San Jose, California
July 6-20 …… Steve flew to San Jose and stayed for two weeks to accompany his mom, giving his sister Sandy and brother-in-law Lowell the opportunity to return home to Georgia in order to tend to things that needed attention at their home.
While I was there, I packed a bunch of boxes of tribal artifacts that my dad had collected and shipped them to the Wayumi campus, our Ethnos360 mobilization center in Pennsylvania where people can get a feel for how we do tribal missions. Those well-preserved authentic crafts will be used to teach about tribal culture.
I also had the opportunity to share in both the English and Spanish services of Neighborhood Bible Church, the descendant of Branham Lane Church, from which we were sent for missionary training and service back in August of 1980. It was great to have the opportunity to visit with great friends, such as the Reids, who served in BLC leadership, and my amigo Elliott, with whom I worked at Wells Fargo and who more recently has planted and pastored a church.
July 23 – August 7 …… A few days after returning home, Steve flew to Colombia, South America, to serve as interpreter for our regional training coordination team. The flight went very well, despite my apprehensions. Unfortunately, my teammate, Duff Gustafson, was not able to make that flight because his mother-in-law (a retired missionary in her 90’s) was taken Home to be with the Lord the day before we were to fly. But he was able to travel a week later.
It was touching to be so warmly received by our Colombian coworkers and friends, several of whom had been students when we were on the training staff of the Instituto Misionero. Unfortunately, I came down with some variety of flu the first night, which kept me in bed with a low fever and chills Saturday and Sunday nights. Our friend and missionary, Viviana (a former student) made chicken soup and beef broth to nurse me back to health. (Maybe the cold showers helped? No warm water came out of a shower the whole trip. Anything a few degrees less than chilled was a cause for gratitude!)
As a result of the flu bug, I missed taking the bus to the conference center with the rest of the group on Sunday, but I woke up feeling alright on Monday. It worked out well, since two of the international organizers from the States had arrived late because of flight and baggage problems, and since they didn’t speak Spanish, it was helpful for them that we were able to travel together.
I’ll spare you the details of the five-day forum. Suffice it to say that we made good progress in identifying and sequencing the elements of the core training curriculum which this group is tasked with developing for the Latin American region.
After the forum, Duff arrived from the States, and we were taken by Alberto and Nancy González (former trainees who are now in field leadership) to visit some old familiar places at the foot of the Andes on a totally transformed highway. What used to be a winding two-lane road that took six queasy hours has been greatly straightened out with many tunnels and bridges, much of it now two lanes in each direction, reducing the length of the trip to less than three hours!
We first visited the site of “Agua Viva,” the training campus that our team had developed from scratch then had to abandon because of revolutionary activity. It is now being used as a refuge for the children of families who live in areas of conflict and are being persecuted for their faith. Most of the 50 kids are from native tribal groups.
Then we visited the “farm” that had been the campus of Hope Academy, the school for missionary children, as well as our flight center. It was from this boarding school that two of our fellow missionaries were taken and later rendered lifeless by insurgents. After our mission sold it, the campus fell into disrepair, but it has since been repurchased and beautifully developed into a Christian retreat center. It was so encouraging to see those properties being used for God’s glory.
From there, we were taken back up the mountain to the campus of the Instituto Misionero in Fusagasugá (aka “Fusa”) where we served our first 10 years in Colombia. During the worst times of violence, the institute was moved to Bogotá and that campus could not be used. The efforts to sell it never worked out. Praise God for that because it is once again filled with students being trained for cross-cultural church-planting ministries.
It was wonderful to reconnect with many old friends in Fusa, including the Rojas family, in whose home we had helped plant a little Bible-believing church. It was hard for Duff and for me to keep it together emotionally when we were asked to share in chapel, as we reflected on our years there and all that the Lord has done in the years since. It was really moving to personally witness the Instituto Misionero carrying on with a Colombian director and mostly Latin American staff!
After a couple of days in Fusa, we returned to Bogotá, which has doubled in size since we lived there in the mid-90’s – from 5.5 to 11 million and seemingly five times the number of vehicles on the streets. Imagine a city that size with NO FREEWAYS. The traffic is crazy! Every gap between the cars and trucks is quickly filled by one of the 350,000 motorcycles that buzz through the city like a swarm of bees.
Duff and I had a wonderfully warm reunion there with Israel & Nidia Gualtero. Israel is a former student of ours who served very ably in a tribal ministry then moved on due to various circumstances. Subsequently, we were able to contract his services, and he’s been a super-valuable addition to our translation team. He is very gifted in language. We never would have foreseen that the Lord would use him as an English-to-Spanish translator of cross-cultural church planting resource material. You might think that would have been enough excitement for the summer, but God had one more special thing lined up for our family after I returned home to Florida.
Esther & Curtis invited us to meet up with them on this side of the Canadian border. They and the kids were driving down to New Hampshire from Nova Scotia to take their oldest, Natalie, to meet up with her cousin, Kiera. The two of them were going to drive out to Waukesha, Wisconsin to start their studies at Ethnos360 Bible Institute. (Comprehensive Bible teaching, discipleship, classmates who love the Lord, low cost… what’s not to love? Check it out!)
So, after I’d been home for four days, Eida and I began the three-day drive up the Atlantic coast, including an overnight stop with Eida’s brother’s family in New Jersey. On Sunday evening, we arrived at our destination in New Hampshire and enjoyed our first Bergman hugs in many moons!
Natalie, Reuben and Kegan had certainly grown a lot in three years (especially Reuben!). Sadly, Kaylie wasn’t able to make the trip due to Covid border restrictions. We had a great time just hanging out, with some fun outings to see friends and relations as well as a cliff walk on the Maine shore, go-karting and a cove with a rope swing over the water.
On Wednesday morning, we saw the girls off on their cross-country journey. After a full day stopover at their uncle’s place in Pennsylvania, they made it to Wisconsin, safe and sound.
After a fun last day together on Friday, we said our good-byes, and on Saturday morning, the Bergmans drove north and we drove south. With brief stops to say hi to family on the way down, we arrived home in Sanford on Monday, the 22nd . We certainly hope it’s not another three years before we see them again!
We just wanted to share with you a few of God’s many blessings that we’ve enjoyed in these last two months. “Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear You, which You have prepared for those who trust in You!” (Psalm 31:19) As you can see, we have many reasons to be thankful to the Lord!
Thanks so much for hanging with us through to this final paragraph, and for being so supportive over the years of our journey of faith and service to the Lord. May the Lord bless and keep you as you move into the fall season.
With love and appreciation,
Steve & Eida Irwin
Spanish Language Resources
Ethnos360.org, Sanford, Florida