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The Battle Within

Tomas Vidal grew up in a happy middle-class home in Bogota, Colombia. “My parents were good people,” Tomas said. “Even though my father drank and loved to party, he never raised a hand against any of us. There was no violence in our home.”

There was also no religion in Tomas’ family. From an early age, Tomas identified himself as an atheist. He saw no need for God.

One day, when Tomas was only seven years old, he came home to find his older brother, Javier, drunk and unruly. “I had always looked up to Javier,” said Tomas. “He was ten years older than me and I was in awe of him.”

But that day, something changed between Tomas and Javier. “He started picking on me, calling me nenita, which means little girl. I hated it,” Tomas said. “The more he bullied me, the angrier I became.” 

As Tomas grew older, Javier became more and more vindictive and violent toward him. Tomas recalled times when Javier would beat him until he was almost unconscious. The verbal and physical abuse continued for several years.

When Tomas was twelve, he made a vow to himself: “Someday, I will be stronger than my brother, and I will shut his mouth.”

For the next few years, Tomas was fixated on revenge. He committed himself to getting physically fit, practicing martial arts and building a reputation for toughness. That’s when he first saw skinheads in Bogota. He loved the fear and respect that these rough, working-class youth demanded of others. “So I shaved my head and I started to dress like them and act like them. I didn’t care about their political ideology, I just wanted the look and feel of being a skinhead.”

By the time Tomas was sixteen, he knew he was strong enough. And then his opportunity came. “I found Javier drunk again. He was yelling at me, hurling the same abuse at me again and again.”

Tomas stood up to his older brother and said, “Javier, I’m not the boy I used to be. Now be quiet.”

But Javier didn’t listen. Instead, he kept pushing and pushing, until Tomas finally lost it. “I knew it was my day,” Tomas said. “So I beat him up. I was in a rage. I beat him until he was bloody. I shut my brother’s mouth.”

As Tomas walked away, his body was shaking, but his heart was numb. “I couldn’t believe it—I thought revenge would feel so good, but I felt so empty. I felt nothing. I was completely lost. My life was meaningless.”

Tomas’ life grew darker and darker until one day his friend invited him to a party. As they approached the house, Tomas became suspicious. There was no music playing, no loud noises. When they opened the door, there were a few people sitting in a circle holding Bibles. “Hey, you set me up!” Tomas said to his friend as they joined the circle. 

They were studying the Book of James: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (4:1). As the leader of the group was talking about the passage, Tomas felt like he was talking specifically about him. He thought his friend must have told the group all about him and his problems. 

“Do you want to accept Jesus?” the leader asked Tomas directly. Although Tomas still wasn’t sure if Jesus was real, he felt something change in his heart that day. 

The pastor of the cell group was a man named Alfredo. He challenged Tomas to study the Bible, and Tomas accepted. The two spent the next few weeks studying together on a regular basis. “I was so attracted to Jesus and his character,” Tomas recalled. “He was so strong, and yet so gentle and humble. I knew the way of peace was right, and at the same time it was so much harder than the way of violence.”

Tomas came to faith in Jesus through Alfredo and became a part of the cell group that was Alfredo’s family and only two other adults. But Tomas quickly became fully involved in the small church family. “Almost immediately, I was helping out in any way that I could. This is how Alfredo discipled me. He gave me every opportunity to serve.” 

After three years, Alfredo recommended that Tomas join a new youth discipleship program called MIJUCO (Youth Mission Colombia), led by Multiply missionaries, Trever and Joan Godard, who had recently arrived in Bogota. 

It was with MIJUCO that God clarified Tomas’ life calling. “With the Godards, I came to understand in a very clear way that God was calling me to invest my life in discipling young adults, something that Trever and Joan were also very passionate about.” 

From the Godards, Tomas learned how to make disciples like Jesus did. “We ate together, lived together, learned together and reached out together,” Tomas said. “It was life-on-life discipleship, just like Jesus with his disciples.”

After MIJUCO, Tomas spent several years as a pastor and teacher with the Mennonite Brethren Church in Colombia. He experienced a lot of success in ministry initially, but then went through a difficult phase that involved relational brokenness and deep repentance. “I had focused too much on doing instead of being. I had been fully engaged with the work of God, but not with the God of the work. Because of that, I made some big mistakes and almost lost everything. But I was forgiven and eventually restored.”

The experience humbled Tomas and strengthened his commitment to help younger leaders find victory in the battle within. “I learned the way of compassion during those years. Now, when I see young leaders who are proud like I was, I tell them to take care of their souls, so they don’t fall. I teach them that character is everything.”

Today, Tomas is responding to a new call that came from his former mentors, the Godards. In early 2020, together with his wife, Melody, Tomas will be moving to Guadalajara, Mexico to join the leadership of the Matthew Training Center, where they will continue to invest their lives in young adults and train them to be missional leaders in Latin America and beyond.

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