Coastal times and a near death experience.
La Candelaria, Colombia
So I didn't manage to do another update before Christmas or before the New Year's Eve celebrations, and now is the only time since arriving back in Bogota that I've had to try and sit and write. This is also possibly my last blog, but most likely I will do one when I get back to England to close off.
So what else did we do in the coast?
Well throughout the 3 weeks, I taught the Piano and focused on chords, as they are the easiest thing to teach in such a short space of time. However, not having ever really learnt chords meant that I had to give myself a crash course whilst attempting to teach them! Luckily I had my friend Mateo on hand to help me out. During this time I also learnt more Spanish words related to music and the piano, which was great. Teaching the piano was a whole new experience for me and a challenge, but one that I did quite enjoy, although trying to make it interesting was hard. I hope though that I have left them with a basic understanding of how to play chords and how to therefore learn new songs.
Mateo gave classes of guitar to one young guy, who had a guitar, as the step team who were there from May to July gave him one. The classes went down really well and the student worked really hard, generally arrived on time for his classes and seemed to really appreciate being taught the basics.
Classes of English continued with Alex generally taking charge of them, which if I'm honest, I was glad of…still not down with the whole teaching thing! She enjoyed planning and teaching them, so win, win to be honest! The youth that came seemed to enjoy them as well, so good times all round.
When Jason arrived he was able to give some classes of football, which went down a treat. He taught the young children (5-10 years old) in the morning, then the older boys in the afternoon and the girls if there was time. The place to train was small, which is why the boys and girls were split up. Jason is a P.E teacher anyway, and loves football, so it was great that he could pass on this blessing to the children.
There were a few art 'classes' in which the youth could paint things to take home, do Christmas cards and make snowflakes. These were popular, mainly by the girls who loved being creative and taking their things home.
Felipe was in charge of drawing a Muriel on the wall of the room that the step team built. An image was chosen of Jesus holding a child, with two other children beside him (see photo). Felipe did an amazing job, but what was also special was that the youth were able to help paint it once it was drawn. For them to be able to contribute to this Muriel for the church was special and they will always have that knowledge that they helped create what is now a beautiful image.
We also continued on with the evening chats and continued to have about 20 young people each night. We did a mini Bible study in small groups and they took to it really well, taking away a good understanding of the passage that they had read. Each group presented their study and it was good to see their levels of understanding and attentiveness to listen to each other. Another night we split the boys and girls up, and had a chat with them about what it is to be a women and what it is to be a man. We chatted so much that we had to continue it another night. At first the girls were quite shy, but after a while they all began to contribute about what it is to be a woman. It was great to see their confidence build and that affirmation of who they are.
One of the last things we did, which was great fun was a Christmas themed fashion show. I decided to join in, so Danni and I teamed up and I was transformed in Angel Gabriel (wasn't much of a transformation really…let's be honest! ;-p). We used bin bags, and other coloured plastic bags (hello sweat!), to create the look. They youth got into teams and did some amazing creations. We had Jesus with aluminium foil sandals (amazing), Mrs Noel, with black plastic boots (incredible), we had a wise king with a long, hair of Marge from the Simpsons style hat (fantastic) and someone else, but to this day I still have no idea who he was meant to be (confused.com). It was such a fun evening though and Adelmo the pastor was the judge. We had to introduce our character and then to a catwalk…loved it! Mrs Noel won, which was the right decision. It was a great way to begin to close the time we had there.
The last evening was an evening of prayer stations, which was incredible. We had 6 stations: a thanksgiving station- we cut out suns and rays, and gave them to each person. On each ray they had to write something that they were thankful to God for (family, friends, etc) and on the sun they wrote something like "I give thanks to God for…" I led this station and it was great to see them asking me for more rays as they had more things to be thankful for. We then stuck the rays on the sun and stuck it to the door.
- Prayer for the family station- we had cut outs of boys and girls, and each person wrote a prayer for their family. We then pegged them up.
- Write a letter to your younger self station- self explanatory, but they wrote about what they would change, do differently, what they would have liked t0 have learnt quicker…those types of things.
- We had an identity station- using a mirror and a pen they wrote something about who they are in God, and then prayed if they wanted.
- The stone and water station- the stone represents the burdens that you have and the water is washing them away. The idea is to take a stone and prayer about the burdens in your life and give them to God. You then put the stone in the water to symbolise that you have given it to God and that He had taken it from you.
- Prayer request station- they wrote a personal prayer request for themselves and then put it in a box. I think this was one of the hardest ones for them, as most people struggle to ask for prayer for themselves. We are good at asking for prayer for friends, family, etc, but for ourselves is a whole other ball game. It was good to get them thinking about themselves in terms of prayer needs. I was sat near this station and I loved seeing how so many of them let Jason pray for them.
This whole evening was incredible and practically each young person took it seriously. You could see how they were thinking about things, praying, and considering what they were writing. The sense of peace in that place was overwhelming, but it was true sign that God was working in the hearts of the young people and us. At the end of the evening we were handed two letters by two of the young people thanking us for what we had been doing over the three weeks there. It was amazing to read their experiences and how their hearts are changing, and confirmed that every little thing counts and all the effort, all the planning, coming back from the beach early to do things, were worth it.
The next day we took some time as a team to read the prayer requests and pray about them (each one of us taking two and praying silently). My hope is that these young people will remember the requests they made and start to see a change, and remember that God is with them and that through Him everything is possible. Our last full day there was spent washing clothes and packing up. Church in the evening was really special and after the sermon we got into small groups and prayed. I was prayed for, which was really special, and then I prayed to (still scares me to pray in Spanish, arrrggggghh). God shared with me two passages, one He had given me earlier in the week, but then let me know that it was the time to share it. The passages were 1 Samuel 3:7-15, and Romans 15:13. I know to that these verses are for me, as well as for those who I shared them. Saying goodbye for me wasn't overly emotional. I know that I hadn't formed deep friendships, as a way to protect myself due to having so many goodbyes coming up. Of course it was sad, as potentially I may never see these people again, but I also know that they are in God's hands and He knows all.
So of course in our time in Santa Marta we didn't just work, we did get back out to beaches, eat lots of fish, share more food with the family, enjoyed Christmas eve altogether with the family and the youth in which we ate chicken with rice and played games and stayed up chatting until about 2am. Christmas was hard though for me. I didn't think it would be, but I really did miss my family traditions, as well as them, and when we spoke on Skype on Christmas day, I felt sad because I wasn't there with them. Its strange how you can take so many things for granted without realising, but when it's not there you realise how much you miss it. Lesson learnt…I'd like to be with my family for Christmas next time.
So, the near death experience that I must share! Basically I was doing exercise on the terrace at 7.30am with Abi and some of the young girls. That night there had been a strong wind, which had woken me up two or three times, and was still quite strong that morning. Where we were doing exercise, part of the roof was slightly unattached, but seemed fine, so didn't think anything of it, until it fell off and smacked me on the head. Luckily it fell flat, so I only ended up with an egg sized lump on the back of my head and a small bump on my forehead, which I hadn't noticed until someone pointed it out. I also had a graze on my leg. Amazingly I didn't pass out, and didn't have severe concussion…God was clearly protecting me. I don't want to think what would have happened had it not fallen flat, or had it hit one of the girls…the thought scares me too much. I was rushed to the pastor's house, given sugar water, and ice wrapped up was placed on my bumps. Abi held the ice in place, whilst I sipped the water and had to explain a few times what had happened, as more people arrived. In general I felt okay, shocked of course, but nothing else. I managed to sort breakfast with someone else, as it was my turn, and go shopping for clothes (clearly was okay). Later on and for a day or two I did feel a bit disorientated and couldn't concentrate, but still in general was okay. Always good to realise how much you appreciate life right!
Finally I want to share a bit about the next adventure we had in Cartagena (another coastal city 4 hours by bus from Santa Marta). Danni, Alex, Felipe, Jason and I headed there on the 29th to celebrate in the New Year and get to know another city. We had arranged to stay in the house of a pastor who (pay attention) was the pastor of the church of a friend, of a friend, of the pastors in Santa Marta. We got off the bus, and went to catch taxis. We stopped a taxi and told the driver where we wanted to go. The reply, "I'm not going there its too dangerous". Oh okay! Anyway, we found taxis that would take us and we arrived and met the pastor. The area wasn't great with bars on the shop so no-one could enter, but the house itself was fine. We settled in then left with the pastor to get food and walk to and around the historic centre. Whilst it was nice to get out and about, being chaperoned was not the idea we had for our holiday. Luckily, Jason has family and friends in all parts of the world, and on this day they just happened to be in Cartagena. After a few phone calls, an apartment was found in a place called Boca Grande, which is next to the sea in a safe place. We stayed the night with the Pastor and explained to him the situation that also J's mum and sister were coming so we needed a bigger place. He understood and said we could keep the bags at his until we were ready to go. We went back to the castle in the historic centre, as Alex wanted to go in and there we waited for her and Jason's family. We had lunch then the boys headed back to the apartment to get the bags and we would all meet up at the apartment. This happened, later than we had hoped for various reasons.
After settling in again, showering (first shower by actual shower in 3 weeks) and buying enough food to last us until we were leaving on the 1st, we had some food then headed back out to another part of the old town. It was great just walking round, being in the environment and buzz of lots of people, and feeling relaxed. We walked for quite some time looking at the architecture, etc and then went and had a drink. By this time it was almost midnight and we had to be up at 5.30 the next morning, as we had a boat trip to go on. We headed home, and got the little sleep that we did.
New Years Eve! What a day! Having ha 4 hours sleep we got up, made breakfast and headed off to catch a boat for a tour of the Islands of Rosarios and the Island of Baru. Typical Colombia style, we waited on the boat for an hour, but had good seats at the front of the boat. These were not well used, as we slept for most of the time (well I did anyway!). The water wasn't too rough on the way, and finally we arrived at the first stop. Danni and I decided that we needed to swim so off we went. Others went into the aquarium and others just chilled out. The time there was too short, but very much enjoyed. Back on the boat, another nap and boom we arrived at Baru. We had to transfer onto a smaller boat to get to shore, which was a mission in itself! We got off and went straight for lunch, which was included…,more fish, rice with coconut, patacones (plantain) and salad (standard lunch on the coast). After that, sea time! The waves were really strong though, so after a bit I got out and had a lie down half in the sun and shade. All too soon it was time to get back on the boat, and the journey back was horrendous! I honestly almost threw up, so the only way to deal with that was to sleep. Half leaning against a chair (I was sat on the floor) I hung my head and slept for a good hour at least! Thankfully I felt better afterwards, but was all too happy to get back on dry land.
Once back at the apartment, we got ready, played some games, prepared dinner, and ate dinner at midnight whilst celebrating in the New Year. Danni, Alex, Pipe and I then headed out to take in the atmosphere until the early hours. Sadly J was feeling too ill after the boat ride to slept, as did his mum and sister. This New Years Eve is definitely one to remember, and I am so pleased that we went and did what we did.
Next stop Barranquilla, for one night to stay with Daniel and his family again. Arriving at the house I felt this incredible feeling that I was home, something I've never forgotten about my time there when I went in August. It was great to see the family, to be able to talk more, understand more and meet the new edition. One night was not long enough, but we had to go and get our flight. Saying bye to Daniel was hard, so it was short and sweet. Arriving in Bogota was not pleasant…it was cold! But it was nice getting back to the house and catching up with the family, settling back in, washing clothes, etc and stopping for a bit.
My final week is a week of seeing people and saying goodbyes, as I prepare to head back to England for the immediate future. I have no idea what is in store, but I do know that God knows and in time He will make it clear. I can't begin to describe how I feel, because the emotions are so mixed, and I know that over time the emotions will change, and return.