The following post is by Robin Johnson. Member of spanish River Church since 1985 and this is her first Mission Trip.
Medical Team and Vacation Bible School started for the first day at the Olympic Park in Cali, Colombia. The park was just a 15 minute ride from the hotel. We were so pleasantly surprised to see such a lovely area with many buildings. The first building was approximately 3,000 square feet with a stage and many windows open all around. This was where the medical team set up, and it was also used to stretch tables and chairs to feed about 35 of us at lunchtime. The gated park wound back past a gym with people doing morning work- outs and pool to another area where we set up VBS stations at round cement tables and benches with thatched roofs overhead. There was an open sided building next to this area with electricity, running water and counters to cook on. The Cali team seemed to be turning out snacks and drinks continually. We were extremely generously provided for. Our photographer, Nancy Brown, used this area with electricity to stage her cameras and printer for the photographs of the children (and some mothers) after their faces were painted. A pavilion adjacent was an ideal space for Carlene Ortiz to spread a 6’ X 9’ tarp outlined with a Tree and Jesus and the Children scene by Linda Fox. Carlene had the children put hand prints and their names on the tarp. Eventually this will be presented to Pastor Javier Gil for display in the church.
Our first order of business was to gather with devotions with the team from Cali. Craig had an outline with scriptures in Spanish and English so we could all follow along. It bears mentioning that every time we were together with our Cali friends, any written material needed to be translated. Fernando Ortiz and Luca Contessa gave countless hours to this effort, and everything seemed to appear ready and anticipated. Rick Krive led worship songs. Many of his songs were in alternating Spanish and English verses as well. Our time together was especially precious for me as the night before at church I told the story of my son Jay who looked to the Lord in his time of need. Many mothers’ eyes softened as they greeted me and hugged me with new familiarity.
Today was a precious time with Javier’s church children at VBS. Other children were invited on different days, but this was the day to minister to his people. The weather was perfectly comfortable—a nice change from South Florida. Everyone young and old was appreciative and kind. “Precious” would better fit the description. The VBS team members that attended a year ago were so happy to see the friends they met a year before…young kids now looking all grown up…(see some happy painted faces in pictures shown).
As VBS wound down, I had quite an experience ahead of me because I volunteered to help Luca Contessa, our only Italian, cook for dinner. He cooked last year (for 40 people: Javier’s pastors and elders and wives and some friends, etc.), and during all of the meetings prior to the trip, he said, “We HAVE to have Spaghetti Night!” He had such enthusiasm that when he was looking for help, I gladly signed up. I likened this to a passage from an all time favorite Bible Study, “Experiencing God” which said, “See where God is at work and join Him.” Since Sara and Jim Tallbacka were unable to make the trip, the cooking team was narrowed to Luca and I, and we set off with a church elder for a grocery store. Last year Luca was unable to find canned tomatoes in the grocery, so he packed 4 cans, and at that time we had only found 3 of them. He put the word out to the pastors that if they found a can of tomatoes in their clothing donations bags, to be sure to bring them to dinner. We bought a TON of fresh ingredients for salad, pasta, bread, and, of course, olive oil, and dessert. The generous people that allow Javier Gil to use their downstairs area as his church were letting us cook upstairs in their home above the church. We arrived with bags of food, and the homeowner, Blanca, went to the sink and showed us that there was no running water. I stood aghast. “Oh well, it happens” was her comment to Luca, and she had no idea when we might have it. Next to the sink was one vat of water, and so we began using that, cupping it out with a coffee cup as we needed to wash things. More water was coming, she said. The husband of the caterer for all of our other meals arrived an hour or so later with motorcycle helmet under his arm, and a plastic container of water much like one in which you would mix cement. He came an hour or so after that with a blue container from a water cooler company. I’ve seen a lot of things on a motorcycle during this trip, but not someone balancing a massive container of water. Blanca helped with everything from the moment we arrived. She peeled tomatoes (distasteful task if ever there was one). At the time we were to open the cans of tomatoes, Luca asked for the can opener, and she reached by the sink and picked up a rock the size of the palm of your hand and the largest knife and motioned how to pierce the can with the rock hitting the knife, and then saw along the edge with the knife. Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. I couldn’t even look. I was afraid. Before too long, one of the pastors showed up with the can of missing tomatoes. Dinner was superb. Luca is an excellent Italian chef. Many, many people helped along the way.
That night each of the pastors gave a short testimony, and Fernando Ortiz presented the donations to many of the pastors. Among the donations were a DVD player, an electric guitar, a projector, a laptop computer, and a laser jet printer. We presented the pastors wives with gifts. They were totally surprised and so humble as they hesitantly approached the stage. The elders were given a book. Everyone was grateful for a joyous time together.