Our final day in Bogota.
Today, our ministry destination was a section of Bogota called Barrio Egipto. To give you a bit of background....
"Egipto is the poor and troubled neighborhood right above La Candelaria. Tourists and even most Bogotá residents don't venture here because its narrow alleys make it a refuge for muggers and teen gangs. While most Egipto residents are certainly honest, hard-working people, the neighborhood also has lots to overcome. Police officers told me about violent feuds between gangs on neighboring streets. Sometimes, these feuds get handed down, Hatfield-McCoy style, from father to son. A friend of mine used to live in Egipto with her two young daughters, but she came home too many times to find gangs shooting it out in the alleyway in front of her door. Then her home was burglarized, so she moved away." - Mike's Bogota Blog, 5/14/2011
Hopefully that gives you a bit of an understanding of the atmosphere that surrounds this area of the city. We had strict instructions upon arrival. All of our valuables had to be left on the bus. We were to bring nothing but ourselves. Walking up the steeply inclined cobblestone street, we had to be sure we did not walk too fast or too slow. We had to stick as tightly together as we could, as the street had a dangerous reputation. We trudged up the disheveled road and observed the rugged houses, haggard-looking passersby, the stench of trash, the garbage and feces all over the street, and dirt and grime in every corner.
Our purpose was to spend some time at a children's shelter in the middle of this suburb. We opened the gate and our gaze fell upon a tiny cement courtyard filled with wild young'uns, and many extensive renovation projects on the go. The place was in rough shape, but the attitudes of the students and the staff showed us that this was a place built with Christ as its cornerstone.
We had limited time to spend in this place, so we were put to work making balloon animals, painting faces, leading crafts, and playing games. As well, we were involved in some renovation work. Some cleaned, some helped electrically, some organized, some built. The amount of help we could offer was miniscule, and the amount of time we could spend was hardly anything at all, so we had to focus on bearing the light of Christ. God is faithful, and He gave us the energy to work with smiles on our faces, despite the fatigue that was creeping over us after the past 10 full days of hard work.
Although we had to leave almost as soon as we arrived, the lessons that God began teaching me in Barrio Egipto continued throughout the rest of the day. For starters, the rundown, sketchy street that we walked to get to the shelter passed directly beside a church. A grandiose church. It was tall, magnificent, massive, beautifully structured, and looked powerful. This church sits directly nextdoor to the struggles of Barrio Egipto, and has stood there since its construction in 1556. It's powerful display is undeniable, and its beauty is unmistakable. Of course, its only flaw was its placement. How odd it looked to have guards standing around the area with machine guns at the ready. How comical it looked to have such a beautiful palace neighboring some of the poorest homes in Bogota. The contrast was like night and day.
We left Barrio Egipto, and spent the rest of our day sightseeing, riding the gondola up to Monserrate, and enjoying a fantastic meal with our coordinators, leaders, and translators. It was such a beautiful way to end these 10 days, and we all had much to mull over as we toured Bogota. The view from 3,000 meters up was breathtaking- totally indescribably. The food we enjoyed, the company we had, the laughter we shared, it was all such a perfect gift from God.
During our tour of downtown Bogota, some of the buildings down here were unimaginably huge and overwhelming. From presidential buildings and government structures to gigantic libraries and historical landmarks, these displays of wealth and power still struck me as wrong, seeing as they stood merely a short drive away from Barrio Egipto. The difference struck me so strongly, it hurt. The magnificence and splendour of all these buildings standing in contrast to the perverse, poor, dirty, smelly, violent, corrupt, and dangerous way of life in Barrio Egipto was hard to believe.
I was reminded of the words of Jon Foreman, in his song Patron Saint of Rock and Roll:
I saw the patron saints parade down city hall
I saw the patron saints for the handsome, rich and tall
I felt so out of place, appalling and appalled
They all drove away and there was no one left to call
There’s a park downtown
Where the homeless get ignored
Where the church next door is a crowd
Singing “Blessed are the poor”
Where the Mercedes drive away
Muttering, “druggies, drunks and whores”
Where the bumper sticker displays
“My copilot is the Lord”
These words strike a chord somewhere deep within me. The hypocrisy of the hugely wealthy churches today was so obvious to me. Their greed and selfishness was so clear to see. It was easy to see how corrupt the system was. The wealth gap was as plain as day. All the money going towards embellishments and decorations for the palace-like buildings was heart wrenching, after seeing the intense need up in the Bronx of Bogota, Barrio Egipto.
The rest of my team was feeling it, too. It was wrong. It was unfair. It was unjust. And as I thought about all that needed to be done here and how little I could ever do, I was forced to think about the trip back to Canada coming up tonight. We are just an ill-equipped group of teenagers. Realistically, there is nothing we can do to lessen the wealth gap here in Bogota. Logically, there is nothing we can do to pull the residents of Barrio Egipto out of poverty and danger. Truthfully, we can do nothing more than make balloon animals, and show an hour's worth of God's love to the children who have lived many lifetimes of troubles.
Tonight we will leave this place. What then? I thought about my hometown, and that's when it hit me like a ton of bricks. Canada is no different than Colombia. Three Hills is no different than Bogota. We may not have massive Catholic Churches standing beside slums, but we do entertain hypocrisy. We may not have incredible architecture standing amidst the homeless and impoverished, but we do have a complex of the "goodies" versus the "baddies." It's so obvious to see here in Bogota, because we are not trapped in the system. We have only been here for 10 days. It's been long enough to see the situations without being absorbed into them. Back home, however, we are the system. We are blind to those who struggle in our own communities. We are nonchalant toward the needs of those in our own neighborhoods. There is work to be done for the Kingdom of God that we ignore daily, because we are too caught up in our own selfish purchases and investments. How is that system any different than the system here in Bogota?
Like the words of Jon Foreman, are we the patron saints, the handsome, the rich, and the tall? Are we scaring away those who need salvation, because of our upturned-noses and parades of pride? Are we the people driving away in Mercedes, muttering "Druggies, drunks, and whores"? Are we the Church crowd singing, "Blessed are the poor," while thinking only about our own schedules and agendas? It's so easy to point a finger at other systems and cities and countries. It's nigh impossible to detect the problems in our own, and it's even harder to actually do something about it.
While there is not much that we are able to do here in Bogota, we are flying back tonight to a town where we can do something. The question is whether we will do something about it.
John 10:27 - "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."
Luke 6:46 - "Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?"
Tonight, the temptation to be integrated once more into the mindset of ignorance and apathy will be stronger than ever. If we return home and make no effort to alleviate the spiritual poverty in our own town, we will have wasted tens of thousands of dollars, and months of work and effort. Here in Bogota, we are motivated to work hard because we have leaders who push us past our limits. They are constantly reminding us, guiding us, and helping us. As soon as we arrive home, we will disperse. We will be forced to motivate ourselves. How on earth will we find the adrenaline and inspiration that we somehow acquired for these past 10 days? How will we find the energy and willpower to continue this mission trip in our own houses?
Well, if there's one thing I've learned on the trip, it's this: The Devil's power of temptation can be combated through Prayer and the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
That being said, there are going to have to be some drastic changes to my personal devotions. 15 minutes every morning will no longer be sufficient. A prayer before bed will not be enough. This trip has introduced me once again to the reality of spiritual warfare, and the power of prayer... a power that I rarely take advantage of. I sincerely hope that's about to change.