From Colombia South 2014 Blog
Note to Reader: This got to be kind of a long post (sorry) but if you stick with it, (or read a little bit everyday for the rest of your life), I think you’ll enjoy it.
A long time ago when my family and I traveled throughout Europe (see growing up blog post) the Lord led us to use music, dance and theater in order to communicate the Gospel since obviously we do not speak all the languages. It turned out to be an extremely effective means of communicating Gods love to the world and breaking down the barriers that so many people have against God, especially young people. So many think that God is religious and boring and thus don’t want anything to do with Him, but by using music, laughter, dance and magic we show how big and awesome God is.
We have now learned Spanish and some Portuguese and over the years we have each learned different talents such as juggling, walking on stilts, magic, and created theater acts and dance routines to communicate different messages. I could tell you some really funny stories of our practice sessions (imagine a little old lady walking her tiny poodle when she comes upon someone spinning fire, someone on stilts, and someone breaking boards “No mam, I am sure there is no way your tiny little dog will catch on fire”… “No we are not dangerous gypsies…”)
We have learned many styles of dance, from break to locking and popping, to ballet and hip hop. I have learned Irish step dance and it is my favorite. My brothers and sisters and I are second degree black belts in Tae Kwon Do, and have combined this art with music in our own style of dance. We also use what we have learned to teach discipline and focus and as certified teachers, we have taught at orphanages and numerous locations. We have also learned the Brazilian art called, “Capoeira” which combines dance and fighting.
So anyway, when you read my blog and I talk about our “presentation” or “performance” I am talking about a schedule we do combining the things I mentioned above, while sharing the Gospel in creative ways. Sometimes people see us perform on the streets and then invite us into private events, schools, army bases or prisons but most of the time we do a lot of work to get into those places and by using our performance as a platform, we get the opportunity to share the Gospel. The following is a shortened version (yes it actually is short compared to my original blog so, you’re welcome for that) of the blog I kept as we traveled through South America this past summer. It was probably one of the greatest journeys of my life and I hope you enjoy traveling it with me. You can also see a video of our trip at the bottom of this page or on our video page.
The year started in Bogota, Colombia…
Some time ago we drove all the way through Mexico, spending time in each city sharing the Gospel, then crossed into Guatemala and traveled through every country in Central America, spending time in each country and having a phenomenal witness, in many cases covered by the national
We then shipped our van over to Colombia and have spent much time there, visiting most all the cities. We have worked and performed within most of the large prisons, schools, military bases and many special events and foundations in Medellin, Cali, Cartagena, Bogota and other smaller cities. We also received the opportunity to work with the United Nations in far distant jungle and mountain villages which was an amazing experience. Due to the FARC and the drug wars, the Colombians have endured great suffering and hardship. They are a very special, beautiful people.
During the Christmas season they have cool lights and decorations up all over the city which draws huge crowds. We went out on the streets and to the parks a lot, like almost every night which was awesome but very exhausting. Sometimes we have to carry all our equipment and props (about 600 pounds worth) quit a ways if we cannot park close enough.
Performing on the streets anything can happen, from dogs wandering in to our crowds, crazy or drunk people shouting, cops or alcaldia saying we cannot be where we are and need permission, to other street artists trying to compete for the space. We have been performing when both gun and knife fights have broken out nearby as
well as had to deal with sudden severe storms and many crazy things that make you go, “Well that’s a new one?! We must always be extremely wise and careful and the Lord has given us wisdom to deal with many circumstances.
Guillermo’s birthday and The Poor of Colombia:
There is so much poverty and homeless people here it can be overwhelming. Everyone needs something and so many have been displaced because of the drug wars. So many people are handicapped and missing limbs because of land mines which are still all up in the mountains. Obviously the most important thing we can give them is the Gospel, but we also try our best to have some kind of food or snack with us to give to the many homeless that come up to us. Sometimes we ask a bakery if they have extra bread that is going to expire and often they give us a tun which really helps out since we cannot afford to always buy it. There are a number of places like in parks, train tracks and city corners where lots of homeless people live. We try to visit them frequently and give them a meal. They are so respectful and grateful. They walk the streets looking through the trash trying to find something edible. We cannot forget about the poor (see “forgotten post)! A number of the homeless that live down town I came to know quit well and saw them all the time. They know me by name or a nickname they have given me and know that I always have bread or cookies in my back pack. They just come up to me, greet me and wait and this makes me happy. As Jesus said, “Whatever you do for the least of My brothers, you do for Me…”
We have known a blind, homeless man named Guillermo for a long time (See “Touching the Invisible” post). He had never celebrated a birthday before so we had a special day with him, he loves sweets and we took him to an ice cream store and described each flavor so he could choose. My mom made a huge cake and we gave it to him after he had sung in our crowd, and then gave some to the whole crowd (very messy but fun). We incorporate the parable of the Good Samaritan into of our dances and exhort the crowd to help the poor and care about others.
At an Orphanage in Colombia:
There is an orphanage that we have worked at for a while and we have come to know and love, all the children there. We taught English, Tae Kwon Do and other things to them. We promoted some of the kids through a few belts in Tae Kwon Do and gave a big party when they graduated. We performed for them on a stage and did a lot of magic. After the presentation they all begged us to tell them the secrets. We spent a lot of time throwing kids into the air and spinning them around as they ran up to us begging, “Teacher, teacher, one more time please”. I believe we are sowing seeds into their hearts that no matter what, they have a Father who wants them and loves them. I was so happy to see that even the older kids, who were concerned about acting cool, were riveted on our words.
A Military rehabilitation bass in Colombia:
We were invited to perform at a military bass which is a rehabilitation center for injured soldiers. All of the soldiers there have had serious injuries from the war and the time they spend in the jungle chasing the FARC. Many have lost limbs due to land mines. Right now, in the mountains that surround this city, there is a war taking place against the drug lords of Colombia. The General told me that three days earlier he had been up in the jungle with a battalion of soldiers. They had stopped to take a break and set their back packs on the ground. When one of the soldiers picked up his back pack to head out, he had no idea it was sitting on a land mine. He lost his right eye and half his face and is now in the hospital recovering. The General telling me this was really shaken up by it. He had a hook for his left arm from also loosing it years ago because of a land mine. Performing for these men was one of my most beautiful experiences ever. They laughed like children at our comedy routines and were so happy to have something to take their minds off their suffering and pain. We shared many words with them to give them hope and answers. Just like so many American veterans of war, they have all been put in terrible situations and had to do things they would not have thought they could do and now they are trying to cope with everything. We share about the profound forgiveness that they can access. Afterwards the Commanding general took us in his office, gave us little gift packets he had put together and really thanked us for thinking of them.
Schools in Colombia
We visited a number of schools in Colombia this year, one that the army had asked us to visit. The schools here are different then the ones in the States as in all grades, from first all the way to twelfth grade attend the same school. So we have a crowd of a few hundred five to eight year old’s and a few hundred teenagers. This is a VERY challenging venue. We want to engage everybody and sow seeds into their young hearts and our performances is for all age groups but for example, there are all the little kids sitting in front who get so excited, can’t sit still, want to be held and touch everything that it is easy to lose the older kids. So we have to work hard to get the older kids to participate and engage as well because they are at the age were they will be making the choices for their lives. Over all it was really blessed and I think a lot got in. We had a lot of fun with them, we all put on one of the costumes we have and did a choreographed dance in them. You had a lion, a frog, a pirate, a wizard, a dragon, a prince on stilts and a monkey all dancing choreographed moves.
It was funny, after my mom does this dance with a caterpillar and a butterfly, we have these little wings we let maybe ten to fifteen kids wear and then we do a dance with them. We do it almost every presentation so it’s kind of habit. Well here there were a few HUNDRED little kids, who ALL wanted to fly like a butterfly. So as if in slow motion as my dad was thinking we would not do it and was ending, my brother starts choosing little kids, I was saying nooooo….dooonnt… dooo iiiittttt… it’s gonna be a disaster and in a blink ALL the little kids had me surrounded and wanted turns with wings and then wanted to be lifted in the air and spun around. It took a while to get it all sorted but it was worth it seeing their beautiful smiles and some of the older girls also wanted to dance. We probably lifted a few hundred pounds worth of kids. It’s just such a privilege to touch their lives. I think in my opinion schools may be the hardest place to perform and minister but it sure is worth it.
Performing at a theater for the National Food bank of Colombia
This was quit a special presentation. I had originally gone to the food bank to ask for food that I could help distribute to the poor. It ended up that the head of the organization (who was a priest) asked if we could perform for an event they had coming up. It was a meeting with the heads of 700 foundations at an indoor theater. Most of the time our stage is on the streets, parks, school court yards, prison patios and grass fields when working with the army, but to be on a big ritzy stage, with curtains and lighting was incredibly awesome! The magic routines I do with my sisters become like Cirque Du Sole performances on a stage and you don’t have to work to keep the attention of the crowd because all eyes are on you. The Food bank sponsors hundreds of foundations that work with kids, handicapped, street kids, displaced families and the homeless. Afterward members of all the foundations came up and told us how much we touched them, inspired them with ideas they could do and asked us to visit their foundations.
Then the time came to leave Colombia:
My brothers and I built a trailer from scratch using material we got really cheep at back alley junkyards. The Colombians are so helpful and kind that many were eager to help us. We sold or gave away everything we did not need and packed up, cramming into a van and tiny trailer (that’s 8 people, 8 duffle bags, 8 sleeping bags and mattress pads, a tent and camping gear, all our props and musical sound equipment, lots of material we have to give out like Gospels of John, pamphlets, music cds, candy, little stuffed animals, besides food and basic necessities.)
It is true that “it’s not about the destination, but the journey” and you definitely better enjoy the journey when you can only go about 30 miles an hour and you have thousands of miles to go. The roads through Colombia are really bad. One lane, two direction, steep passes over the Andes mountains. We saw a semi truck flip over, we watched the truck that was directly in front of us go over a bump that cracked the side rails that was holding a huge load, poor people stand right in the middle of the road begging as you go around a blind curve, and so many pot holes and speed bumps that you just hold on for dear life (try drinking a cup of coffee).
The signs that are along the road do little to help assure your safety, signs like, “Caution, earthquake zone- know evacuation route” as you are on a one lane road and the only road at that. Or, “frequent flooding” as you head into a tunnel. Or these four signs in a row, 1.) A picture of a truck going down a steep incline, 2.) Rocks falling on a truck, 3.) Two cars smashing into each other and 4.) A picture of a row of bumps. So this would mean, you are about to go down an extremely steep incline designed by Doctor Seuss and as you do rocks will be falling from the cliffs onto your car and because cars coming from the other direction will try to pass and not have space, they will smash into you as you go over speed bumps the size of a curb that pop up out of no where unmarked. Seriously, all joking aside, it is very dangerous and I thank God Almighty for His protection and grace upon us and pray His angels always fly with us. Many times we faced these roads in pouring rain and heavy fog where there is almost zero visibility.
There are so many little shacks and people living right on the side of the road because they can build and live there without ever paying for the land or tax. We could never stop to talk to them all, so I made up little packets with reading materiel, a music cd, (some how they actually have tapped into electricity out here), and some little candy and toys, that we throw out the windows as he drive by. It is pretty fun seeing how excited they are to get something and also competing with my brothers and sisters at who has better aim.
Sleep, in general is overrated and good sleep is very hard to come by. After traveling to over 40 countries around the world, from Africa, through Mexico, Central America to Europe and South America, after having unbelievable encounters both bad and good, dangerous and exhilarating, out of the millions of things I have seen and learned, there is one thing I have learned for certain; There are A LOT of dogs in the world!!! Stray dogs, wild dogs, pet dogs, big dogs and little dogs everywhere and I think, I’m not sure, but I think they all have a conspiracy to keep the traveler awake. Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs, I’ve always wished I could own one and we even have a big stuffed animal of a dog on the front of our van (makes everyone laugh and wins favor) but non stop yapping and barking in the wee hours of the night does not make one happy. Once there was a rooster, making the most bizarre sound ever, which triggered this little dog, which started a big dog who never shut up, while meanwhile a goat and a cow were having a loud conversation, and since it was about 2 in the morning it was kind of an orchestra from hell.
There was this stray dog in Peru that was silent as a mouse all day and acted all cute so that people fed it, and then all night it would bark up a storm right outside our apartment. We named him, Phony and sometimes threw hotdogs down to shut him up.
Another time we had rented a place for a week when at 5 in the morning we awoke to the most horrible bark you have ever heard, I mean it sounded like a dog mixed with a tiger and possessed by a demon, echoing inside a cement hall. It was a huge German shepherd and guess what? Its name was Echo, true story and belonged to an old lady who had no idea how to shut it up. The good news was it only barked when a plane flew over head, the bad news was we were only two miles from the international airport. So like I said, sleep is overrated, and when you are so exhausted it hurts, you either laugh or cry and my family and I do a lot of laughing.
Crossing into Ecuador
Crossing the border into Ecuador was pretty easy, just took a while to cross and we were all tired from the journey. Traveling in these road conditions and ministering as we go, is exhausting but no matter how hard it is, how dangerous and how much work it takes to live the unknown, the price does not compare to the reward of laying down your life and letting God use you to love others. Life is so short my friends, and there is a greater purpose for us than just living for ourselves. We crossed the equator and were officially in the middle of the world at latitude, 0’0’00’.
Ecuador is completely different than Colombia. The countryside is beautiful, huge mountains from 14,000 to 20,000 feet snow covered, the roads are great, but the towns and cities are deserted. It is really eerie, like you don’t see people out and about. As we got near the city of Quito, we saw billboards that say don’t help the poor because you just encourage poverty. It would take along time to explain it and I don’t completely understand it all myself, but the government has tried so hard to make Ecuador like America (they use the dollar for currency, invest billions into the roads ecs.) and to promote tourism that they suppress their own culture and hide the poor. Never have I seen signs saying not to help the poor, and ordering the poor not to beg. The poor that approached me down town Quito were afraid and tried to hide the fact they were in great need.
The city of Quito is a nightmare as far as driving goes, extremely narrow, steep one way roads. We made a wrong turn and found ourselves staring at the steepest road you have ever seen. No way we could make it up it, so we had to all get out and help dad back the van and trailer out down the road and back all the traffic out, (very stressful). We found no where to set up the tent and it took us hours to find a motel that ended up being over an hour outside the city but was affordable and nice. Our rooms were on a roof top and overlooked the city and the beautiful famous mountain, Cotopaxie (not sure about the spelling?).
We went down town to minister and perform at 9:00 in the morning and did not find a place and get started till almost 1:00! Reason being the city is so hard to navigate, steep, everything is one way and there is nowhere to park. If you miss a turn, you’re in for a good forty minutes to get back there and go around the block in the bumper to bumper traffic. Then once we find a good plaza to perform we have to be allowed to stay there by the Alcaldia. Thanks be to the Living God who always leads us and helps us! We were able to drive right on to a busy plaza in the city center and set up. Here’s a little tip for you: If you’re not really sure about something, just act really confident and sometimes nobody asks questions and just assumes you are supposed to be doing whatever it is you are doing, even if what you are doing is anything but normal.
There was a live radio broadcast going on so we had to wait for them to finish, but they asked for us to speak on the radio and we were able to share our whole message on live radio while we set up! We performed for very large crowds for hours and had a beautiful witness for the Living Jesus. We touched a lot of people, and when we were done we each had a large crowd we were speaking with and it was only due to a heavy rain storm that we ever left. One man had been in a horrible car accident that left him in a wheel chair. He told me he thought we were there just for him and what we shared changed his life. So many people that are just fed up with the constant battles over religion, catholic vs evangelical, Jehovah witness and Mormons, this church vs that church and so many other weird religions and cults with politics mixed in, that many were greatly refreshed and found hope in the message of the Gospel, simple faith in the Living Jesus as salvation. When people hear that they do not have to pay their pastor or church in order to earn their salvation, it is like they are seeing something for the first time. So many have never even thought that they can study the Scriptures on their own without the need for another to explain and are excited to think they can learn.
About 100 miles out from the Peruvian border the road gets real bad, all dirt and gravel with tons of pot holes and we had to crawl over it. We drove through a small fishing town that was bustling with people out and about when my dad says, “why don’t we perform here for a while”, so we pull over to a parking lot and set up and within minutes a huge crowd had gathered. I put on the frog costume (sweltering hot inside because it was like 95 degrees out) and got the kids dancing, played a game with them and we took it from there. A national tv crew was in the area and when they heard we were there filmed our whole presentation, interviewed us to broadcast on the nightly news. The reporter said it personally touched her to hear us talk about God’s forgiveness. Another young man in the crowd told me he had been abandoned by his parents after birth and had had no one growing up. He found hope in hearing us share that God wants to be a Father to him. It was cool to be in a little fishing town like this and bring them laughter and hope. One guy asked for the mic just to thank us and tell us that they feel so lost in this poor little town and it meant a lot we would come there. Our shirts were literally soaked with sweat when we were done from dancing full out in the sun. They bought us water and crowded around the van saying goodbye as we drove away. Sometimes when we stay in little towns, I run through busy places while carrying a flag I painted so the people get a message as I run.
The journey can seem so long and so short at the same time if that makes any sense. Crossing the border into Peru was actually pretty easy except that where you are supposed to check out of Ecuador was not marked so when we got to the Peruvian side, they sent us back to Ecuador a few miles to check out. No one knew where the office was, which seems weird, but eventually we found it. A few days earlier they had confiscated four semi trucks full of fish because of some document problem, so I’ll just let you imagine the wonderful smell that loomed in the air as we waited for everything to get cleared (it was like 95 degrees out).
Knowing the roads were poor in condition and travel would be slow, it was a little daunting to see a big sign indicating we had over 800 miles to go to Lima, but we just sighed a little, laughed a lot and, accelerated on. A short distance in, the road ran right along side the ocean, and it sure was nice to see its beautiful shores. Honestly I had never read much about Peru, but for some reason I always thought it would be green, hilly maybe in the jungle. But as we begin to drive through desert upon desert I realized I had no clue what this country was going to be like. There were places where as far as you can see it was endless sand, (not a good place to play, “I Spy”).
Some places the ground was all cracked and looked like a scene from the lion king. One town we drove through asked us to pray for rain because their crops are dying due to heavy drought. Then we came to places where towns were built on the sand dunes, all scattered on the hills. It is what I imagine it to be in Africa or somewhere in Egypt.
Every where we camp we try to at least get a sense if it is going to be even moderately quite at night by asking things like, “how many dogs do you own” ecs. This one place we camped, I couldn’t keep from laughing as I yelled to my brother, “Josh, ask her if the monkeys are very loud at night”. Not kidding, as I was setting up the tent, I look in the back of the property and see a few monkeys, besides the pet toucan, macaw and a few turkeys. Down here, normal goes out the window but hey, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
We stayed at a big city called Trujillo, for a few days to minister. I got pretty sick from being down town and felt really week, but God gave me the grace to still be able to minister; small price to pay in the big picture. By the power of God we were able to get permission to perform in the biggest, busiest plaza in the center of down town. The mayor even extensively thanked us for the work we are doing and said he was glad he could help us. We were out for a long time those nights and affected a lot of families and individuals. Never have these people heard that they can seek Jesus without a church or religion.
The traffic was unbelievable getting into Lima. It reminded me of what I have seen of India. Gas is so expensive here that they have made motorcycles into taxis they flood the streets. It took a long time and a lot of work to get the permission we needed to perform in the center. One of the secretaries told me that the whole permission system is designed to make people give up because they do not want people performing on the streets all though they cannot legally prohibit it.
As with most everything in life, if you want something, something that matters, you have to fight for it. Opportunities opened for us and we were able to perform in a lot of different places and were invited to special festivals and parks. It was a challenge and took the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in order to effectively minister in Peru. There is such a strong influence of the evangelical church that everyone assumes you are another group that has come to Peru to start a church and get money. The whole church system here is very corrupt putting the entire focus on tithing and giving an offering to the church. The pastors teach that if you don’t pay at least 10 percent, you will be under a curse and can’t be saved. They then keep the money and use it for whatever they please; they are rich and take the money from the poor. I have seen naïve families literally put on the streets from pastors that take advantage of them in the name of God and it is absolutely infuriating. You would not believe some of the stories I could tell you of the things these churches do (like drive through churches where you pull up, give money and get a “blessing”).
There is a prison in Lima that holds around 12,000 men called; “Lurigancho” and it is one of the worst in the world an absolutely horrible place. I had spent two days and several hours at the office that runs the prisons, trying to get authorization to enter, eventually talking to the vice president of this department, explaining what we wanted to do. I later received a phone call denying my request and saying that it was impossible to enter due to security reasons. However, I received this call just after returning from visiting the actual prison where we were able to talk to the director who told us he had the authority to allow us to enter, without needing authorization from the main office, and would be very grateful for our visit. It is kind of a long story with a lot more involved but after a number of phone calls, letters, a few two hour taxi drives and mostly the power of an Almighty God, we got in. We later found out that there was a lot of corruption involved and that the main office really has no clue what goes on at the prisons and has no care or concern for the prisoners. Many are paid off by pastors that have a “ministry” at the prisons and make a lot of money off the prisoner’s families, like I said, long story.
This prison was built for 2,500 men, and now holds between 9,000 to 12,000 men! There are as little as 100 guards to manage and run the place, so lawlessness and violence are common as guards are forced to leave the prisoners to do as they like to a certain extent. Unlike a number of other prisons, things are run with money here. The prisoners with family on the outside to bring them money, do ok so, so to speak as in get food and a space to sleep, those with no one on the outside world, have to fight and steal to survive, have barely enough food and not even a mattress or space to lay. Corruption is the norm, and guards will take bribes from the prisoners with money. Out of the 10,000 prisoners, over 7,000 have never received a sentence or seen a judge. You ask them how much longer they have to go and they tell you they have no idea, any where from a month to five years or forever if their paperwork is never found. So many are put in here for just petty crimes but then once they are in, they disappear. One young man no more than 18 said he is serving a ten year sentence for a crime he did not commit but was set up by drug smugglers, I believe him.
The auditorium was huge and being filled with prisoners as we set up. No matter how many times I have done this, I still take a big gulp when I look up and see around a thousand men staring at me waiting to hear what I am going to say. It is a huge privileged, and also a huge responsibility. We did a number of skits, dances and routines for them and spent time talking and sharing things with them to give them practical help and answers. It’s like for that period of time we are there, they travel to another world where they can forget everything and be at peace and happy. When we start, it takes a few minutes to show the men that we are not like those pastors here to take advantage of them but rather here to serve them. Laughter is a big key to doing this.
We do a theater act where we use chains to convey the power of thoughts. If you can change one thought, you can change your life. In this act we use chains, stilts, huge wings, poi, and choreographed dance, so it is quit a big production and really cool to watch.
We do many acts about forgiveness, a second chance, being an individual and demonstrate that by caring for their fellow inmates, then can make a big difference. I have a magic routine where I take an empty bag that looks like a jail cell, and from it pull boxes full of flowers. I take a big clothe with a clock painted on it, and from it pull a huge rod, and use these tricks to convey that out of the emptiness of this time they have, they can draw something eternal out. A time within a time. By studying the New Testament and talking to Jesus, something can be brought out of nothing.
The head psychiatrist came up to my dad and asked him ever so humbly, how we do what we do saying he feels like he just runs out and has nothing left to give and no real help to give these men. He said he has never seen anyone so fully engage these prisoners and connect on such a personal level.
We did two presentations for two groups of about 1,000 prisoners each lasting about two hours. I had made little packets up to give the prisoners and we had some playing cards, candy and beautiful photographs that we printed for them besides reading material, Gospels of John and music cds. I was glad to be able to leave something with them however small it may be. Even a little bracelet made out of cord means a ton to these men. I watch their faces as they say good bye and line up to be escorted back to the patios and cells and I see sadness return to their eyes. I am leaving, they are not, they have to return to a hard horrible reality, yet I believe that we gave them something eternal, hope, and hope does not disappoint. When we were walking out of the guarded gate, a prisoner with his hands reaching through the bars waves to us and calls out in broken English. As I write this I hear his words echo in my head, “we love you friends, thank you, God bless you, don’t forget us…”
And I won’t. The main office later found out we had got in and when we went back a following day for another performance, they had prohibited our entry. So much was involved it would take to long to explain but it was a miracle we got in at all. The workers at the prison were sad that we were treated so badly and unjustly by a system that is corrupt and does not care about the suffering of the prisoners.
There was another prison that I had really wanted to get into but there was not time to get it all worked out and be able to perform in it. So just my sisters and I went to visit on the day they allow women to visit. We had to wait in a long line and go through a ton of security and check points. They stamp your arm with a number and that’s the place you get in line. We were 217 out of like 600 so not that bad. You have to know someone on the inside and be visiting them to get in. Since we did not know anyone inside, we just put down a random name and hoped they would not check and they did not. Most of the guards look for bribes to allow people to bring stuff in but we got by ok. We were able to bring in a bunch of reading material, Gospels of John, photographs to put up on their walls, some candy and playing cards. Once we got inside they just let us go wherever we wanted to, going from one patio to another visiting the men who had no one to visit them and also sharing with the families as they visited together. This prison is also all run on money, the women on the outside bring the men things to sell on the inside. It is a lot to go into and I won’t bore you with details but I have never seen a prison like this. The prisoners run it and have like their own government system inside and because there are not enough guards to stop them they just do as they like but somehow it works and they have it under control. One patio we went into had 600 men in it and it was such a phenomenal privilege to be able to share with all of them.
We were invited to visit an orphanage, which they call a village. It is in the same chain as the one we worked at so long in Colombia. At each village there are like twenty to thirty “Moms” who take care of and raise as many as ten kids per house. Most of the children have had a very tragic past and been through horrible things. From seeing their parents killed, to being given or taken away from them because of abuse. It was a long drive to get to the orphanage because it was located way out of the city, but it was a priceless experience, for them and us. We have some really cool costumes that a company in the States donated to us and we use these costumes to tell stories to the kids. Through a story we can communicate values and ideas that will help them and comfort them. Stories about seeds that become flowers and a treasure that is found inside each of them and how they can care about each other and give each other a smile and laughter.
We choose volunteers to participate in our acts of magic and theater and so the kids get to feel like they are on center stage. After my we did the dance with the caterpillar becoming a butterfly, we chose a little girl to go into the cocoon and come out with wings on as lots of other little girls and boys danced with wings around her. We had a dance competition and it was so cool seeing these little peanuts break out their moves. We had some balls, hula hoops and candy to use as prizes. It breaks your heart looking into some of these children’s eyes and seeing such a deep sadness and hurt that you know they have been through something tragic, something far beyond their years. They want to be held and hugged and listened to and tickled and told that everything is going to be ok. To think Jesus Himself said the Kingdom belongs to them and we must be like them. The director of the orphanage told us how grateful she was and how much we impacted the kids and changed them but I think they impacted me more.
Leaving Lima- stories from the road
Have you ever heard of the “Nazca Lines”? They are lines of shapes and figures in the desert supposedly that have been there for hundreds of years. They are pretty famous and a tourist attraction. Well if any of you are all excited thinking about planning a vacation to go there and see them, from someone who drove right by them, let me give you the real picture. After hundreds of miles through endless desert, we got to a sign informing us they were ahead. Then we got to the destination which was a two story stair case in the middle of nowhere with a picnic table under it. True story. Nothing around, one guy selling little souvenirs and charging a dollar to climb the stairs and kind of see something…maybe…sort of. Continuing on there was more endless desert and a little unfriendly town which is where tourist fly to, to take a tour to see the Nazca Lines. The tourists that were wandering around the town had a look on their face of complete disappointment and disillusionment. They got some broacher or went to some travel agency and saw some deceptive photos, flew to middle of no where Peru and are now deciding if they should insist it is a great awesome vacation, or face reality and go back and kill their travel agent. So anyway, if you have a choice between going to see the Nazca lines of Peru, or say Nebraska, I’d go for Nebraska.
All the way through Peru it was a vast span of massive desert. Absolutely nothing as far the eye can see in every direction. I have never seen anything like it, kind of scary when it hits you that if something went wrong you would be in big trouble, I mean hardly any other cars are even on the road. One leg of the drive the fog from the ocean was so thick that you could not see more than perhaps ten feet in front of the car and there was no shoulder and no where to pull over and wait for it to pass. At one point a truck passing from the other lane came head on and all you saw was its headlights as it swerved back over. Angels are real!
There were signs along the way, the first said, “Zone of fog”, right got it we just spent an hour passing through it. The next, “Zone of sandstorms”, and we notice the strong wind pushing the sand all over the road and pelting it across the windshield. The next sign said, “Zone of land slides” followed by “Zone of falling rocks” and then “Zone of dangerous curves and declines” and then “Zone of narrow tunnels”. I am not exaggerating; all these were within maybe a ten to twenty mile stretch! But it was this sign that was especially alarming, “Zone of Military- Danger of Explosions”. After so much stress, we couldn’t help but crack up at this one, until we actually heard loud explosions behind us, then we floored it.
We got to a bridge where these guys were stopping all the traffic so their heavy truck could cross. This guy then gets out a measuring stick and measures how much the bridge sags as the truck slowly creeps by. Neat! I just wonder if it suddenly sagged a lot, what would the do?
Then we saw four huge semi trucks, each pulling another huge semi truck which was towing a huge load of mining equipment. One semi was not capable of pulling so much weight up the pass, so they needed two semi trucks. What concerned me was the fact the two trucks were connected by one cable. I don’t know if this is something normal in the trucking world but I sure have never seen anything like it.
Then we get to a place where more construction workers stopped us and said we had to wait for an oversized load to pass. We were getting quit annoyed with all the stops and were considering just going anyway when we saw the truck. It literally took up the whole road.
One place the road was completely gone, just piles of dirt and all the guys standing around watching one guy with shovel with a guy directing traffic half asleep. Oh yeah, looking good.
Crossing into Chile
Crossing the Chilean border was pretty smooth and the border guards were kind and efficient. We had to unload a lot of our gear and put it through scanners and get searched by a few dogs, but the paper work went quick for a change and just like that, we were in Chile! The Chileans have been through a lot over the years, one of the worst earthquakes ever besides lots other earthquakes, a horrible fire in one of there prisons (perhaps if God wills we will visit this one), a horrible mining accident and many other things.
Our first night in Chile was in a small mining town. It looked like something out of an old western movie, like a ghost town until six when the miners came back in their vests and hats all with smiles on their faces. It was a really cool town, the temperature dropped a lot at night so it was cold and the sunset was gorgeous. My brother and I went for a nice run down a back road and were just so happy to be where we are. We didn’t sleep a wink because this guys car alarm went off every two seconds and he couldn’t shut it off, which then awoke a pack of roaming dogs (because of course, there were dogs), but hey, like I said, sleep is overrated.
From there, we dropped down to another highway which would take us through the town where the 8.2 earthquake had just hit. We wanted to visit in order to bring encouragement to the victims and perform for the city. It was amazing to see parts of the road gone and a huge crack down the center. There were tents all over the city because some people had no home to go to and some were too afraid to go back indoors. Every day there has been an after shake and the morning we were there, there was a 4.2. They said the 8.2 lasted for three minutes, then there was a one minute break followed by another huge quake. One guy told us that when it hit he was driving with his family up the hill when the car started rolling from side to side and rocks poured down the side of the mountain. Him, his wife and kids got out and hid behind the car so they didn’t get hit with boulders. When it stopped he got back in and floored until the next one hit and rocks smashed the windshield. His wife had a heart attack from fear and he managed to get her to the hospital so she survived. A police officer told us his wife is in a wheel chair and it was very hard to evacuate trying to push her. Story after story of people who had lost everything, it’s one thing to hear stories on the news, sometimes it just doesn’t really register, but to be here, to see the damage and see these people, it really hits you.
We were able to perform right down town by the area that was hit the worst. It was really busy and a large crowd stopped and listened. Most people come here in the day to shop and work, and then at night go back up the hill to spend the night in a tent. It made me so happy to see families laugh and thank us for bringing them joy and hope. We told them how much they can draw from an experience like this, to have a bigger perspective on life and to realize they got a second chance. We are so fragile. One second something can happen that alters our lives forever. We don’t know if we even have tomorrow so we have to seize today. We can change. We can be new.
After performing down town we then went back up the hill to the largest tent village and performed for the families as they came home. The whole wall to the stadium had collapsed; there were helicopters landing and taking off and Red Cross, military and social workers all around. The parents explained how terrified their children were and that they saw the fear lift from their eyes through our presentation. That night there was a 6.2 after shock. After all the stories my heart really jumped.
We had an incredible experience while driving through the desert in Chile. We found out that this is one of top places in the world for star gazing and that the exact night of the day we were passing through there was to be a lunar eclipse, or blood eclipse, since the moon turns a red color. We stayed in our tent way in the middle of no where up on a hill and stayed up all night watching the eclipse. Did any of you get to see it? There was no light pollution here and it felt like you could touch the moon. When it was completely covered it was so dark that you could see endless stars. It took our breath away, the Milky Way was brilliant. This is the first time I have seen the stars in the Southern hemisphere and it is very different then the Northern. I saw a number of shooting stars and a bright comet with a long tail. To think years ago God told Abraham to look at the stars, and there, in that moment, faith was born.
We visited the city of Valparaiso that had just been devastated by a horrible fire. It burned for days and wiped out a whole village. People who already had very little, lost it all. We got there a day or so after it had been put out and there were many volunteers in the city, helping rebuild. There were local artists and singers performing in the center, raising money for the victims. They asked us to perform in their spot and help them raise money which we gladly did. We never ask for money when we perform, but this was a special case since everyone knew it was for victims in great need and we were able to raise a lot. The crowd was full of tired workers covered in soot and sad faces that eventually left with a smile and a little hope. From here, one of the artists asked us to go to a center where all the victims were lodging until they could rebuild, so we went there next. This one lady in a wheel chair was so old and sad that she had lost everything she had ever had. It made my day to see her laugh like a little girl when my brothers acted like clowns. We left late that night and pushed on to Santiago.
As in every big city we arrive at, we once again start everything from scratch. Find a place to stay, get some groceries, get permission to perform down town, get our pamphlets and music cds copied and start exploring and discovering the city. Everything here is much more expensive then anywhere we have been to in Latin America. Like for example we have a small card with a beautiful picture on the front we give as a little gift. To print 1,000 in Colombia cost about 8 dlrs, here most places charge around 60 dlrs! Or to take a taxi say, 5 miles in would normally be less than 4 dlrs, and here it would be about 15. Even eggs and other basic groceries are super expensive. So anyway, we just have to do a lot of leg work to find the things we need at affordable prices and decide what to get and what to give up.
The down town center is so busy it is unbelievable. I have not been to a city this condensed and packed, not even New York is this busy all the time. The weekend we got here there was a big miner’s convention and we were able to reach people from far out cities in Chile. Getting permission has been a big headache. They just keep giving us a run around and making up one reason after another to delay the process. A lady was explaining to us that all though this is technically not a communist country because the people have freedom to vote, the government makes all the laws, many laws, which the people have no vote in. All though there is “freedom of speech” there are so many laws defining how and where you can go, many people consider it communist. So we have been going out a lot without our musical equipment just walking the streets and talking to the people. Large crowds gather to listen and it has been such a privilege to have the opportunity to teach so many the beautiful Gospel. The harvest is so plentiful.
We were actually able to get into many prisons in Santiago. After much research online I was able to find enough information to decide which prisons to try to get into. I then went to the actual prisons, talked to the guards on duty, who then allowed me to meet the Colonel in charge who welcomed us and said how grateful he was that we would offer our presentation to them free of charge and told me how much they needed this. He said any prison we want to get into he would arrange it. This was such a blessing to hear after coming from Peru where it was quit the opposite attitude.
We did a number of presentations within the walls of Chile’s prisons. Story after story of so much suffering and pain because of one mistake they made, some years ago when they were teens. The conditions are bad since they are at double capacity and the food they eat is just horrible. Some of the men were so thin and pale from not getting enough nutrition and in some places the smell is just horrible. On top of all they have to endure, some of these men are missing limbs, in wheel chairs, blind or disabled. One man in a wheel chair named Guillermo, was from the US, had a horrible car accident and now was here. Many I talked to were serving fifteen, twenty years, some a life sentence.
This is one of the first steps to getting into a prison.
Go to the front gate, explain and then re – explain why in the world a blond girl from the States is knocking on a third world prison, ask to speak to whoever is in charge, and then follow the steps till we get in. Most times it takes a lot of work, time, letters, phone calls and series of meetings with high ranking officials, but of all things worth fighting for in life, they are worth fighting for.
One day in Chile, after securing dates to visit the prisons, my sister and I were met with a nun who was the head of a home for the elderly. We had sent her an email telling her what we do and that we would like to visit her Convalescent home. She was so excited to have us, set a date for us to come and asked us to also visit another home 6 blocks away, after hers. When we were walking from this home to the metro station, we begin to pass a number of parents walking with children of special needs such as downs syndrome. These children are very beautiful, we have had the opportunity to work for the Special Olympics, at places that use horses for therapy, as well as performed for schools that cater to those with special needs, so we always look for an opportunity to touch them in some way.
Any way, my sister and I figured there must be a school nearby and so we asked one of the parents. They told us there was, about four blocks back. We went back and met with the director who was instantly excited about the idea of giving these kids a special show. Normally getting into places is always a bit of a process, time, letters, meeting, ecs. But here, it’s like the door was already open and we just walked in.
There are around 400 kids, from ages 5 to 26 with all ranges of disability such as Autism, Downs, Epilepsy, Physical handicaps, and some that have suffered abuse so sever it has caused mental damage. He gave us a tour of the school and set up a date for us to come, only problem, it was the same date we had just set up for the two old age homes. This was going to be one long day but surely it was the Lords hand ordering it all. Surely these are the ones that are important to the Lord, the forgotten and the unlovable.
So Tuesday came around and we were up before 7, got to the school at 9:30 and set up our equipment. They kept the kids inside until 10:15 and then all the chairs filled up with all these precious, excited faces who instantly started clapping to the music. Wow! 400 kids with special needs is a lot to handle! They all want to be hugged and get your attention. I was amazed how attentive and obedient they were. To hear their laughter and see their amazement at the magic made me want to cry and so many wanted to dance with butterfly wings or participate in some way, there was hardly enough space. Some of them were so smart and quicker to get the meaning of our skits then many adults. We told a story with our costumes that taught how they can love like no one else can. When we were done a little boy with downs syndrome said on the microphone to everyone exactly everything the story meant.
Since my brothers and sisters and I are Second degree black belts in Tae Kwon Do, we use what we have learned to help others learn how important discipline and focus are. We brought up a lot of the kids and taught them some moves as well as how to just stand perfectly still and quit their mind. It was just beautiful, they were more into it, and took it more seriously then most any group we have done this with. After we were done the director spoke on the mic saying that in his 42 years he has never seen anything like this and that we taught them what love really was. His words really touched us.
After this, we had to get to the old age home and meet with the nun. We set up and then helped push the wheelchairs of the elderly from upstairs to outside down a ramp. It took a while to get them all together and help the nuns since they had to be moved very slowly. Some of them were very old and barely aware, some where blind and others deaf and we had to be creative to communicate with them. Some were very much aware of everything and so excited to get to see their own mini circus. The nun told us that out of all the people here, only ten of them have someone that comes to visit them. One lady told me she had been moved from another home after the floor collapsed because it was so old. She told me she had always wanted to travel and her eyes welled up with tears as she realized that would never happen. Right now, we think about the here and now, but all too soon, the “then” will become now and we will realize we can no longer do all the things we used to do. Time is chasing us all; we got to seize it before it seizes us.
It was so beautiful to see men and women in their eighties and nineties laughing like eight year olds and then really listening as we told them to talk to Jesus. The head nun later made a video of our time with them and put it on u tube. I think that is a funny picture, a nun uploading a video to u tube!
After we helped return the folks to their rooms, we had to make it to the other home and set up there as well. It gets pretty exhausting hauling in and out all out equipment and I thank God for His oh so real grace. At this home the people were much worse off and many were barely coherent. One lady was 109 years old! We mostly just talked with them, loved them, and my mom sang to them. We visited them with our frog costume and they liked touching his soft fur. I gave this one old man a little stuffed animal of an otter and when he held it he laughed so hard it made me laugh as well. There was a flea market close to where we live every Saturday and we were able to get some scarves and hats for the elderly and some little stuffed animals for the kids without spending to much as well as candy and other little prizes.
We visited the largest prison in Santiago and were able to perform in the very center of the whole prison called, “the oval.” About 700 men were allowed to attend, but the whole prison was able to hear and many were able to see out of their cells. There are some cell blocks where the men are NEVER let out into the court to exercise. It is really hard to see all these men hanging on the bars and reaching their arms out hoping to receive anything, even just a little attention. After we were done with our presentation, we went over and just talked to the men that had seen our show, but can not get out from behind the bars. We gave them some things we had and tried to lift their spirits. A lot of them have a life sentence. It was a very cold, cloudy day and had just snowed heavy on the mountains the day before. Some of these guys were freezing and I was glad to have some extra clothes to give some of them. This one guy who had just gotten in, maybe 20 years old, told us that one day he was so hungry, he went into a store and was going to steal something to eat, when another guy tried to stop him. He ended up killing the guy by mistake and now was here for the rest of his life. We have all made mistakes, some worse than others and we can never take them back or change our past. But WE can change, and thus resolve our present situation and find a future.
We were able to present in two huge schools as well, one middle school and one high school, each over 600 kids. It takes a lot of work to effectively reach this many kids at the same time and keep them focused on what you are saying. You have to go from making them laugh, to then really hear what you are saying. All in all it went great and it amazes me sometimes the things that ten and twelve year olds say. Some of them really get our message and are very smart and quick to learn. When I look at all their beautiful faces, I feel like we are sowing seeds into a garden with fresh soil. This is the age where you can really make an impression in their young hearts and minds.
The teenagers are more difficult to get through to sometimes, since they are now at the age of trying to be cool and get the guy or girl to think they are funny. It just takes a lot of work on our part, we have to constantly change things up, sometimes be crazy and fun and then sometimes be really stern. Sometimes let them participate with us, and sometimes just teach them. They are at the time in their lives where the next few years are going to determine their future and we try to teach them about the gravity and consequences of the decisions they make, especially concerning matters of marriage and having children.
It is so busy down town Santiago it was insane. Our crowd constantly swelled and we had some very effective nights. We were by a subway station that just poured out people. The subway gets so full, people are literally shoving hard to try to fit in and sometimes you have to wait a long time for a train with a bit of space on it. When my brothers and sisters and I travel the subway, often some of us will get on and the others don’t fit. One day there was a guy with a bike, a lady with a stroller, a guy with three kids coughing like crazy and two old ladies carrying one big box with a cake in it, all trying to get on at the same door. Needless to say, I did not make it on this train car. (If you ever come here and plan to take the metro, I highly recommend bringing your own personal oxygen tank). We do a comedy routine where we pantomime the fight to get on the subway in slow motion to a “chariots of fire” type song. It is hilarious and the crowd cracks up. God has given us a very effective ministry. By using humor to open up and win the crowd, we give ourselves an open door to then share serious things with them in a way that they have never heard before.
We visited a number of women’s prisons as well. In 2010 there was a horrible fire that broke out in a prison killing 80 men. The prison was so overcrowded that it was ciaos and some say that the guards were drunk and thus could not find the keys. The families of the victims are still waiting for justice. Anyway, that prison is now a women’s prison and you could still see and smell the effects of the fire with the dark walls.
I wrote an act we do using a song called “Alegria”, which combines clowns, magic and dance. It carries the message that if we care about others, more than ourselves, we find joy (alegria), and the answer to our own problems. After some of our presentations the prisoners will tell us that it took them back to their childhood, reminded them of seeing a circus and thank us for giving them the gift of joy. They all laugh when in the act I take a cell phone from a clown dressed as a prisoner (my brother) and make it vanish since phones are illegal but often smuggled in. Once the guards freaked out and I had to hurry up and show them it was a toy, (oops). The women were so excited and grateful for the time we took with them. One lady told me that she has 5 kids on the outside that hardly ever can come visit her. She was desperate for money and got talked into carrying drugs across the border and got caught. She has been here 5 years and does not yet have a sentence.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”(Mark12:30)
Crossing to Argentina:
The drive from Santiago to Mendoza Argentina was the most beautiful drive I have ever taken. After all the long, hard drives of endless desert sands, this was an incredibly welcome sight. There were beautiful vineyards in front of snow covered peaks surrounded by fall foliage. Around every curve we caught our breath as the scenery changed to another gorgeous panorama. I took so many pictures it is going to take me 40 years to sort them all out.
The pass up to the border is world famous, maybe you have seen pictures (it was on one of those shows about dangerous roads). There are 29 steep curves, with a sign counting each one (just in case you loose track). The mountains are so steep it’s like a wall of shear ice and there is a waterfall running down the side.
The Argentinean border is indoors since it is so cold and besides a delay when their system crashed, and having to clear the rack on our roof because we were almost too high, everything went smooth. The Argentinean accent is so different from other Spanish speaking countries. It is like a combination of Italian, Portuguese, a little French and Spanish. Sometimes it seems that they don’t really punctuate their sentences, it’s just one long stream of words going up and down in cadence and it is going to be a bit more challenging to understand.
The people here in Buenos Aires are very different than other countries in Latin America, they have a strong European influence and a more arrogant, cynical attitude. In the late seventies to the eighties, Argentina suffered under the power of a horrible dictator who would kidnap and even torture people whom he believed to be communist. There have also been numerous Brazilian evangelical churches that are complete scams and have come here to take advantage of the people, as well as other religious groups. Anyway, there is a lot of history behind what makes a person the way they are and makes someone skeptical to hear us. It takes work and creativity to get through and communicate the Gospel, but no matter if people listen or do not, we still will try with everything we have to tell them about God’s profound love; Jesus.
We went out a lot, walking and standing on the very busy streets, sharing with the people. This one street I stood on is one of the widest in the world, 6 lanes running in each direction. We have gone out with our music a number of times, one of our spots is at a park and a huge crowd always gathers. It has been very effective in fighting the cold, cynical attitude so many have. Music and laughter are powerful weapons for the use of breaking down the lies that God is religious and boring.
The cold weather made performing on the streets and going out even more of a challenge. You could see your breath as it was around 30 degrees and the cold burns your lungs dancing at an intense level (like after I do my Irish step dance, it is so hard to catch my breath and then talk to the people without sounding like a complete wheezing idiot). We all got pretty sick in the cold weather and in my family when one of us gets it, we all get it. It can’t really be avoided living and traveling close together like we do and it is a very small price to pay compared to the reward of being used by a very big God.
I had my birthday in Buenos Aires and the birthday gift I wanted most was the authorization to enter the prisons here in Buenos Aires. God answered my prayers and gave me that blessing the day before my birthday. After emails, phone calls and visits to the main office, we received authorization to enter the prisons. We worked in three prisons two men’s prisons and a women’s prison. Every country we have been to, against all odds, God has opened the doors to visit the prisons, surely this is very important to Him and He cares about the forgotten.
In Argentina the prison conditions have been just horrible, violating human rights. Some prisons at double and triple capacity, some with no access to water or sewage tanks, prisoners that are not allowed to see a doctor unless they die, then a doctor will pronounce them dead, and in 2008 the global NGO listed Argentina as one of 81 countries where torture is still practiced. Suicides, riots and gang fights have claimed a staggering number of lives as well as prison fires that have ragged out of control killing many. In many cases prisoners will protest the conditions they are suffering and the protest will get out of control and turn deadly. Many of the prisoners are held years without yet having received a sentence or having any idea how long they will be in for.
In the recent years, conditions have been improving due to the human rights group implanting laws. One of those laws being that only a certain number of prisoners can be together, in most cases 50 to 100. This meant that we would have to do a number of presentations for smaller groups, instead of the large groups we are used to (In Colombia we were actually able to perform for about 2000 men at the same time!) But everything worked out perfectly according to Gods beautiful plan and we were able to move our equipment in and out of multiply patios. Of all people, God says to remember the prisoners (Heb.13:3) Everyone deserves a little hope and for every broken instrument, we should at least attempt a repair.
We were able to enter into the largest prison in Argentina and also the Maximum Security. It was so eerie clearing security in the Maximum security prison. You had to go through literally I think it was nine separate, huge gates and then wind our way back deep inside the prison. It was absolutely freezing outside, and the cold cement walls made it even worse. Once we were set up in an outdoor basketball court, we had to wait a long time for all the men to then be checked through security and allowed out side their cells. Being maximum security, the men that were in here were not young average drug smugglers, but rather middle aged men who had done more serious stuff. One man that spoke with us had accidentally gotten involved in a shooting when he was young that left many dead years ago, he has 18 more years to serve and admitted that he deserved to be there and would give anything to take things back. We were able to share many things with them like the forgiveness and the love of the Father that can be found only through humility.
It was cool having a smaller number of men, because we were able to give them more personal time and attention. We always begin by just talking one on one with them, sometimes doing card tricks or close up magic to break the ice, and sometimes just listening as they relay what they have gone through. Then when we begin our performance, they feel like they are part of our family and we know them a little bit better. One of the patios we went to was in a soccer field in the middle of a cell block. It had poured the day before so it was all thick mud and we had trouble not slipping, but the sun came up and it warmed up some and was better than being indoors where the acoustics of our music would have been an echo nightmare. My dad writes the music we use in our performance. It is a really cool, electronic, techno, trance, type music with awesome rhythm and energy. As well as some ethnic, chill songs that are more contemplative. Everyone just loves it and the men are pleasantly surprised when we turn on our speakers.
In Argentina every one drinks this drink called, “Mate”, which is hot water poured over a mixture of herbs and drunken through a straw. You can have it bitter or sweet (a ton of sugar is added) and everyone, everywhere drinks it even more than Colombians drink coffee. Anyway, this one patio we went into, the guys brought out a table, chairs and all the fixings to make Mate for us. They were so excited to make it up for foreigners and show them the drink Argentinians love. It can be awkward when someone gives you something to eat or drink that you are pretty sure you are not going to like, but you don’t want to insult them by declining or really showing how cool you are and spitting it out all over. For example, a while ago when we had finished a presentation for the army in the Colombian jungle, a general brought out a tray with drinks on it. It was so hot and we were all dripping in sweat from the humidity, we hardly thought and just dove into it, only to realize it was a lukewarm coconut, bamboo juice kind of drink. I was able to swallow the sip I had taken and smile at him until he walked away and I could pour out the rest in the bushes. When he came back around and saw my glass was empty, he insisted I take more (perfect, just great!) Luckily I was able to ditch this one on an innocent little kid who loved the stuff. Well anyway, back to Argentina, I actually liked the Mate this prisoner made for me, it was way better than the way my brother had made it earlier and it will always be a really cool memory drinking Mate in a prison.
It is so beautiful to see how much these guys appreciate the things we do for them. Even simple things like magic and funny routines. One of the things they really enjoy is when we have a dance competition where 7 or 8 guys will participate and everyone else will judge them. Allowing them to participate and have fun is just one more thing we do to help open them up and get them to let their guard down so we can get a seed inside.
Before I did my Irish dance, I took a rope with lots of knots tied down it and showed it to them. As human beings we can do so many amazing things, but sometimes the most difficult thing to do, is control our thoughts and win the battle that rages in our minds. I was using the rope as an example to show how when we begin to think about the past, one thought, (knot) follows another thought, follows another and we always end up in the same sad, hopeless place. The first thought will start with “Why?” “Why did I go there, or do that, or say that…?” and the next, “If only I had not…” and so on and so forth, always thinking about something in the past and wishing we could change it. We all have regrets and pains in our lives and we can find at times that we are living in the past. Maybe you have something that haunts you from the past and thinking about it brings you sadness and pain. Let me tell you something that can help you, they are just thoughts! They are only thoughts about something that happen in the past, just thoughts, nothing real, and nothing that can harm you or change you. No matter how many times you think them, nothing will change. You will only go deeper and deeper into despair. Rather resolve the past, believe, and realize that we can not change our past, but by changing, we can change our future. If you stop the thoughts, you stop all the feelings that go with those thoughts. So when the first “Why did…?” comes your way, stop it. Take it “Captive” as Paul says (2Cor.10:5 )
So this is what I shared before I danced my Irish step dance as well as telling them about when I broke my leg. When I danced, the sun was setting behind the barbwire walls and you could see your breath as the cold moved in. My steps echoed across the stone court yard and all the prisoners erupted in applause when I got to the part where I tap really fast to a Celtic song. These are the memories I live for. I know they heard what I said, I know I touched them in at least a small way.
The cold set in quickly as we said goodbye to each man there, and many of them were in tears as they thanked us. The surrounding cells went high up in towers and many that were not allowed out, could still see us perform below. In fact, when we were setting up our equipment, these guys way up in a cell, shouted down and asked us to go out farther into the court so they could see us. When we left they singled me with a mirror to get my attention and say thank you. We were able to send them up some stuff to read, candy and music cds. The directors of these prisons were extremely grateful. They called us into the office to thank us. One director gave my dad a cool Mate cup to show his gratitude and served us hot coffee to warm us up (which was so considerate knowing we did not really like Mate so there would be no trying to dump it out when he wasn’t looking).
The drive to Uruguay was not bad, a bit of a rough road but no big deal. There is a river that divides the two countries and you cross a long bridge to enter Uruguay. It is actually a fresh water river even though it connects to the ocean. It took a little while to cross the border, one, because the border guards were excited to try out their English and wanted to talk, and two, because there was an error with our insurance and it took time to sort it all out. It also takes time to explain why we have sound equipment that we are not entering the country to make money and sort out what king of visa we need but this is all part of the adventure. So far all of the borders in South America have been much easier than the ones in Central America which would take up to 9 to 10 hours to cross (many guards were corrupt and looked for bribes to let you pass).
Montevideo is a port city and very old. It is the most expensive city in South America, gas being 7 dollars a gallon! It took a while of walking the streets to find an affordable place to stay, but God always provides when you seek his kingdom first and we found a good place. It was absolutely freezing, with a cold wind coming of the river and the place we found to stay actually had a heater in it which was awesome. We went down town a lot and ministered to large crowds. It always amazes me how each country is so different from the next and every individual has a choice in how they respond to the Gospel.
When I went to the office that runs the prisons here, to request permission to enter, the first words out of the ladies mouth were, “Everything is a bureaucratic nightmare in this country. It is not going to happen here. You will not be able to get in.” After having seen the power God has to get us in anywhere, I almost laughed when she said it. My sister and I were in the office and we insisted to talk with a director. The lady calls the director and starts the conversation by talking him out of giving us authorization. He however, ends up agreeing to meet with us and when we get to his office, he had already printed out the email I had sent a week ago, (which I thought had never gone through) and warmly received us. In a short amount of time, he organized our entry into the largest prison in Uruguay to perform at multiple patios.
This prison is way outside the city in the middle of nowhere and looked like somewhere in the Soviet Union the way all the guards wore big black military coats, thick hats and carried machine guns. I felt so bad for how cold the prisoners were, many having very long sentences. One of the patios we entered had only a small space out side that was on a hill between some tables. Not ideal but all the prisoners were so glad to be outside in the sun, instead of inside the cold walls that it worked out ok. I spoke with a man inside who was an American citizen and had no family here in Uruguay. He was in for eight years because of credit card fraud and was so devastated and hopeless. He had not been in long and spoke no Spanish. He was so grateful to hear English and I had things to give him to read in English as well. Our whole performance is bilingual because my dad does not speak English so we translate what he says into Spanish, and a lot of our acts include English, Spanish and Portuguese.
All the men at both patios were very engaged, quick to participate and listen and hung on every word we said. At the end, I have never had so many of the guys come up and give us hugs and words of gratitude. One man, whose name was Sebastian, told me that we took a piece of heaven and brought it down to earth. Another man named Daniel, had been in for 18 years and said he had many more to go all though he would not say how many. He said when we came in, he felt like he was free and we took him somewhere else. He followed us out as far as he was allowed to go and asked my father to give him some last words that he could hold on to.