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.