So He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in theopen pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
During our spring break vacation, we had the special privilege of traveling to Medellin with our good friend Dave Solomon and his daughter, Lauren. Dave has a special connection to this beautiful city – his mother was a lifetime resident, and through a series of unfortunate events, Dave was given up for adoption in Washington state.
About 11 years ago, Dave began taking steps to find his birth parents and learn about his ethnicity. To make a long story short, in 2004, Dave reconnected with his Colombian mother and family. Because his mother had kept Dave a secret, the family was shocked when they found out. But shock quickly turned to joy and now Dave has spent many years building relationship with his Colombian family.
While in Colombia, one of our prayers was to go with Dave to meet his family and see world-famous Medellin. We were so happy when God answered that prayer. As we left Bogota for Medellin, little did we know what was about to happen next. Here is Kelly and Dave in Bogota before leaving for Medellin.
And a picture of the Beehive girls and friends from church…
On our first day we made arrangements to be picked up at the airport by a man named Pedro. Pedro is friends with a man that works at our school (El Camino Academy). He came highly recommended as a Christian man of integrity. When traveling in this area, safety is a big concern. We thought it prudent to have a trusted tour guide to show us around. Pedro made arrangements for a van to pick us up at the airport to take us to our first destination.
On the morning of our arrival, Pedro and the van met us at the baggage claim. It was a typical Colombian school van that seats about 10 people. The driver was a man named Emerson. He had a female companion that sat up front in the passenger seat. We later found out they were married. After greeting us, they strapped our suitcases on the top of the van. We hopped in the van and took off to begin our sightseeing of the Medellin area. Here is a photo of Emerson checking our luggage during a pit stop we made along the way.
The plan for the first day was to visit an enormous rock called El Penol de Guatape. When we arrived, Emerson and his wife stayed behind to watch our luggage. We felt a little nervous leaving our luggage on top of the van, but we thought Emerson and his wife would safely guard our belongings.
After the hike, we ate a typical Colombian lunch at one of the near-by restaurants and invited Pedro, Emerson, and his wife to join us at our table. Culturally, it’s not common to invite hired help to eat at your table, but we didn’t give it a second thought and offered to pay for their lunch. Emerson told us he was a teacher at the same private Catholic school where his wife was a van driver. We had a wonderful lunch, took pictures of the views, and had a nice conversation.
When we returned to the van, strange things started to happen. An undercover security guard told us some people in the parking lot had noticed Emerson on top of the van going through our luggage. Emerson denied the accusation and claimed he was simply checking the luggage to make sure it was secure. We trusted him, but just to make sure, we confirmed our most valuable belongings were untouched. Everything was in tact just as we had left it. We decided not to check the luggage on top of the van since it was only clothing. Then we left for our hotel in Medellin.
About a mile before we got to the hotel, Emerson jumped out of the van and wished us goodbye. He said he needed to get his car out of a parking garage and he would see us later. Moments later, we pulled up to the hotel. We unloaded the luggage from the top of the van and removed our belongings from inside. Kelly searched underneath the seats for any loose items. All of the sudden Kelly said, “Do these things belong to us?” He had a couple of shirts and a windbreaker. Dave and Heidi both exclaimed, “Yes, these things were in our luggage on top of the van. They must have been removed by Emerson!”
A second later Ezra realized his wallet was missing from his backpack along with 53 mil pesos (About 27 USD). We opened our luggage and it was obvious they had been searched.
At this point, we realized the accusations back at El Penol were true. Pedro suggested we call the police right away.
Four policemen arrived within minutes. We told them the story and asked if they would let us carefully inventory our belongings to find out what was missing. It turns out we didn’t have time as the chaos increased.
Emerson’s wife claimed she was innocent and had no knowledge of what happened. She demanded payment for the day’s services. Then she admitted she really wasn’t his wife, but instead a girlfriend. We also found out Emerson isn’t really a teacher – he was lying to us.
As the police assessed the situation, we were shocked to learn they weren’t going to take our side. As a matter of fact, they said they were going to arrest Pedro and Kelly if we did not pay the woman immediately.
At this point we realized the situation could go from bad to worse real quick. So, in front of the police, Heidi handed over the money and looked her straight in the eye and said, “We will pay you, but this isn’t right, and God sees everything.” Her eyes were filled with conviction, but she took the money anyway and left.
Shortly after, Kelly said, “Let’s pray.” All of us – including the four kids – joined hands and lifted our prayers to God. We prayed that God would touch Emerson and his girlfriends’ hearts and cause them to turn from their lifestyle of crime. We also prayed God would bless them.
None of us slept well that night. And in the morning we found more things missing – two ipod shuffles, a watch, and some clothing. We felt violated, taken advantage of, and regretful for being so trusting. But we gave thanks, because the situation could have been much worse. We were grateful for being safe, especially our precious children!
Dave then recalled the words of a wise Preacher. The Preacher said, “When you have been wronged and things don’t go as planned, don’t nurse it, don’t curse it, don’t rehearse it – instead, disperse it and LET GOD REVERSE IT!”
Within seconds of Dave sharing this, we looked up, and to our amazement, we saw Emerson at the entrance of the hotel. He stood there motionless, looking deeply troubled and in desperate need of something. We all looked at each other in shock. We hesitated for about a second and then said, “Let’s go see what he wants.”
We approached Emerson. He had tears welling up in his eyes. He struggled to get the words out. We were stunned. Standing before us was the guy that boldly stole from us no more than 12 hours ago.
The first thing he said is, “Yo soy una oveja perdida” or “I am a lost sheep”. He said that as a child, he had known the Lord, but as a young man, he got involved in the Medellin Cartel. He spent time in prison for drug trafficking and murder. He told us he wanted to make his life right. He said he wanted to give back all the things he stole from us. He also told us that he is married and that he was going to return to his wife. Here is a short video that Lauren took while we were talking with him.
Eventually Heidi put her hand on his shoulder and told him that we completely forgive him and that God loves him and has great plans for his life and that he needs to leave his old life of sin and live his life for God’s glory. He reached out to hug us and each of us knew in our hearts this was a holy moment.
A few hours later, Emerson was true to his word. He brought back our belongings. And can you guess who he had with him? HIS WIFE! Here is a photo of Emerson returning our stuff.
In the days that followed, we replayed the events over and over. We expected a nice, peaceful vacation. But God had other plans. He wanted to use us to reach one of his lost sheep. And He chose us to be a part of his amazing plan.
Please pray with us that wherever Emerson is today he would know the unconditional love of the Father who searches, finds, and lovingly cares for every lost sheep!