I remember the days when we used to have retreats for people in Ventanilla. We used to take groups of people on Christ centered camps throughout all parts of Peru. Throughout Tingo Maria, Tambillo Grande, and even into the depths of Pucallpa. I remember the long winded travels by collectivo that would take us through the deep jungle recesses from town to town. Long hours, heat, and massive insects were only a few of the adventures that we experienced along the way. 72-76 hour boat trips down the Amazon River, traveling between Iquitos and Pucallpa were some of the highlights that I will never forget. There were cows, chickens, and over 400 people that crowded into those small barges that took us on a wild ride for 76 hours. The best part was we slept in hammocks and ate out of tupperware containers. Total costs for three days, 9 meals, and an startlingly enchanting view of jungle life? $15.00 USD. Travel was cheap, but danger was high. I'll never forget the times when we would lie up on the roof of the barge as twilight would dwindle its last rays across the sky, and as the stars came out, it seemed that all of creation was circling around our boat. Animals deep in the forest would echo their voices across the channel as the barge slowly pushed toward the next town. Just as we got comfortable, hoping to gaze at the night sky to welcome the morning sun, the security guard on the boat would come up and warn us to come down below deck to avoid getting shot by boat pirates that circled around looking for cargo.
These adventures were inspiring and completely out of the status quo for advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all aspects. The most empowering part of these adventures were to see the impact that God would bestow into the lives of people that we sponsored to these Christ centered retreats. Over the years, hundreds of young adults found Christ and even more chose lives worthy of their calling.
Many of them have chosen a path that is most challenging to walk as it is narrow and full of temptations, however, God goes with them and guides them along the experience. We, as leaders, pray and ask Christ to continue to sow those seeds of His Word that will not return void. We watch and pray. Some of the young adults have gone on to become engineers, professional chefs, and owners of companies.
My heart grieved heavily last Sunday night when I received word of the life of one. He was one of our most humorous and generous youth. His heart was compassionate and he loved to spend hours with our colleague and friend, Rosita, our President of the NGO. He found his girlfriend in the youth group, wooed her and married year a few years later. He always thought the best of his wife and they celebrated when their daughter was born.
Somehow, the midst of those precious first years, this young man was led astray by his environment. The impact of God's Word on his life became secondary to the lies of the world and its wild promises of security and wealth. Confused and tempted, he bought into the darkness of easy money, making it his god. Quickly, he strayed away and continued lifestyle practices that left him bewildered by harsh blows of fast tracked emptiness. I remember conversations with him as he explored organized crime life, and intercity gang violence. I remember one afternoon, outside of the market in Calle 10 of Ventanilla, we spoke about his emptiness. I promised him that in the lifestyle he had chosen, emptiness would be the only fulfillment he would sense. He felt like there was something missing, and I assured him that what he missed, was still there, yet simply a calling from God to return. He promised to return.
That was the last time that I ever had a chance to speak with him on a personal level. The future encounters were brief, as he was always surrounded by numerous "assistants" that served as muscled up bodyguards that stole looks of hatred toward me as I walked by in the markets.
Its an unusual sensation of pain when you realize that one you saw just short weeks ago is no longer in the earthly realm. Sunday night, my security team called me and informed me of the news that this young adult was murdered with three bullets to his head on the steps of his home while his wife and daughter watched.
The short years of running along the darkened wide corridor of danger had returned to fetch him, and we are left to mourn his death. In cold blood, he was gunned down over revenge, destruction, and violence. It was a choice he had made in the days gone by, and now his choice led to his death, to leave his family mourning his absence.
The choices I make today can help impact others to choose the wide darkened corridor of danger or the narrow path of light in Christ. How and when we sow those seeds of hope in God's Word determine how they will grow. Crime and violence continue to escalate in our globally community and through the eyes of life are seen etched in His promise of Salvation from the pain and destruction.
Today, when I see people, I see that there is an opportunity to guide and lead, with the hopes that I won't have to mourn the pain in the years to come. Its a risk, and a painful one, but with eternity at stake, its one that I cannot ignore.