire event, was capped off by a very special performance.  A band from a local church -- of which many of its members played pivotal roles bring the whole festival together -- performed praise and worship songs to close out the festival.  Joining them was a man and his wife who are local instrument makers.  Both of them are Christians and each year they host a folk festival for the city and surrounding area.  The man had met Scott earlier that year, and revealed that it was his dream to host a large-scale festival and play his music in front of thousands.  He and his wife were ecstatic to hear Scott's plans for Festival Vida and agreed to sponsor the event.  Now they were living their dream -- playing and worshiping along side the region they've poured so much of their hearts into over the years.

As the band played, our whole team gathered at the back of the stage behind the equipment.  There we stood worshiping along side our comrades on stage and the thousands in the plaza before us.  As I hopped up and down, singing my heart out along side my Evoke family, I was met with the fullness of what we had all just been a part of.  I cannot think of a more real moment than that half hour spent behind those amps and cabinets.  It was there I got a glimpse of the richness of the things God calls us to be a part of.  It was there I believe I got a glimpse of Heaven. 

Every person involved in Festival Vida, whether I had known them for years, or were just meeting them that night, felt like family in that moment.  It was sheer joy being able to praise God and share his love along side these men and women.  I cannot thank God enough for allowing me to be a part of such a deeply rich experience.  He really loves us, and He really wants to do amazing things in a through us.  All he's looking for is a willingness.  Even if it's the tiniest sliver of an opening, God will come pouring in and you'll see that He is so, so good.  And His work is truly life-giving.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

DAY 5 PART 1 - BLOCK PARTY


Day Five brought with it the second day of Festival Vida -- meaning a similar schedule as the day before lay ahead.  However, since the city provided over night security for our setup in the plaza, a morning that would have been spent re-installing all the exhibits, was now freed up for us to travel outside the city to throw a mini version of Festival Vida in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Armenia. 

So after breakfast, we loaded up into a bus and were off to Simón Bulevar.  However, by the time I found my seat, I was not feeling so hot.  I started getting really clammy and was overcome by a general sense of nausea.  I asked Jim if I could have the window seat, though given Armenia's apparent intent of leaving a Bigfoot-sized carbon footprint, I could hardly say I was getting some fresh air. 

By the time we had arrived and unloaded, I could barely walk without feeling like I was going to pass out.  Some of the team led me to a strip of grass near the front of the neighborhood where tents and a stage had already been set up.  If I had not experienced almost this exact same feeling earlier in the summer during a camping trip, I would have probably been a lot more concerned.  That didn't change the fact that I was lying there, debilitated, in a FARC-run slum in the middle of Colombia, South America.



Notice the horse in the far left.



The Government provided security.  Though I was told the police normally stay out of these types of neighborhoods because of the FARC.  Note: The horse moved.

While the rest of the group went off to go door to door and evangelize/invite people to the festival, Scott stayed back with me as I downed a water bottle and sat nursing my current state.

Of course, as my 5 year old's excuse for a bladder would have it, soon enough I had to pee.  Enabled by the hospitality of one of our volunteers, I was offered up a bathroom in one of the nearby abodes, to which I feebly shuffled.  As I made my way up to the row of houses behind the festival area, I remembered Antonio saying that running water was not a guarantee in this particularly poor neighborhood, so I prepared myself for the worst.  Upon entering the house, what I found was a brightly colored little foyer with 70's themed couches and what was essentially a stall door situated at the beginning of a hallway.  While Scott and the homeowner sat conversing on the couches, I did my best to pry the plywood door open from its too-tight threshold.  Once inside, I was relieved (in more than one way) to find a familiar white-porcelain face staring up at me. 

After being as discreet as I could behind a door that only came down to my knees, I was soon back to the festivities outside.  But not before joining Scott in praying over the unborn child of one of the family members in the house, (per her request, of course). 

I soon found a comfy spot on the curbside where I continued my recovery.  As I sat there observing the droves of people drawn out by the festival, one thing became abundantly prominent: almost every kid I saw had a dog!  Some pulled them along on ropes, while others seemed to have them trained to run freely along side them, while still others simply fireman-carried them between destinations.  They all seemed to pay me no mind as they poured into the tented area behind me, though one dog did take a passing snap at my face -- so closely that I was showered with little flecks of slobber.  

After my time spent people-watching, small parties of Evoke members soon began returning from the far reaches of the neighborhood.  Thankfully, I was now feeling more like myself again and remember hearing plenty of amazing stories that came from the various homes the teams visited, but one that stuck out to me centered around Antonio's interaction with three young men he had come across hanging out in front of one of the houses. 

Each of them claimed to be part of the FARC and made some cheeky remarks about working for the Devil or something.  However, by the end of their conversation the lot of them had severely changed their tune, deciding they'd become ambassadors for God!  I even remember Antonio saying one of them stated he wanted to make it his goal to travel far and wide proclaiming the Gospel.

It never ceases to amaze me how outright hostility toward God can turn to allegiance so suddenly, and through something as simple as a seemingly spontaneous conversation.  I'm learning more and more how God honors boldness when Love is at the root. 

The rest of our time there was spent celebrating the people of that place.  Kids and adults alike received free haircuts, manicures and pedicures, basic dental hygiene supplies, and a whole lot of love and affection.  Along side such services, we also had dancers, a puppet show, face painting, live music, and more!  It really was a mini Festival Vida!



As things began to wind down, the Evoke team gathered by the main road to await our bus.  It was there I noticed Stephanie standing by herself next to a tree, so I went over to say hey.  However, when I arrived I found her stiffing tears. 

I asked what was wrong, and she proceeded to tell me about her interaction with a mother and her infant child from the neighborhood.  I remembered the woman and child she spoke of.  The baby was stinkin' adorable and the mother looked about the same age as Stephanie herself, so they had hit it off right away.  Stephanie was smitten from the get-go, holding the little girl for most of their conversation.  The mother opened up about how the father wanted nothing to do with the child and how she has no friends in the neighborhood.  The girl seemed so trapped and alone, it broke Stephanie's heart.  The three of them spent a good portion of that morning together as Stephanie encouraged the young woman. 

As their conversation began wrapping up, the mother suddenly looked at Stephanie and said flatly, "You should take the baby with you.  Please, take her." 

As Stephanie stood there, relaying to me how she had to explain to the woman that she couldn't do such a thing,  I witnessed how overcome she was by the gravity of the young mother's statement.  Even now, as I recount the conversation, I'm struck by how poignant a reality played out that morning.  It felt like that type of desperation was something only reserved for a movie scene, but to hear Stephanie explain how this woman was willing to give away her own child, likely never to see her again, so that she wouldn't know the desolation and despair found in that place -- found surrounding them on all sides in a home that imprisoned them with circumstance -- it awakened something in me.  But for a fleeting moment, the veil of privilege was lifted from my eyes and I was able to see how un-right this world really is.  I was able to see oppression from outside of the elementarily school definition I had been ascribing to the word. 

The mother and her little girl:


The mood of the moment suddenly shifted, however, when the booming of drums and ringing of chimes came spilling out from over the top of the hill.  Much to everyones surprise and delight, a small parade of school children came rolling down the street.  No one really seemed to know if the timing was intentional, or if the little battalion just happened to coincidently coincide with our festival day.  Either way, the whole spectacle drew smiles from all around.  A marching band, flag twirlers, banner carriers and adorable niños and niñas dressed in traditional garb, this parade had all the familiar trappings.  They even had some older kids dressed in clown-ware who passed out dried kernels of corns to the spectators (I didn't ask.) 


Shortly after the street had cleared, our bus finally arrived.  It was time to head back to town and prepare for the final day of Festival Vida!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

DAY 4 - FESTIVAL VIDA: DAY ONE


Alright, Day 4.  Festival Vida was finally upon us!  This meant an extra early start for we had a ton of setup to do.

As we approached the plaza that morning, we found it alive with activity.  A giant stage had been erected over night and acted as a hub for the seemingly countless techs and volunteers buzzing about the city square.  Every where I looked there were little pockets of brightly colored Festival Vida shirts setting up tables, assembling art installations, decorating the kids area or simply interacting with curious bystanders.  Our team immediately dispersed to help out wherever we could. 

Now, the best way I can describe all the activity of the day will be through pictures.  So here's your warning up front: this post will be very picture heavy.  Which will likely be a welcome relief given my tendency toward wordiness.

Our first salvo is the morning's setup:




As we were all running around that morning, a familiar face happened to stop by to check out the action.  It was Luis David! He approached Michael and Jerryl explaining that ever since he was prayed for the day prior, he's felt a sense of fullness.  He revealed that he had not done any drugs since meeting Michael and Sergio and felt the compulsion to turn his life around.  Again, he emphasized his deep desire for family.  Jerryl encouraged him, explaining that he has a Father in Heaven who loves him beyond measure.  They prayed over him again. 

During their prayer, Jerryl received the idea to introduce Luis David to Jorge!  Since Jorge had told us he was planning on helping out at the festival that day, things were shaping up perfectly.  So, once Jorge and his friends from the rehab program showed up at the plaza, she introduced them to Luis David.  She explained the situation, and Jorge was more than happy to invite the boy to have lunch with them.  The whole scene was a rich example of Godly exchange.  Jorge, a recent recipient of the transforming power of God's love, now pouring it right back into the very kind of desolation he was rescued out of. 

Before he ran to lunch, Luis David found Jerryl one more time and presented her with a necklace.  Jerryl was so touched by his act of kindness, she didn't know what to say.  He also mentioned that he saw one of the hand painted Jesus t-shirts that she makes, and would love to have one of his own.

Another encouraging story to come out of that morning centered around a man named Carlos.  He had recognized us from last year's trip when we were ministering to the homeless under the bridge.  He carried with him a Bible, claiming one of our group members had signed it.  As to who it was, remained a mystery that morning, but that didn't stop the group from inviting him to help out with setup.  He was more than happy to oblige and parked his wheelchair around a big pile of fabric and began building streamers for an art installation.  He spent the entire morning and early afternoon laughing and sharing with some of the team members and volunteers.  All the while sporting a huge grin on his face.


Around 2pm, everything seemed to be shaping up enough for us to break for lunch.  It was well needed, because come three o'clock, it was going to be non stop until around eleven. 

Once the festival got underway, it was a story a minute.  I can't even begin to explain the half of what all went down that afternoon, but I do have pictures to help out:



It was almost surreal seeing all the work and planning that went into the vision of this festival finally realized.  The whole scene was leaps and bounds more spectacular than anything I could have imagined.  I mean, it was huge!  Thousands of people at any given moment were taking part in a celebration of God's hand being upon their city.  Though many may not have seen it that way or wanted to acknowledge it, that's why we were there --with loud, lively music, bright, expressive colors, and high flying acrobats and dancers, exclaiming it with inviting candor and joyous agreement.  

A few hours into all the action, the children's area was simply a sea of little painted faces, either bright with shouts of laughter or crinkled in exertion as they hurriedly drug their parent to the next game or activity.  The opposite end of the plaza was just as alive with an exhibit of acrobatics; a seriously impressive display of parkour, skating and BMX.  However, it was in the open space between the two arenas where I was soon met with a scene I've only heard about in books and by word of mouth.

As I was photographing the skaters and BMXers, Mafe came to me with a wide-eyed expression on her face.  "There's a woman who has a demon or something!  Come quick!"  She exclaimed, pulling me my by shirt over to a crowd of people right in front of the stage.

There lay a woman with an grimace on her face that seemed a mixture of anguish and helpless fear.  She was alternating between bouts of violent shaking and slow writhing.  A few of Evoke's team were attending to her and praying over her. 

I soon learned that the woman had met some our our team the first night of the trip when we were ministering to the homeless.  That afternoon, Michael saw her walking around the festival and approached her to say hello.  When she turned and locked eyes with him, she immediately fell over backward and began shaking.



The whole thing was drawing quite the crowd and the police where taking notice, so a group of us decided to carry the woman to the green room tent behind the back-stage barricade.

Sensing the gravity of the situation, I decided to leave the ones directly involved in praying over the woman to their work.  However, Nakeisha stayed with them in the tent and filmed the entire exorcism. 

Now, I use the word exorcism because that is the only way I can really describe it.  Like I said, I hadn't experienced anything like that before.  And from what I was later told about what happened in that tent, I believe that a demon had manifested in that woman that afternoon.  Nakeisha looked like a deer in headlights after the encounter.  I haven't seen the footage she got, but she kept explaining how the woman would just periodically start growling.  The whole scenario shook me up a bit, but I barely had time to acknowledge what I had just witnessed before another scene began unfolding. 

Again, another crowd tipped me off to something amazing happening.  I quickly pushed through bodies to find some of our team praying over Carlos in his wheelchair.  Inspired by the parkour acrobats, Carlos had apparently explained to Jerryl that he wanted to be able to do what they did.  So that's where I found them, praying for Carlos' ability to walk. 

From what I know, Carlos basically had no feeling in or control over his legs.  So as we continued to pray, two of our team members lifted Carlos from his chair and draped his arms over their shoulders.  Slowly and clumsily, Carlos began to lift his leg to take a step!  Showered in cheers and prayer, Carlos continued.  Each step came with more control and confidence.  He must have walked about 15 feet from his chair before turning around to walk back!

Drawn by all the cheering, a woman approached us and knelt in front of Carlos with tears in her eyes.  She explained that she was a doctor and was once wheelchair bound herself.  She assisted Carlos this time as he took another stroll.  As he sat back down, she said some words to Carlos and began to take off his shoe.  It was during this interaction I captured one of the more powerful moments I've experienced to this day.


Throughout the remainder of the day, I would look over and see Carlos up from his wheelchair walking more and more confidently, requiring less and less assistance from others.  And though I never witnessed him walking completely on his own that day, (and trust me, I really, really wanted to) I have this sneaking suspicion that our team might just arrive in Armenia next year and have a kind, smiling face in a beige backward baseball cap come running right up to us.  Who knows, he might even do a front flip over a trashcan along the way. 

Soon enough, I was back to my routine of bouncing around from area to area.  As I was walking through the central part of the plaza, I came across the woman that I'd seen convulsing on the ground just a couple hours ago.  She had the most pleasant smile on her face.  She walked up to me and proceeded to speak very sweetly and kindly to me in Spanish.  I had no idea what she was saying but I smiled back as I reached for a translator.  Eventually, I found out she was telling me how much she loved the sound of English.  She also mentioned her love of French.  She gave me a hug and just simply had a sweetness about her.  As I leaned in to hug her, she even kissed me on the cheek.  Considering I was a former germ-a-phobe and the fact that she had just apparently had a demon manifestation earlier that afternoon, this kind of freaked me out a bit.  But I just kept reminding myself that Christ is in me, and where the Light exists darkness has to flee. 

Here's the woman after being restored.  


Once the sun began to dip behind the buildings and a substantial crowd has gathered around the stage to await the musical acts slated for the night, we invited a special guest to officially kick things off. 

Early on in the planning of the festival, Scott had received a word about the impact it would have on the city.  He was told that a sound would be released over the entire area, eliciting transformation and revival.  Believing this word, Scott decided to procure probably the only shofar player within 500 miles to open up Festival Vida.  The shofar was traditionally used in Jewish culture to call upon a people to assemble, and we thought such a sound could do the same for the city of Armenia. 

So, after a brief explanation from the shofar player, he bellowed out three long blasts.  On the third blast, the crowd let out a resounding cheer, hallmarking a corporate belief that their city would be transformed.


The musical acts got underway and the crowds continued to grow.  The whole plaza was simply alive.  Insomuch that it seemed even the outer reaches of the city were being pulled in by a perceivable air of celebration emanating from our little square. 

After a couple hours, Scott and Adolfo (one of the festival coordinators/translator) took the stage to thank everyone for coming out, and to share the vision of the festival as well as a Gospel message.  As soon as they began to speak, a man in the front row, who I had seen dancing his head off and having a ball just minutes earlier, suddenly let out the most primal roar I've ever heard.  He lunged forward and gripped the metal barricade in front of the stage and shook it so violently it looked as though he could have picked up the entire length of it and hurled it over his head.  Like a caged animal, he kept roaring and beating on the barricade in an attempt to get at Scott and Adolfo. 

Some of our team rushed to the scene immediately.  The crowd recoiled to give him space as he stepped back and turned toward those that were approaching him.  His head tilted downward, as he glared at the crowd from under his brow.  I was watching the whole thing unfold from atop stage left, as our team approached the man.  They began praying, attempting to address him.  He recoiled in defense a few times until someone was able to lay a hand on him.  He quickly collapsed to the cement and the team converged on him. 

This prompted another woman that was acting as his dance partner earlier, to begin screaming at our team, lashing out at them.  Nakeisha actually was punched in the camera at one point.  Antonio quickly went to subdue the woman.  Praying over her and attempting to calm her down. 

Scott and Adolfo continued to share the Gospel while all of this was going on.  And after what seemed like ten minutes had passed, I could still see a gap in the crowd where the man lay.  Close by, Antoino and the woman were now embracing; tears in the woman's eyes.  As the team continued praying over the man, they said that he would switch back and forth from a tense, combative scowl to a look of fear and helplessness, exclaiming "Ayúdame! Ayúdame!" ("Help me!  Help me!")

Eventually, the man was able to rise to his feet.  Though I was still on stage, I could tell he now had a district peace about him.  To the sound of applause, he embraced those who prayed over him.  He was eventually ushered over to an area behind the stage where Scott and his wife spoke with the man.  I don't know much of what went on in that conversation, but I do remember Scott saying that the man revealed that when he was being prayed over he felt like a voice was speaking to him, but he could explain what it was saying.

The remainder of the night felt like one big celebration of God's presence and victory.  We had musical acts of all kinds.  From hip-hop to rock, reggaeton to salsa.  The crowd was responsive to all of it.  Here's another picture essay to help out:









Toward the end of the night, Nathan Ironside's band (a former worship leader at Hillsong Church in Australia) took the stage.  However, Nathan's flight was delayed that night, so he wouldn't make it until the following night. 

Backed by the band, Scott and Adolfo called on those in attendance to open their hearts to Jesus.  My heart glowed within my chest as I witnessed countless people responding to the call.  Hundreds of volunteers poured out into the crowd to pray with and connect those that responded to local churches in the area.  It was beautiful; the looks of surrender and relief on so many faces shined like little beacons in the sea of people. 

We spent the night worshiping God to the amazing music put forth by Nathan's band.  I was bouncing and twirling about the stage as I photographed artist and audience in unabashed worship of their Lord and King.  It was one of the more real, life-filled moments I've ever experienced.  I remember jumping down to the space in front of the stage to photograph the crowd, and spotting a group of young men jumping up and down, laughing and shouting to the music.  They were expressing a freedom neither they or I could explain apart from what only the person of Jesus could provide.




In that group, there was one man in particular that stuck out.  One that I remember being somewhat hostile to the production earlier in the day.  One that I later saw being prayed for by one of the performers outside the greenroom.  He was now bounding with the best of them, tears streaming down his face and mouth wide open in shouts of jubilation. 

As things were winding down for the night, most of the Evoke team hung around the entrance to the green room, sharing stories and interacting with the festival goers and performers.  People would stop by for a picture with Scott and thank him for bringing such a festival to the city.

While I was wandering about the area right of the stage, I came across Luis David.  He was all smiles as he brandished his very own Jesus t-shirt!  It turned out, Jim's son, Tyler, was kind enough to give his own shirt, one Jerryl had made for him last trip, to Luis David.  Now, because of this selfless act of generosity, Luis David will have a clear and physical reminder of the new family he now has.

Monday, October 13, 2014

DAY 3 PART 2 - RECONSTRUCTIVE PROCESSES


After the surprisingly extensive process of de-makeuping, dinner was at hand.  We decided on an old favorite:  the curiously named and surprisingly delicious Kosher Pizza.  As we sat chatting, awaiting our slices, a wiry young man waltzed right up to our group with a big smile on his face.  Antonio let out a shout of joy right away.  "Alejandro!!"  he called. 

With a three-fold of brightly colored thread in his hand, Alejandro proceeded to bounce from team member to team member introducing himself while quickly fashioning around our wrists a bracket made out of the threads. 

As Alejandro went about the room, Antonio explained how he knew this young man.  He explained that they came across him a few trips back when the Evoke team was standing in the plaza where they first received the vision to host a festival there.  Through their initial conversation, Antonio learned that Alejandro was homeless and addicted to heroine.  The kid had a heart breaking story in which even his parents showed no concern for him.

As they continued to talk, a local pastor that was with the group chastised Antonio, saying that the kid was just looking for money and not to bother with him.  As the man began to shoo Alejandro away, Antonio was quick to rebuke the pastor.  He explained that these are the very people the pastor should be loving.  That instead of hurrying them away, he should be chasing after them. 

Fast forward a year or so, and Antonio runs into Alejandro again.  And the very same pastor who sat scolding the two of them last year, ends up leading Alejandro in a prayer to receive Jesus! 

Now, back to present time and the pizza shop.  Antonio is beaming as he compliments how healthy and fleshed-out his friend looks, letting us know how Alejandro no longer does heroine.  He even revealed that Alejandro hand knitted a bag for him, embroidering it with "Jesus Loves You."

Soon we said our thank-yous and goodbyes to our new friend, and quickly finished our pizza.   For we had a meeting to get to.  We wanted to connect with the artists who were participating in the festival and sure up any loose ends before things got underway the next day.  Luckily, our newly acquired Evoke: Colombia office was just across the plaza from where we were eating.

I had barely set foot outside the restaurant when I was engulfed by a wave of excitement and confusion.  "It's Jorge!  Jorge is here!"  I heard someone shout. 

"Wait, what?!  Like, Jorge, Jorge?"

"Yeah!  In front of the office!"


I ran over to a small circle of people gathered around an unassuming man with a buzz cut, white oxford shirt, classy-casual brown jacket, and a slight pot belly.  Jerryl was wiping tears from her eyes and Alexsa was smiling ear to ear as they flanked him.  As soon as he opened his mouth, I knew for sure it was him.  That New York accent was unmistakable. 

If you happened to have read last year's account, it's likely you know exactly who this is (though I mistakenly spelled his name, "George" in previous accounts.)  If not, I'll briefly explain the significance of this man and his being in front of us at this moment.

You see, we had met Jorge on last year's trip.  Homeless and hooked on a myriad of drugs, he had originally grabbed our attention by hailing us with his distinctly perfect English wrapped in a distict New York accent.  Before we even decided to hear him out, he was already explaining how Obama had deported him for selling drugs in the States, and how his wife and kids are still in the US, and how he has to wait ten years until he can get back in. 

After that night, we ended up crossing paths numerous times over the course of the trip.  Each time we would pray over him and encourage him, and each time he would be looking better and better.  He kept reiterating how he just wanted to be around us, and couldn't get the words we were saying out of his head.  And by the end of our trip, he told us he was going to have his uncle drive him to a rehab clinic.

Now, almost exactly one year later, the man we had met in the streets -- addicted to crack, dirty, smelly, with a cynical, defeatist attitude-- did not even exist as a shadow of the person who now stood before us.  He explained that he ended up checking into a rehab center shortly after we left last year.  While there, he decided to give his life to Jesus and has been looking forward ever since.  If I understood him correctly, he now works at the very program he attended; helping others struggling with addiction.  One of the men at the program is actually a contributing artist for the festival, so when he told Jorge that he was going to a creative meeting for an art festival hosted by some American missionaries, Jorge figured it had to be the same people he had met the year before and decided to tag along.

And there he was! 

That night, at the meeting, Jorge was our guest of honor.  It was such a great experience meeting all the eager artist; sharing laughs and a bit about ourselves.  However, my mind stood elsewhere for most of the meeting.  I was completely wrecked by the transformation I'd seen in Jorge.  I mean, nothing besides the accent even hinted at the man I had met last year.  However, when I think about it, almost everything I saw in the man I had met last year, seemed to be hinting at the person that stood before us that night.  The smiling, the joking, the hope disguised as sarcasm, the lightness with which he carried himself despite his destitute circumstances -- all betrayed a perceivable light behind his eyes that those in our group picked up on right away upon first meeting him in the streets that fateful evening.   

Now, one year later, that light was on full display for everyone to see.  Jorge's very existence had become a living testimony to a God that loved him enough to seek him out under the refuse and rubble under which he'd buried himself in an attempt to hide, and upon finding him, offered him a life completely new in it's entirety  -- one of hope, sustenance and ultimate purpose and satisfaction. 


After the meeting was over, many of us spent the remainder of the night listening to story after story of Jorge's new found relationship with Jesus Christ and how it has completely transformed his every day.   We almost hit the floor when Jorge relayed a story from sometime in the midst of his rehabilitation. 

One day, something had frustrated him to the point where he decided he was going to walk out on the program.  That very afternoon, while strolling along the streets, he came across Evoke's trip organizer from last year.  His name is George, and before Jorge had a chance to avoid detection, he was found out.  "Hey, I recognize you!  Aren't you supposed to be in that rehab program?"  Jorge recounted George saying.  "You better get back there!  The guys from Evoke will be coming back next year.  What would they think if they saw you back on the streets?" 

Jorge said that was enough for him to go back and finish the program.

WHAT!?

From the time I first saw Jorge that night, I was essentially hysterical.  I just remember not being able to sit still (hearkening back to the worship night from last year.)  However, I did manage to pull myself together enough to walk with Alexsa, Jorge and Alex, the artist who brought him there, back to the hotel.   On the way, Jorge bought us all a round of ice-cream -- the parody in this makes me smile now that I think about it. 

Once back at the hotel, some more teary eyed reunions with team members and more stories of triumph.  Oh, the stories Jorge has!  We huddled in the hotel lobby like old friends at a Christmas party, listening with grinning faces and heads shaking at the weight behind seemingly every sentence that leaped from Jorge's mouth.  He explained how he sees God move every day.  "In the small things."  He quipped.  "Some people look for a million dollars, I've got something better!  People think I'm crazy, they ask why I'm smiling all the time.  It's because I know where I came from." 

He explained how he was getting baptized that coming Sunday.  Every word he said seemed to be singing like a choir of angles, the glory of The One who redeems -- the one who says, "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  (Mat. 5:3)

As if to punctuate the night with affirmation of what we had seen behind those veiled eyes one year ago,  Jorge admitted he could hear his mother's voice speaking over him, "I told you you'd be something special!"

At the end of the night, we prayed together in one of the most beautiful family moments I experienced on the trip.  We prayed for Jorge, as well as his friend Alex.  And though I didn't to talk to Alex, per se, since he only spoke Spanish, his demeanor told me that he was deeply impacted by the love shown that night.  We all were.

What I learned from that night was that God is in the business of redeeming and transforming lives in the realest, most complete sense of the words.   And with that, I'll simply leave you with a side-by-side comparison of the Jorge we first met, and the Jorge we said goodnight to in that hotel lobby.