Trying to put today into words, on a computer screen, is almost totally impossible.
I’ve been coming to Cali, Colombia, for 17 years now: 51 trips here in that time, and visits to some wonderful, some interesting, some heart-wrenching, some extremely dangerous places. There’s an area of the city in the west, built on the side of one of the mountains in the Andes, called Siloe (Sil-o -ay). When I first came here, I wasn’t ‘allowed’ near it by the people who’d initially invited me, as it’s a total no-go area for foreigners of any persuasion, and, although it’s an area with a large population, you’re instantly noticeable when you don’t live there.
If you remember the Walled City, in Hong Kong, where Jackie Pullinger-To used to live (it’s been gone a long time now), where houses were built – literally – on top of each other, then you get an idea of what Siloe is like. All the roads are steep, houses tightly packed in, precariously balanced on each other. Even in recent times, when Cali has become somewhat less dangerous, it is a place where gringoes go at their own risk, even peril.
I’ve mentioned this week my friend Dario: I met Dario last November, in a church in the middle of the city, he came up right at the end of the ministry time for prayer for healing, for ’30 surgeries in 15 months’, after 26 days in a coma, and wearing a neck to groin compression bandage. I knew instantly that he wasn’t sick: but that if I ‘asked’ him (knowing the answer already) what had happened to him, he’d clam up. Just sensed I needed to befriend him a bit first. It’s not often these days I have/or can create time – like 30-45 minutes – to chat and then pray but knew it was right that night. Then he told me his story: he’d been shot, by the man whose father he had killed: and he’d killed that man because that man had killed Dario’s father… I didn’t go any further down the ‘food-chain'(!), and it was the reason for his coma: he’d not been expected to live. He was in great pain the night we met: the compression bandage was effectively holding his body together. When I prayed for him and his body-guard, Henri, you might remember if you read my blogs last year, that I put my arms around each of them, straight onto their guns. Among many ‘businesses’, Dario is responsible (at risk of his life if he doesn’t fulfil his job) for a large number of ‘siccario’ agencies: siccarios are the ‘$50 killers’ who’ll go to kill anyone for the money. But you know what? Jesus loves them: and if we don’t try to reach them, who will?
When he got up to leave, I asked if I could hug him: yes. Risked a ‘body’ bear-hug(!) – no pain. It had gone. I asked him if we could keep in touch, could I have his phone number please? He’d never given ANYONE his phone number, as he had so many enemies – that’s life in ‘cartel land’ – but then he gave his number to my friend Edwin, the translator when I needed him: planning to hook up again when I was here at Easter.
Edwin, for reasons I have no idea, deleted his number. I was a wee bit mad, to say the least! No way of knowing how or where to get in touch. THEN… in July, when I was here with Alan & Barbara, I preached in a lovely church (same as last night) where, among the people who came up for prayer, was….Dario’s mum! She had a message from him: to say he’d planned to go to church with her (a huge risk to be seen out and about, when you’re a guy like him), but he’d been shot again a few days before, in the leg….. She gave me his number again.
I got Wilmar to call him when I arrived this time: but to get to him, you have to go down a long ‘line’ of people on the phone, who, if they think you’re ok, pass you on to the next level. In the end, all Wilmar could do was leave a voice-message for him, with no response.
Last night, as I mentioned yesterday, Dario was in church… I can honestly say I’ve not been so happy to see anyone for a long time! He gave me a wonderful hug: we talked, prayed, then he invited us into his favela today, for lunch, to pray for the family of the ‘overall’ boss of the Siloe favelas’ family: the boss committed suicide 7 days ago. A favela is a probably best defined as a shanty town: slum, perhaps, and pretty much the only law is the law of the boss, not the police or army. Last year, Dario had told me he longed to get out his lifestyle: but that if he tried, he’d be dead in hours. I have to confess I did wonder if he’d turn up at 2 pm when he arranged it. He did.
So, four gringoes, safe only because we were with him, went into the heart of Siloe, with dear, dear Wilmar. We got to the house of the widow, and it had 15-20 people there, all ages, all related. That number had risen to about 40 when we’d been there a while. In that sort of community, it would have been known within minutes that we were there. One of the great plusses for us is that the view from the house over the city is amazing! We were given a lovely lunch: then got everyone together to pray for the widow, the mum, and kids, of the deceased man. The moment we started to pray, heaven came down.
We then asked if anyone wanted prayer for healing. Inundated! Nick and I prayed for an older lady, Maria: terrible knee and shin an calf pain: healed instantly. The other guys with me teamed up and we prayed for just about everyone, including young siccarios, covered in tattoos, while we were there some were playing with their guns in the other rooms(!). Lots of people were healed. The widow and her kids were visibly transformed: the dead man’s mum too. The Presence of God in the house was tangible: you could feel God there, almost see Jesus walking from person to person, blessing them.
As one guy came up to me and Nick, Dario motioned that we should pray for his heart: he’s a guy who has never told his name to anyone. We were the first in the room to know, and it’s staying with us. He, too, wants to be out of that kind of lifestyle, and told us (another first) that he’s been searching for God for 18 of his 33 years…. it was almost too easy to forget where we were, who these guys are…. there were tears, from guys as well as the ladies. Dario was over the moon, as he’d told me last night that he wants his guys to believe in God and know Jesus.
As we were leaving, they all hugged us. And Dario has invited us for breakfast Saturday, and a barbecue Sunday afternoon at his ‘finca’, Spanish for ‘estate’…. he wants to see me every day before I leave, and I’m so happy to do that. I knew last November that God was working on him – he said exactly that to me last night, that God is changing him since that first meeting. When he gets saved, it’ll be revolutionary.
As we left, the police arrived. They’d heard that gringoes were at a known ‘drug’ and siccario house. As we drove out of Siloe, chaperoned on a motorbike by Dario, they pulled us over, searched us and the car, telling us that colleagues of theirs had been shot at from the balcony of the house previously…. when we told them we were pastors, and had gone to pray for the people, they were utterly gob-smacked, and shook hands with us, and within minutes, we were on our way home.
This is such a pathetic attempt to try to ‘convey’ what happened today: it’s unheard of, and I’m totally in awe of what God is doing. Dario told Wilmar he really trusts me, and that’s why he wants to spend time with me. He also said that 99.9% of the people who meet him are scared witless of him, but in seconds – he told Wilmar – he knew that I wasn’t, and didn’t judge him… that blew me away even more.
You might wonder how on earth I can say that he’s a lovely guy when he has done what he’s done: and to stay alive, still has to do it. Only when he knows that Jesus will protect his life, and watch over him, will he change. And – who knows, maybe this is why, for 17 years, I’ve come here. Visits to Cali have changed in dynamic and purpose today, exponentially….
Pictures tomorrow, all being well, as I’m absolutely shattered after a great meeting at a small church high in the mountains, went there last year, and God came and did his wonders there tonight, with healings, deliverance, reassurance, blessing, power, and a touch of his Kingdom Presence.
Robert’s Facebook post:
Rightyo, that was crazy. Met more killers than in an abattoir. Prayed for more gun shot wounds than I’d ever thought possible but oh boy do they suffer which is probably why the boss necked himself 6 days ago. Anyway the police found out we were there and on the way home we were searched for drugs and when i say the police, i mean at least 8 of them. Jesus really came through and touched their lives and touched ours as well. So we are going back on Saturday for breakfast & the others are going to his farm on Sunday. I think I was the first Australian to ever go there but more importantly, the first one to ever leave.