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.