In early April, Christafari and special guest vocalist Gamaliel Ruiz (Palabra Sonido Y Poder) regrouped after a six month hiatus, and there was no better place to kick off Christafari’s 2001 tour season than the beautiful Central American country of Belize. Although Belize is entirely surrounded by Spanish speaking countries, the majority of the nation speaks a thick dialect of broken English called Creole (very similar to Jamaican Patois). It turns out that Christafari is very popular in Belize, and the group was brought out by the most popular local group “D Revelation.” Upon arrival it was the red carpet treatment all the way, as the band bypassed customs and was escorted directly into the VIP lounge at the airport to meet the Mayor and members of the press.
From the moment of arrival, the band was on a rigorous schedule of press interviews and performances. Mark and other members of the band were interviewed on every major secular show and station (both radio and television) in the country. One of the highlights was a television program where Mark and Vanessa stood their ground against a Rasta interviewer (and former Attorney General) before the whole nation on the country’s highest rated television program “One on One.” The show was broadcast live, and the phone lines were flooded with callers stating their appreciation and support of the band’s ministry. After this television show, the group couldn’t go anywhere in the nation without being recognized and encouraged by supportive fans. Christafari was the first international gospel group to ever tour Belize and the people were thirsty for a new injection of music and ministry.
In addition to 7:00am radio interviews and other media appointments each day, Christafari had an opportunity to visit four major schools and give a positive message to the youth. The group was amazed at the freedom allowed in sharing their hearts with the youths. At each public school the principal actually encouraged the band to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and their testimonies with the young minds–a far cry from the United States. After hearing an impromptu, a capella performance at each school, the students were encouraged to come out to the concert and hear the full production.
In San Ignacio, a town that borders Guatemala, Christafari followed D Revelation’s reggae/punta hybrid with a furious performance in front of what was believed to be the largest crowd at a Christian show in the history of the city. Lives were transformed for Christ and as usual, the band was the last to leave–ministering to anyone that wanted to talk. At Cayo the group learned how popular their music truly was in this small nation–especially “Dancehall Baptism.” In fact, all the Dancehall Baptism CDs sold out on the first night!
At the band’s performance in the former capitol Belize City, the group had the Convention Center blazing hot as the aggressive crowd jumped up and down in a frenzy to Christafari’s raggamuffin tunes. It was definitely a dancehall audience, and the crowd that was doused by gallons of water during “no water can out this fire” was in it for the long haul–still energetic after a two hour set of music and ministry by the band. A sea of hands were raised when Mark asked who had prayed the salvation prayer or recommitted their life to the Lord, marking another successful show.
After the concert, an audience member sent the band the following e-mail that best describes the Lord’s work that night:
“I am one of those people from Belmopan City, Belize that really enjoyed your concert at the Belize City center. I have grown up in the church, but because of thinking that Christianity was all rules and regulations I did not want to be a real Christian. But at that show it was not only about the music, but about the souls. I was one that was dancing and screaming and getting autographs afterwards. I was also one that finally truly committed my life to Jesus…..”
While this writer came from all the way from Belmopan for the show, there were others that traveled all the way from New York to catch the concert! And after the performance the group met with one fan that drove on a bus from West Mexico for 24 hours straight to see a Christafari show. Now that’s dedication!
The highlight of Christafari’s Belize tour was at the end of the final show when the sound engineer recited the sinner’s prayer. God had been working on him and planting seeds in his heart during each performance and early in the morning in the Belize City convention center as others were breaking down the stage he was opening his heart up to Jesus after a long talk with the promoter, Lewis Wade.
After about two hours of sleep, the band was rushed off to the airport to catch a flight to Honduras. Due to visa problems, two of the band members were forced to stay behind and catch a later flight. Upon arrival the band was greeted by the promoter’s professional staff and taken to a plush, five star hotel. After an authentic Honduran meal, Mark, Vanessa, and Gamaliel headed off to an interview with a local television station. The two hour interview was a great success, with nearly 200 people calling in to the station trying to win a Lion of Zion t-shirt and some CDs.
The concert was held the next evening in an outdoor park. Everyone was thrilled with the attendance, as the crowd was double the promoter’s expectations. But the true goal of the night was to save souls, and over 500 tickets were given away to non-Christians. The opening act, DC RETO, an amazing underground / bomba / techno / rap / dancehall group, hit the stage and the crowd went wild. When it was time for Christafari to step on stage in their shiny jean suits, the crowd was already pumped up. At first the band thought there was a smoke machine on, but soon realized the smoke was actually clouds of dust caused by the jumping and stomping of the audience on the dirt field.
It was in Honduras that Christafari finally had a glimpse of the impact that their Spanish recording “Palabra Sonido Y Poder” was having in Central America. By far the most popular song of the night was “El Amor de mi Vida” (Love of My Life). The crowd seemed to know every word and the applause reached a zenith at the end of the song when Mark kissed his wife on-stage.
But the show was not without controversy. Word soon reached the stage that some members of the audience were asking questions about the Ethiopian cross Vanessa was wearing on her head-wrap. Thinking it was some sort of satanic symbol, a few people actually left the venue. When Mark learned of this he stopped the concert and addressed the subject, telling the audience of the true meaning of this Christian symbol. Refusing to keep silent, and for the first time in the history of Christafari, Vanessa shared her heart with the audience. From the stage she challenged the audience not to judge by the outward appearance but to look at the heart. Her gentle rebuke in love was received with overwhelming support from the audience, and the reggae music, dub-style engineering, dancing, and clouds of dust continued.
At the end of the concert, Mark gave an altar call and lives were changed. When the band closed the show with worship, birthday boy Gamaliel Ruiz stepped up to the microphone and lead the audience in a 15 minute long Spanish rendition of “Lord I lift Your Name on High.” While the music continued to play Gamaliel delivered an inspiring message of encouragement to the Hondurans that concluded in a powerful prayer. By this time the thousands in attendance had broken up into small groups and were holding each other, laying hands on one another, and praying for each other with tear filled eyes and cries of passion. This was a profound movement by the Spirit of God unlike anything that the band had ever seen before. God truly worked in “mysterious ways” that night and Christafari was honored to partake in such a tremendous event.
BACK IN BELIZE:
The band headed back to Belize for return flights home, and about half the group opted to stay a few extra days for a short vacation while the rest went home to their loved ones. For those who stayed behind, it was primarily a time of fellowship and mentoring of Belize’s popular gospel reggae bands D Revelation and the Heavenlies. Mark (lead vocals) and Jayme (sax) did some recording with D Revelation for their next album and gave their producer some recording tips.
Mark also gave a teaching seminar to 20 pastors and youth ministers in the nation’s capitol Belmopan. He taught on Rastafarianism and how to minister to those who sympathize with the Rasta movement. The church leaders found the three hour seminar very informative and walked away with some great outreach ideas.
Once all of the work was done, the group visited the various tourist sites that were recently made famous by the reality T.V. show “Temptation Island.” They visited the Mayan ruins and pyramids, the jungle, a massive cave, and various waterfalls. On their last night in Belize the group was treated to some authentic Creole cooking and even ate Gibnut (a very large rodent)! It tasted like goat.
“Overall, it was a great tour…” said lead vocalist Mark Mohr, “there was unity among the band members, the promoters were a major blessing, and many were saved. The tour went off without a hitch with no disappointments besides when the band visited the Belize Zoo and Vanessa got marked (sprayed on) by a Mountain Cow (the national animal of Belize that looks like a cross between a hippo and an anteater). But that was just hilarious! We are thankful to God for giving us the privilege of traveling around the world, visiting new countries and cultures and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ over reggae music.”
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