This past weekend I made a trip to a small town in the northeast of the country on the Venezuelan border. Since Venezuela continues to arm and provide safe haven for the guerrillas, this continues to be one of the most dangerous and conflictive regions of the country. Where many other areas are now quite safe for tourists and foreigners, travel to this region involves significant risk. But more than a month ago I received an invitation to teach a class to a large group of leaders from this region. The Colombian Christians advised against the trip. They felt the risk was simply too great. I prayed about it and considered the risk and the opportunities. I also checked with the local Christians. They felt they could host me and keep me safe during my time there.
After giving it considerable thought, I decided to trust the Lord and the local Christians and we made plans for the trip. It was too dangerous to drive into that area as the roads are still largely under the control of the guerrillas. So I purchased a plane ticket and flew to the town last Friday. Gordon Clifford, of Christian Mission Press had come to Colombia to bring in literature and to see his materials in use. Since we use more than half of all of his printed material, he was anxious to see how we were developing all of these new leaders that needed to be trained. I informed him of my trip and gave him my evaluation of the risk. I told him he could come to Colombia a bit later and I would pick him up after returning from my teaching session. I felt as a missionary he knew the risks and could made his own decision. I do not and would not take work crews or tourists into zones of conflict such as this one.
Our flight into the border regions was uneventful and we were picked up at the airport by one of the preachers. As we arrived at the church building where we would be staying and began to set up for the class I would be teaching, we were made abundantly aware of where we were when a bomb went off and gunfire broke out. The guerrillas had attacked the town but were very quickly routed by a rapid response by the army. The encounter was quickly over and things were soon back to normal. Some of the leaders did have trouble making it into town as the roads were closed by the damage from the bomb and the fighting. Still, we began on time and people trickled in as they could find alternate routes or arrived later when the roads were again opened. I had forty leaders in my class from churches all over the region. I was presenting a class titled “Teaching to Transform Lives.” In spite of the heat and the amount of material I was trying to present in a relatively short period of time, the students were attentive and the discussions were lively. We had four hours of class on Friday, eight hours on Saturday, and then eight more on Sunday. After each class we had a time for individual questions and small group discussions. All in all we had some 28 to 30 hours of structured learning in one weekend. We all knew the difficulty in organizing such a class and getting a professor willing to make the trip into that area, so we all wanted to make the most of our time together.
The local Christians were very good at watching over me and trying to protect me. They would not allow me out of the church building alone or on foot. Even if I wanted to go a few blocks to purchase something, they would send someone out to get the item for me or would insist on taking me out in a car so I would not be seen by the guerrilla operatives walking the streets. Even then, they expected to be questioned by the guerrillas in the near future as word got out that two Americans had visited the church over the weekend. Yesterday, Monday the 4th of April, we flew back to Bogotá. It had been a great weekend and we had accomplished much. And once again the Lord demonstrated that He is faithful as He watched over and protected us. The deep bonds of love and concern within the family of God were also evident in the great hospitality and great care the local Christians as they provided for our comfort and safety. I thank all of you who shielded me with your prayers as I made this risky trip as I serve the Lord here in Colombia. Together with the Lord we have done great things!