Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Gringo Jesus Family Comes to Bogotá

Michael, on the left, while his daughter advises a woman. The woman wanted to know whether, despite a disability which prevented her from kneeling, she could still appeal to Jesus.
The family does their dance in
front of the Iglesia San Francisco.
I first spotted them a year or two ago, a mostly young, athletic, blond-haired, blue-eyed phalanx doing a leaping, kicking dance routine on a plaza along Ave. Septima. what was their message? An Aryan revival? Hawking aerobics records? Then they stopped dancing and a middle-aged man declaimed to the crowd in English about knowing Jesus, while a younger person translated him into Spanish.

Michael, the father, cries out in English about knowing Jesus, raising his arms and kneeling on the plaza in front of La Iglesia San Francisco on La Septima and Jimenez Avenues, then one of his children interprets into Spanish.

"You must be born again and come to my father," they cry out.

Then they start their high-kicking, waving dance routine. When I first saw them, probably a year or two ago, they seemed somewhat offensive to me. Terribly culturally inappropriate. These blond-haired, blue-eyed folks overflowing with health, energy and foreignness. What sort of culturally inappropriate spectacle is this? How can they relate to the mostly brown, troubled and low-income Colombians who are attracted by new charismatic beliefs?

The spectacle, something unseen in Bogotá except during the Sunday Recrovia, seemed like showing off. Or, at a minimum, a culturally very inappropriate display.

But when I finally had the time and opportunity to meet the group the other day, I learned how
inaccurate first impressions can be.

This is a group of hippies with a mission. And lots of aphorisms.

"Money is everything in this world," says Abraham, one of the sons. "It's so empty. (Our mission) is planting a seed."

This family of eight - the parents and six children - spends part of every year working in Las Vegas, Nevada - a place not known for selflessness and spiritual purity - saving up their money. Then they travel the world preaching about 'knowing Jesus.'

"We're preaching the gospel and the living Jesus," Michael says, "not Christianity."

Altho it may sound a bit cultish, the family didn't strike me that way.

The children are personable, friendly, interested in bicycling, the damage of air pollution and the troubles of the newspaper industry. They seemed perfectly intelligent, unpretentious and simply normal - anything but the religious fanatics I'd expected.

Abraham, one of Michael's sons, talks to bystanders.
But being blue-eyed and blond-haired isn't this family's fault. And they brim over with so much energy, sincerity and good intentions that you give them a second chance. I didn't see any attempt by them to make money, besides the 2,000 pesos they charge for a CD of their music - which is available for free download on their website, in any case - or even any effort to establish a church. They just spread The Word and move on, hoping to leave behind more people in touch with Christ.

In fact, Michael, who is leader, expresses contempt and anger at established churches - evangelical churches are moneymaking frauds, he says, the Catholic Church is 'legalistic'. He even criticizes religion itself, insisting that his family is not pushing religion at all, but rather asking people to know Jesus. He urges me to receive a Bible. I decline firmly. I've had plenty of contact with different religions, and this Bible will have a better chance of being read in someone else's hands.

The family's income from Sin City Las Vegas has enabled them to take their mission to Europe, Africa and South America. This is their fifth time in Colombia. The first time, they came down here on their way to Brazil, but their van broke down in Cartagena and they stayed in Colombia for months.

And they seem helpful. As they travel back and forth, they asked whether they could bring something down for me.

"Well," answered a bit hesitantly, "I'm afraid that my priorities and yours are very different."

"We're all sinners," they responded understandingly.

I couldn't help smiling. Actually, what I wanted brought down is a device for measuring air pollution - part of my Quixotic campaign against popular and official apathy about a problem which causes thousands of premature deaths every year.

Surprisingly, for a group which I'd thot was interested primarily in saving one's spirit and ignoring temporal problems, the problem struck a chord.

"The pollution's terrible," they agreed, and promised to bring the device down. Now, all I need to do is get my father to assemble it for me in California.

And maybe, someday, Bogotá authorities will actually bother to enforce pollution laws.

Perhaps miracles really can happen.

Their website is:

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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