Columnist Kevin Robertson, or 'Kev the Rev' as some people call him, is a gumboot-wearing-chainsaw-wielding-farm-hack and pastor-of-people at Te Awamutu Baptist Church in the beautiful Waikato region. Salt of the earth: it's what Jesus says we are. Paul the Apostle encourages us to season our conversations with salt. This column is about that: telling stories of salty people, inspiring us to imagine something we haven't thought of before, or helping us taste something differently. Porridge is better with salt!

I know this bloke - well, actually, I knew this bloke. Let’s start at the beginning. I met this bloke in Kansas City. We hit it off. A deep friendship ignited. It reminds me of what one of the young preachers in my church said recently: “God brings and speaks through people for a season, a reason or a lifetime”. Marcelo and I had a reason and a season, but the friendship wasn’t to last a lifetime. Unless… amongst the ‘great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language’ we get to hang out again!

Marcelo was born into a poor, nominal Catholic family in Bolivia. After responding to a salvation message from a missionary, he eventually found himself in a prestigious ‘Christian’ university in Los Angeles with a full scholarship till the end of his formal education. But Marcelo had a problem – or a blessing – he could hear from God and had the utmost faith to then put into practice what he had heard. A heart of obedience. Briefly, it went like this…

Marcelo was sitting in the weekly ‘Chapel’ at the college. The guest speaker was preaching from what we refer to as the great commission and was emphasising the word GO. My mate was moved. He heard God. He asked God, “Where should I go?” God said that He’d lead him; just go. Sounds a bit like Abraham! So Marcelo walked out of chapel – the principal saw him and caught up with him and asked him where he was going – and Marcelo said I’m just going in obedience to the word ‘go’. To cut a long story short – this bloke lived on the streets of LA for six months – living with the down and outers, and had testimony after testimony of how God provided and how often he shared the gospel with others. Eventually, Marcelo returned to the college, but his heart pounded for ‘go’!

His next ‘go’ was a bit more dramatic. Smuggling Bibles into Iran. Not for the faint-hearted in the mid 1990’s. Why would a sane bloke engage with this? – because of his Father. Marcelo believed that God was asking him to do it. Off he went with a heap of Bibles stuffed into his pack. All he had was the name of a pastor of a hidden church scribbled on a scrap of paper. No address. No contacts. He landed in a large city and managed to persuade the guards at immigration that the revered prophet Jesus was mentioned in the books he was carrying, and so he walked into Tehran. Then he started walking the streets – waiting to hear from Father. As he walked, he waited for the nudge of the Spirit. Days later, as he walked through a rundown neighbourhood of Tehran, tired, dejected and lonely – as he was walking down a deserted lane, he heard out loud, “Marcelo, stop, turn”. It was Father speaking to him in Spanish in a Farsi-speaking neighbourhood. He turned – nobody in the lane with him – he slowly turned back to the way he was going, and as he did, he saw a tiny fish symbol carved into the jamb of the mudbrick home he was facing. Heart beating, he hesitantly knocked. An older man opened the door. Marcello held out a scrap of paper as a request past the language barrier. The elderly man indicates that the name on the paper was his, an invitation to gentle hospitality. No words were spoken, but as Marcelo opened his pack and started to produce the 30 Farsi bibles he was carrying, the older man broke into sobs of tears. Through written notes shared and deciphered later, it became clear that this pastor had prayed for Bibles for twenty years.

On his return to the States, Marcelo starts hearing his next ‘go’. “Raise a team, build a team, finance a team – back to take the precious Word into Iran for the need is great”. “What? Hang on, how am I supposed to raise the finances for the team when I’m broke?”. “Well, why don’t you ask Me?” “How?” “Remember meeting Mr X? Well, go visit him.” “But he lives in London”. “Well, go”. So he went. He used all his money for a one-way ticket to Heathrow. On arrival, he contacts Mr. X, who agrees to come and pick him up. They have a warm reunion and then head back to the home of Mr and Mrs X. As they enter his flat, there’s a young woman from the X’s church sitting with Mrs X. As soon as this young woman sees Marcelo, emotionally, she says, “That’s him, that’s the one God showed me in the dream, and I have to give him this”. In obedience to what Father had spoken to her in a dream, this young woman handed a brown paper bag with her life savings that she had been squirrelling away for a deposit on a house. Thousands and thousands of pounds. Enough provision for a team to smuggle Bibles into a distant land. Such is the economy of the Father. There’s so much more that can and should be shared about this humble man of obedience, but the editor has a word limit!

In my previous church, we had the privilege of having Charles Hewlett as a guest speaker. I remember it clearly as he exhorted the church to ‘attempt great exploits for the kingdom’. His text was from Dan 11:32: ‘but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.’ Although this brilliant, passionate sermon was years after meeting Marcelo, it was this ‘call’ my friend Marcelo answered. He answered the ‘go’.

I’m still challenged by my friend’s obedience to the ‘go’ from his Father. This is the reason for our season together. A too short a season and not a lifetime. Our friendship was measured in weeks – about six all up. Why? Because Marcelo heard his next ‘go’! A few days before saying our farewells, I stood with him on his 30th birthday. He slipped on a wedding ring that his mother had given him on his departure from Bolivia in the hope that he’d marry an American girl – but I stood with him as he proclaimed his never-dying love for his saviour Jesus as he slipped on the wedding band he pronounced that he was proudly part of the bride! He asked me to pray for him when he left Kansas City. I stood with him, feeling inadequate. I prayed and wept as he told me his next ‘go’. He was heading to Morocco to fulfil a prayer walk across the top of Africa to Jerusalem – praying for revival and praying for workers into the harvest field – knowing that he would be martyred on the journey and that his blood would cry out from the earth for revival. And there our friendship ended. Where is your ‘go’?

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