Tuesday, December 9, 2014


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


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


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.


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.    

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


The morning of Day 3 saw the addition of two new team members.  Scott's wife, Jackie and Sergio, our DJ for the festival, had flown in overnight and were ready to hit the ground running. 

After breakfast as usual, our short prayer session that typically followed took the form of a worship set.  Some of our Colombian friends had showed up early that morning and brought some instruments with them.  So for about 30 minutes we sang --worship in the form a homogenous sound of both Spanish and English echoing through the corridors of the hotel. 

As we praised God in the little open air cafe on the second story of our hotel, I would from time to time peer down to the street below.  My eyes welled with tears as I saw passers-by glancing up at our room.  Though probably a simple gesture of curiosity, each face I saw turn towards the sound I wanted deeply to recognize the gravity of what they had just happened by.  It's likely that most of those faces have very little reference for what was going on in the room above them, but if they would have heeded that small, subtle nudge --the slight inclination to brake away from their morning routine of errands and obligations and walked up those stairs to investigate-- maybe they would have discovered what those of us in the room have already found.  Maybe they would have encountered a Love that acknowledges their toil and heartache, their faults and their flaws, yet agrees to take on their burden and in place, give them the life of His own.  Maybe they would have joined our humble choir of adulation, overwhelmed by the depth of sacrifice the God of the Universe has endured in order to have a relationship with them.  Maybe the trajectory of their entire life would have drastically changed in that very moment.  Oh, the implications offered in that fleeting little instance in front a hotel they've walked by a thousand times; implications that provoke one of the most poignant observations ever to exist in this darkened, shrouded world: if they only knew.  If they only knew.  This is to be the motor behind every Christian's interaction and influence on this earth.

After worship, the agenda for the morning involved divvying up into a few different groups.   Amera (a fellow Evoker) and I were commissioned to go with one of the event coordinators to exchange eight thousand US dollars for about 15.5 million pesos.  The little currency exchange booth never saw it coming. 

Operating under the title of Manhattan Exchange, the business was essentially a plexiglass protected counter with about 3 peoples-worth of waiting room in front of it.  The whole exterior of the alcove was wrapped in a large transparency of the NYC skyline, complete with the still-standing Twin Towers.  Inside was more pictures of New York as well as a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge.  My favorite decoration, however, was a printed advertisement hanging on the wall behind the counter.  It was essentially a stock photo of four of the most stereotypical white people, all giving a thumbs-up with the words, "Manhattan Exchange" floating above their heads. 

Tagging along with us through this whole ordeal was a young man named Jairo.  Though I can't quite say he was a translator since he was in the intermediate stages of learning English, he was very enthusiastic and really easy to get along with despite some communication hurdles.  Over the next few days, he would turn out to be a huge asset to the team.  His willingness to serve and meet whatever need we had, and to do it willingly and joyfully made him such a delight to work along side. 

After essentially causing the elderly man behind the counter to have to close up shop for the day, we set back for the hotel.  There we found some of the girls from the group gathered around a cafe table outside.  They were elbows deep in beads and rope, charged with making around 1000 bracelets for the kids area of the festival. 

As we mingled in the small cafe area, we caught Michael and Sergio returning from passing out festival fliers and evangelizing in the plaza.  They each wore a bright smile as they explained some of the amazing interactions they had over the course of the morning.  The marque exchange they recounted centered around a young street kid named Luis David. 

Apparently, Luis David made is first impression on Mike and Serge by cursing them out and saying in a cheeky manner, "The Devil's got me!"  as he ran away.  However, as they were returning from the plaza, the duo came across Luis David once more.  This time he was more open to conversation.

He explained how he was homeless, on drugs, and was in desperate need of family.  The only resemblance to a family that this kid had was what he called a "drug family."  From how it was described, a drug family acts as a small gang; a group of individuals who adopt the same last name as a way to band together to sell drugs.   Michael and Sergio were quick to encourage him and he even allowed them to pray over him. 

Shortly after we finished listening to the accounts of the morning, a familiar face joined the ranks of our group.  It was Johnny!  The young man with the collection can we had met yesterday on our way to the mall.  He apparently wanted to continue our conversation about Jesus.

He didn't say much but affirmed with intermittent nods the things I was saying; about who Jesus is and what He has done, and the necessity of a personal relationship with Him.  After I had finished, Sergio, who is fluent in Spanish, was able to go a little deeper and explain things in a more fluid manner to Johnny.  We then huddled together to pray for him to receive Christ.  As we finished, I noticed through his quiet disposition, a muted, yet deep emotion.  It's nothing I could pinpoint, and I doubt he could either if asked, but you could tell he was experiencing something novel, or at least experiencing something that starkly contrasted the framework in which he was used to existing. 

After mingling a bit longer, we were soon off to lunch at what's becoming a staple on our trips to Colombia, a mountainside restaurant called El Tejar.  The view will look familiar to those of you who've read last year's recap but I figured it's worth a second look.

Once we had our fill of bandeja paisa (which is about a fourth of the plate due to the ginormous portion sizes) we took our taxi parade back to the hotel.  There we set out to do some more canvasing for the festival. 

I'll be honest, canvasing was really hard for me.  I don't know if it was the rapid-fire style of interacting that was intimidating me but I couldn't get off the initial fear of breaking the ice.   I didn't want to talk to anyone.   It was like I had forgotten everything I had felt just that morning during worship.  Yet worse, it was that very experience that was being held in front of me as I struggled there amongst the foot-traffic.  It was a cruel-hearted taunt that the Devil was using to draw me deeper and deeper into self-condemning thought -- a vicious trap in which the victim is so wrapped up in thinking of what they should be doing, that they lose any hope of focusing on what they could be doing.

All too often, I find the "shoulds" that I am hung up on aren't what God is asking me to do at all, but rather the "coulds," that seem so small and unimpressive, are God leads me into real and life-giving interactions with people.  (I feel this idea may need some unpacking, which I plan on doing in a later post, but for now I need to get the story of Festival Vida out in a timely manner.)

Either way, the shoulds had me paralyzed that particular afternoon. 

Though most of my time on the streets was spent inside my own head, I did manage to have two interactions of note.

The first one involved my overhearing a girl let out an American colloquialism in perfect English as she stumbled over a declined part of the walkway as she passed by our group.  We happened upon her a few minutes later and I flagged her down.  Turns out she is from Orlando!  In fact, she lives about 5 miles from my house!  She just happened to be in Armenia visiting a friend. 

The second interaction involved Amera and I having caricatures of ourselves drawn by an insistent street artist who approached us as we sat at a cafe table.  The results were… something:

After recovering from the mild horror that is implied teeth,  I ran into the hotel to stow/hide the portrait in my room.  There I came across the bracelet artisans still hard at work, though they had now moved their operation to the hotel's dining area.

At a table adjacent to them, Jackie had vast array of paints and supplies sprawled out across the tabletop.  She was training up two festival volunteers in the craft she is very well know for: face painting.  Like, really well done, elaborate face painting. 

Of course, they needed canvases to practice on and Jennifer, Janice and Mafe were perfect models.  However, there was a lack of male volunteers.  And since training would not be complete without addressing the differing topography of a male face, Jairo and I had to feign reluctance when asked if we wanted a tiger's face.  Jairo received the full treatment and went back for a flaming soccer ball tattoo on his arm.  I only got the base coat but even that managed to stick around and leave me with orange and yellow eye shadow.  Those face paints are no joke!

The star of the show, however was an actually reluctant Michael Dow.  I dunno, I think the shark only adds to his ferocity.

And I'll stop Day 3 at that.

The upcoming stories from the night require a lot of text-space due to their gravity and complexity.  Plus, I can hear you panting from here, so I'll spare your eyes and concentration for now.  Seriously though, thank you all for reading!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


My first morning of the trip began just as I had hoped:  with the whole team gathered around one long table in the hotel cafe enjoying made-to-order omelets of a peculiarly dark shade of yellow-orange and eggy pancakes that, this time around, came with the accompaniment of good ol' American syrup --proof they're getting to know us northerners at La Quinta Porra.

After filling up with food and prayer, half of us were off to a K-12 school to promote the upcoming festival.  Upon arriving we were informed that we would only have about 5 minutes in each classroom as classes were still being held at the moment.  In order to cover as much ground as we could, we split up into teams of 2 to 3 and dispersed to various parts of the campus.  Michael and Antonio, however, were asked to speak in front of a group of kids the administration had deemed "most troubled."  They were given an entire hour of class time to speak. 

My buddy for the morning was a plucky girl from Evoke named Stephanie.  As often the case in my experience of Evokers, we complimented each other swimmingly.  Where I'm introverted and stand offish, she's warm and inviting.   Where the only dancing I do is figuratively --around any invitation to do so physically-- she is a breakdancer, essentially the pinnacle form of kinesthetic awareness.  Where my brain seizes up any time I attempt to talk in either Spanish or Child, her's is fluent in both.  

Given this dynamic, when it was my turn to speak to a class, Stephanie would take my rigid, cumbersome description of the festival that I essentially hurled at the kids like a sack of old cantaloupes, and transform it into something much more palatable and enticing. 

Overall, the kids seemed really receptive to the invitation.  The biggest response always came when Stephanie would mention that there would be breakdance crews performing at the festival, and the students would almost loose their minds when she mentioned that she was part of one of the groups.  Immediately they would clamor for a demonstration but Stephanie had neither the proper attire nor space, so she compromised by teaching willing volunteers how to do a "freeze."  Attempts by the volunteers weren't lacking enthusiasm, but came up short in execution.

After we had visited all the classrooms we could, the group reunited in the foyer of the front building.  As we gathered, the class bell happened to ring.  Floods of students of varying ages filled the hallways and we immediately became the topic of every passing conversation as well as the recipients of noticeable giggles and stares. 

The younger ones had no qualms about approaching members of the group.  Soon I had a posse of 6th grade boys bombarding me with questions.  Our conversation consisted mostly of battling for common-ground between my attempted Spanish and their English peppered with helpful interjections of charades.  When I saw an opening to could pull Stephanie from her own gaggle of children in order to translate, I found out they were interested in two main things:  One,  if I had children of my own, which turned to if I had a wife, which turned to if I had a girlfriend, which turned to what I perceived as a subtle sense of pity.  And two, how to find me on Facebook.  I felt like a relief pitcher for the Miami Marlins as about half a dozen anxious hands scrambled for pen and paper as I agreed to relay my contact info.

Soon after, my celebrity continued as I was hailed by Stephanie who was knee deep in teenage girls.  "They want you to speak English!"  She said with a smile.  Pretty accessible entertainment business in Colombia, I guess.

"Hey… I'm speaking English…"  I said with a shrug.  My audience erupted with giggles and buried faces.  Nailed it.  

Antonio drew a crowd with his choice of headdress. 

Nakeisha's hair was a big hit as well.

Once all the hubbub finally settled and kids found their classrooms, we headed for the taxis.  As we gathering outside, Michael and Antonio were able to share about their experience speaking to the "troubled" group at the first school.  The most striking story coming from the experience came when they asked the students if they needed prayer for healing or freedom from anything.  One brave young girl burst into tears, admitting that she had been sexually abused growing up and that she need freedom from her past.  I am baffled by the courage of this young woman and I know God is doing a good work to free her from the shaming chains that have shackled her since childhood.

Soon we were off to another school to do the same.  Again it was the same progression of door to door, except this school had way cooler topography.  I mean, check out the volleyball/soccer/basketball court:

After the schools, our afternoon was mostly spent back at the hotel.  There I got to know one of our translators that was new to the group.  His name is David and I am super impressed with this kid.  He's only 14 years old and his English is impeccable.  And by impeccable I mean he can speak in a British accent on cue.  Though we only spoke briefly, I could tell his mind works very similar to mine.  Perceptive, analytical yet open minded, he was a kid after my own heart.

Soon, dinner was waiting at the food court in the mall.  And as we embarked, David and I were approached by a young man holding a collection can.  He explained that his name was Johnny and that he was collecting money for a program that helped rehabilitate young men who have problems with addiction.  Though I couldn't figure out if he was in the program or just helping out, it was apparent that he himself had fallen on hard times as well.  There was something about his eyes that I've noticed in many of the people we run into on the street.  There was a distance to them, like some kind of void existed between his true self and the person that stood before us.  We talked with him a bit and  managed to give him a small donation as well as pray over him and the program.  We also handed him a flier for the festival, telling him we'd love to see him there.

Once at the food court, the same one we had visited last year, I immediately remembered three things:  1.) Asian stir-fry has achieved international transcendence in the food court world.  2.)  This particular food court has the best view of any mall food court I've been to.  3.) Plating goes way beyond food court level.  

After tapping out about half way through my smorgasbord of denseness, David came over to join our table.  We picked our conversation right back up, as we talked a little bit about where we came from and what our future aspirations looked like at the moment.  His revolved around the medical field, and to that I say more power to him.

Then David said something that I've heard few times now on these trips, something that is really affirming to the work being done in and through our group.  He said, "You know, I took this job thinking it would be just that.  I thought I would be translating for some North Americans for a couple days and that would be it.  But I find myself just wanting to be around you guys.  Like, I don't want to leave.  It stinks that I only have one day left with you guys!"  I found myself saddened by the same thing.  I really wanted him to spend more time with us as well. 

After dinner we were off to an evening church service where Scott was asked to share a message of empowerment to the congregation.  The message Scott gave centered around the local church taking responsibility for the change they wish to see in their city; that they are to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the city of Armenia; that the festival we are hosting is just the beginning.  Yes, we expect to see God move in a big way during the festival and we expect to see may hearts and lives changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, but after the festival is over we will be flying back to the U.S.  It is the local church that is tasked with the work of disciplining those that responded to the call heard at the festival.  And it is the local church that is tasked with continuing the work of reaching out to those in need and those still in darkness.

As the message was wrapping up, Scott asked all of those willing to say, "Yes," to such a calling to line up in the front of the room.  There the Evoke team set out to pray for empowerment over each and every one of them. 

With the shimmering of Alexsa's flute peacefully swelling the hearts within every chest about the room, the dull roar of feverish supplication saturated the entire space to the point where the walls seemed to give way to the sound --allowing such a sweet and candid harmony to spill out onto the streets. 

And at some point amongst the song and sermon, the surrender and the call, Nakeisha came across David.  He had tears in his eyes and was exclaiming, "I know Him!  I know Him! I felt Him!"