The stage is a sacred place. It is a professional platform. It is a revered podium separating elevated, well-rehearsed individuals from those beneath.
But in the middle of worship in a Colombian church service I observe a small toddler running onto that "sacred" stage, disrupting the organization. He weaves in and out of the musicians, yet they continue with their worship. I slightly chuckle to myself waiting to see a mortified parent come rushing down the aisle to retrieve their runaway child. But no one comes. The musicians carry on about their worship as though this is a normal occurrence, and even smile at the toddler as he passes by their feet.
It was in this moment that I began to reflect. It was obvious to me that the Colombians barely even noticed the toddler's presence on stage, which made me begin to question what kind of cultural mindset had I developed where I treated the stage as though it in itself was something so sacred. At least in the American culture, I fear we may have come to such a place, where we worship the stage rather than the one Who put us there. It was here in Bogotá, Colombia that God began to work on my heart along with the hearts and minds of 18 other AIM students and pastors from across the U.S.
The week of July 5th - 12th, I along with my fellow AIM team assembled from six different states all across America and traveled to Bogotá to take Fine Arts internationally. We started out the week first by demonstrating our own presentations in the various fine arts categories of Vocals, Writing, Puppetry, Human Video, Dramatized Quoting, Guitar solo, and Short Sermon.
The Colombian students were then given the chance to attend two morning workshops in the various categories, and then two more after lunch. At the end of the week, these students would have the opportunity to perform in a Fine Arts festival of their own, presenting what they had learned in their workshop. The winners would minister during the last service on Thursday night.
Several of the AIM students were given the task to lead the individual workshops. This was a task that admittedly, many of us were nervous about. Most of the AIM students had participated in Fine Arts for several years and a few had even been on mission's trips before, but for most of us it was our first time leading a workshop.
"I was so nervous," AIM student Reah King from Colorado Springs, Colorado said. "This was my first mission's trip and my first time being out of the country. It was also my first time leading a choir, but I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and do something amazing for Jesus."
As the week progressed, the Colombians began to discover and develop new talents in their workshops, but what truly impacted me and the rest of the AIM team went beyond the talents of the Colombians. It was their heart of worship that shined through their talents.
"All of them did an excellent job," AIM student and vocal workshop leader Emily Van Eaton from Houston, Texas said. "But it wasn't so much their singing that impressed me as much as it was their genuine spirit of worship, while they were performing. They just worshiped as if no one was watching."
Along with these workshops, we ended each night with a collective church service and time of prayer. It was during this time that several of the AIM students truly saw the hand of God move.
"The way the adults and the teens lost themselves [in worship] was heartwarming and encouraging," AIM student Amanda Ramsaroop from New York, New York said. "In services, surrounded by everyone, I broke out of my comfort zone, and worshipped God with everything I had."
The AIM students were also given the opportunity to pray with the Colombian students during altar times.
"To be able to pray for these kids, even though we don't speak the same language, and for them to be able to pray for me, was more than just words," AIM student Jessie Dunkelberger from Greensboro, North Carolina said. "With words out of the way, I could see the heart of these kids so much more clearly."
What started as a week of training and teaching from the AIM students turned into an unexpected week of spiritual growth for each of the team members.
"People said we touched the Colombians' hearts but they truly touched mine," King said. "God showed me a little piece of the things He can do in my life and now I'm addicted to it."
For some, God even placed or reaffirmed His calling on their life.
"Bogotá really confirmed my calling into missions," AIM student Nicole Solomon from Jacksonville, Florida said. "Even through all the struggles of being away from people I knew, not knowing the language, and the climate difference, I still know that God wants me to be a missionary."
Perhaps one of the most defining moments of the entire experience was the last night, when one of the pastors asked if the Colombian students would pray for the American students as they returned to their lives back in the states. The truth is, we came to Colombia as short-term missionaries, but the most challenging aspect would be returning back home to our own mission field in America.
God reminded us of the true purpose of Fine Arts all over again through this experience. Sure, it is fun to perform and even compete, but at the end of the day none of that makes a difference in the realm of eternity. If all we have to show for our efforts are trophies, then truly we have nothing. It is the spirit of God operating through those talents that give it purpose. And it is a genuine heart of worship, which the Colombians reminded us of, that allows God's spirit to empower our gifts. Each of us left this trip with a renewed sense of purpose and a hunger to see God moving in our own communitites.
"Words can't explain how much that one week impacted my life," Ramsaroop said. "Even though we're back in the States, I think part of my heart will forever be in Bogotá."
By Matthew Taylor