Some fourteen years ago, I made my final trip out of Villavicencio and into the jungle/prairie region of Southeastern Colombia. I had been traveling most weekends into the area for some twenty years, but as the insecurity and guerrilla incursions increased in the area, I began to limit my travels. For a while, I traveled out and made visits during the daytime and would return to the relative safety of the city by evening. But then, even the daytime visits became too dangerous as the guerrillas largely controlled the entire area of the country.
There was still plenty for me to do as I worked more and more with the school and with the churches in the cities. I enjoyed that work but I missed my travels into the small villages and towns scattered throughout the region. As each year brought even great problems, I had come to feel that there would never be a chance for me to revisit the towns and villages that I had once worked in for so long. Occasionally, some of the Christians would come into town and would stop by the house for a visit. But when things got really bad, even those visits stopped as the guerrillas would not allow people to leave the small villages for a visit to the city.
Some of the churches ceased to exist as the guerrillas drove out all of the Christians. In other places, the Christians simply left for their own security or to protect their children from the risk of being forcibly drafted into the guerrilla army. Nearly half of the churches we started in that area disappeared during those dark years. Even though we often used the fleeing Christians to begin new churches in the cities where they had sought refuge, we wondered what was happening with the churches and Christians who did remain.
Then some six years ago, Colombia elected a president who ran on a platform of retaking control of the country. Even more surprising, when he was elected, he actually began making a concerted effort to fulfill that campaign promise. At first the going was slow, but then the momentum began to build. Large areas of the country were retaken and the guerrillas were driven deeper into the jungle and into the most remote regions of the country. At first, the road between Villavicencio and BogotÃ¡ was liberated. Then the army began the drive to retake the jungle/prairie region. Soon, the area was again relatively safe and the people began to return to their farms. The Colombian Christians from the city began to again visit the churches that remained. But it was deemed too risky for me to make any such visits.
But as things continued to improve, the Colombian Christians suggested that with some precautions, I could again make a trip or two out into the jungle/prairie region. Then this past week, I got a call from the principle of a government high school in one of the town where we have a church. He asked if I could go there and give my presentation on Christian values and sexuality to his students. That was the type of open door I had been waiting on. I agreed to make the trip.
I drove down to Villavicencio on Monday of last week. I spent the night there and at five the next morning we were up and headed out into the jungle/prairie region. Martin Sanders and Dewayne Liebrandt accompanied me. We drove to Dinamarca, the first town I planned to visit and where I had been asked to speak to the high school. First I visited with the local Christians and then I went and had my presentation to the high school students. After that, we had lunch with the local Christians and visited with them. It was a happy time with may hugs and joyous reunions after so many years of having not seen one another. I told them how much I admired their faithfulness in such difficult times.
From there we drove deeper into the area and visited two more towns; San Carlos de Guaroa and Altamira. In each town the reaction was the same. I had not told them I was coming for security reasons. So I arrived unannounced. At first there were a few seconds during which they stared at me in disbelief and then they would let out a squeal of delight and then there would be a warm embrace of joy as we reveled in seeing one another again after so many years. We stayed there and visited till nearly dark then we began our long drive back into the city. We arrived back at the house in Villavicencio about eight that evening. It had been a long and tiring day but one of excitement and pure joy. It was a blessing I had only dreamed of for so many years.
The next day I was at the school and word had gotten around that I had arrived in Villavicencio that Monday afternoon. But everybody wanted to know where I had gone and why they had not seen me all day on Tuesday. When I told then I had made a trip out into the jungle prairie region to visit some of the churches I was met with stares of disbelief. Many shook their heads and other laughed at the audacity of such a trip. One person summed it up best; â€œyou stuck your head into the wolfâ€™s mouth and came back out unscathed!â€ He may have said it best. But then Jesus did promise that â€œLo I will be with you, even unto the ends of the earth.â€ That is where I had been, and He had been with me every step of the way!