Updated: Feb 13
The two blocks to the large Centro Comercial (shopping mall) are not far, but walking anywhere in 93% humidity will cause an instant sweat. I stroll up the sidewalk approaching the first of five escalators. The first escalator is my favorite. The cool, free air washes over me and the sweat gives me a little chill.
The Centro Comerciales... they aren't exactly the shopping malls that we think of with a movie theater, department, and specialty stores. These malls are built as a one-stop-shop for any and everything one could need: drugstores, a supermarket (or two), four-story parking decks, banks, coffee shops, restaurants, food courts, and co-working spaces...you name it.
Having arrived in this massive city only knowing one couple, we knew that our first mission would be to meet people. We did what we would do in any new place: live our daily lives with an expectation of meeting people along the way. We are aware of the people we come in contact with and have a hope they might want to know us as well. Relationship.
Our first few weeks in Barranquilla we went to parks and playgrounds during the day. They were ghost towns. Not only were the children our kid's ages in school, but the heat during the day was indescribable. The park workers sprawled themselves out on the concrete benches in the shade taking a mid-day nap while the sun scorched anything within its reach.
Our progression to the mall happened naturally, and we found many people doing the same as us. The workers in the malls were very kind and they welcomed us. This particular day, I was going up to the third floor to visit a little coffee shop. I had been able to strike up a conversation with the store owner a few times. He was kind and liked to practice his English. This time as I reached the top of the escalator, I spotted him and also a well-dressed woman talking to one of the workers behind the counter. I had already told him I would love to meet his wife, and I assumed this maybe her.
As I approached, I smiled. The attendant, Gustavo, already knew how I liked my coffee. I greeted him and asked him how his studies were going, meanwhile, he began grinding the beans needed for my tinto (espresso).
I look over at the woman and smile. "I was hoping I would meet you," I tell her. "Are you Pedro's wife?" She smiles back a bit surprised and greets me warmly. I ask her about her children and life in Barranquilla. I tell her how much I love the coffee they serve. Our conversation began cordially, but within 5 minutes I sense an openness to her. I invite her to come to our home to study the Bible on Tuesday at 7 pm. She thanks me with a smile, and we exchange WhatsApp numbers.
This was almost one year ago. Not only did she come to the Bible study, but she would also accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior and profess a personal faith in Him within months of meeting her at the mall. She would later say to me, "Angel, how did you know?" "Know what?" I replied. "How did you know that I was at rock bottom? The weeks before I met you I was already searching. I had success, I had a family, vacations, but I felt empty inside."
I quickly assured her that I didn't know a thing. Consistently in God's Word He tells us that when we search for Him, we will find Him. I just happened to be used by Him in the right moment and time. She cried as she recollected the hopelessness she had felt.
The last year has been a discipleship process that has been a joy to witness, but not because everything in her life is going well. In her own words, she told me that she has never cried so much or been challenged as much. Countless times she has felt overwhelming oppression before arriving at Bible study and the days following. My friend tells me even her mother asked her why she persists in pursuing God when it has made life more complicated.
"Peace," she responded. "For the first time in my life, I have peace. No matter what comes my way, I believe God is with me. He wants to make me better."
What joy to actually hear her believe. This process of discipleship encourages me to read the Bible with fresh eyes. She is reading everything for the first time. Her questions are challenging, and many times we bookmark them for cross-references and understanding.
My Heavenly Father challenges me with a thought. Every one of His children is precious. This coffee shop owner needed to hear the Truth, and He used me because I was also searching and available. I was searching for deeper relationships and discipleship. The blessing has been mutual. My part was simply inviting her and accompanying her.
This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:3,4