God’s Work In Other Places
Most people who attend Church have a myopic view of how a Church functions and assume that every Church operates just like they do. This is not a criticism but rather just an observation. There is nothing wrong with being comfortable with how your Church functions unless you allow the trappings and the form become Holy. My goal in this series is to share some experiences that opened my eyes to other cultures and especially other valid functional churches that help to the same beliefs as I do, but the form of worship was quite different. I am reminded of the Church building specialist who was helping a group decide where to locate their new Church, “People in cities will not cross a major road, like an Interstate, to attend a Church.” I believe there are statistics to prove that point, but it is not the same everywhere.
My first trip to Guadalajara was an inspiring one but wrought with anxiety at the beginning. When asked where I wanted to go I said, “Send me to the barrio,” and the leaders did just that. My first view of the Church was unusual. People were walking the dirt streets and I soon realized that most of Mexico got around locally by walking. Some of the men wore a sword on the belts. They were about two feet long and looked ominous. I never felt threatened but wasn’t used to it. The pastor asked if I wanted a soda and we walked over to a house that had an overhanging roof and a simple bar at the front. We walked up to it and ordered a Coke then stood there leaning on the bar and drank our soda.
The Church building was being erected and only a third of the walls had been completed. A large pile of sand was out front where the entrance would eventually be and I found out later they used the sand to actually form their own bricks. The builders would make a dozen or so bricks then lay them in place. To the left of the entrance was a shed about twelve feet wide and the length of the wall, about twenty five feet. It was covered with a makeshift corrugated tin roof and tin sides. This was the storage shed during the week but on Sundays it was the worship center. There was no roof on the larger worship area that would eventually be three stories high and have the pastor’s house on the top floor.
I was surprised the first night of revival services when eighty-five people showed up and crowed into that storage shed. The people brought chairs from somewhere and sat them up. When it started raining, I noticed the shed was not water proof and in fact there was a three inch space between the church wall and the shed. The roof of the shed actually slanted toward the wall and as you might guess all the water come down and into the area where we were seated. Worship was pretty simple with prayers and a lot of singing coristas or choruses and it was pretty lively. The beat became very unusual when the water on the floor got to the two inch level and people patted their feet to the beat of the song. The splashing made a fine impression on me.
We had thirty-six people accept Christ that week. I learned that they incorporated two public professions. The first was to accept Christ then they interred into a training program to learn what the Bible teaches about basic doctrine. Once they completed that training period they would have to present themselves before the Church to ask for Baptism.
The people were ever so gracious. One deacon impressed me in many ways. He and his family were very dedicated to the Church and their Lord. He had four children and all girls. He would drive his moped from work every evening and his wife and children road a bus from their home about five miles away. One evening the service ran a little longer than usual due to many people coming forward so the last bus had run for the day. The deacon’s family was undaunted and like it wasn’t anything unusual, they all piled onto the moped for the ride home. That is two grown people and four children on one skinny moped. All you could see was elbows and knees, but they made it home in fine shape.
My Spanish is poor simply because I don’t have a lot of opportunities to use it and I did not expand my vocabulary much. One evening after church, the people were still fellowshipping I stepped out to the front and two of the deacon’s oldest girls were squatted on the ground and reciting something to each other. I realized they were practicing their English lessons and also recognized they were using the same primer I used in the sixth grade, except mine was in Spanish. One of the lines we had to practice was, “Hello teacher, how are you?” That is the same line they were reciting to each other. I stepped over and told them it was the same book I studied then said, “Ola profesor, como esta.” They giggled and I became their dear friend from America.
On that first trip I learned that communication is not confined to speaking with your mouth. You can speak with your heart and that will be understood in any language. I also learned there are more than one way to worship. One of the gentlemen that went on the trip said something on the bus ride back home that still sticks with me, “I went to a big Church downtown but they don’t know how to worship. They had the offering at the end of the service instead of where it normally is.” His statement was simply a reflection of his practices. He was a fine gentleman who had become accustomed to his environment of worship and before that first trip to Guadalajara, so was I.