Sunday, January 20, 2013

Visiting Danna - Experiencing The House of God in Mexico

The first stop on my visit to Jiquipilas, Mexico, to visit 9 year-old Danna, was church. What better place to be on a Sunday morning!? We were picked up from Tuxtla, a two-hour drive away, by the Director of Project ME738, Aurelio, who has been doing it for 10 years. Compassion doesn’t normally host visits on Sunday, but because of my schedule they were flexible and agreed to host me. This just meant I didn’t get to see the project in action, but what I got instead was still incredibly memorable and impacting.

The Project ME738 is connected to “The First Church of the Nazarene (Jesus)”. Nazarene is a pentecostal denomination in Mexico. Some of Danna’s family go to the “Second Church of the Nazarene” instead. I have given my experience here it’s own blog post.

It was a warm day, and the church was very open - no windows, and no enclosed wall on one side. I figured the weather must be warm/hot the whole year round, but was surprised when the family said that this wasn’t typical weather. I can’t imagine what it’s like when it’s colder. Translator Irma and I arrived before church started, and were escorted to the front row, where I met Danna. She was shy and polite. During the service she was busting to go out with the other kids, but Mama made her stay in and sit next to me. I felt sorry for her. 

The music was led by a team of six young guys, and was phenomenal and passionate, which are two words that could be used to describe the whole service. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand a word they were saying, apart from maybe “Gracias Senor”(Thank you God) or “Nombre de Jesus” (name of Jesus). I did recognise “Open the Eyes of My Heart” and “Agnus Dei.”

I felt the presence of God in that place. The lads displayed incredible talent and ability on their instruments, swapped instruments at times, and played without any sheet music. I learned they also sometimes travel around and lead worship at other churches in the area.  I was thrilled to find out later that three of those guys were former Compassion-sponsored kids, now using their gifts and talents for the glory of God! I love stories like that!

On this day there were between 200 and 300 people at the church, and it was interesting to observe the way they did things, and how different it was to a lot of churches I’ve been part of. There was a real healthy fear of the Lord in the place, and their faith and joy, even in their circumstances, was tangible. I was moved to tears, and beyond words, grateful and humbled to be there, feeling like I was in the presence of true worshippers.

The pastor of the church has been very sick, and appeared quite old and frail. He made his return to church on this day. I only talked to him briefly but he clearly inspires the people of his church, and has authority and their respect.

When the worship leader prayed, he or she got down on their knees. Postures of worship were very important – about three different times in the service, approx 50 people or so came to the front and lay prostrate before God. The people were very physically affectionate, with each other and with me. I was embraced more times than I could count, which is something I’m not used to, but have become comfortable with.

A young woman preached on this day (for over an hour), and she was strong, bold and passionate. There were no notes, or fandangled Powerpoint slides. The only tools she used were a whiteboard with three dot points and her sword – the Word of God.

A definite highlight was being able to get up and play the drums with the music team lads. It was a big ask for them, but I asked if they knew the song “One Way, Jesus”, and sure enough they did, so we belted that out. At first the people were just sitting, treating it like an item, but one of the church leaders exhorted them to stand, and soon we had a church full of 300 people celebrating Jesus as “the Way the Truth and the Life”.

As I was belting it out, a thought dawned on me that was so profound and humbling I nearly fell off my chair: I’m doing what God has gifted me to do (playing drums), and we might come from “different universes”, but I’m leading a church of 300 Mexicans in joyfully celebrating and glorifying OUR God, the Creator of the universe. It doesn’t get much better than that.

After we finished playing, I got off, but they yelled for an encore, so we played “Trading My Sorrows”, which they had done earlier in the service. I was then able to share briefly with the people. In all honesty I felt so inadequate, small, empty and broken. I was coming from such a privileged and blessed country, where we take EVERYTHING for granted and have everything we could ever need or want, and I was standing before these spiritual giants, who have nothing materially, but are so content, joyful and filled with faith and trust in their loving God. What was I supposed to say?

Thankfully, God gave me words. This is what I shared “I have only been in your community for a very short time, and I can tell your lives are hard. I cannot pretend to know what your lives are like, but need to tell you, I can feel your faith, joy and passion for Jesus. I can only encourage you, as the apostle Paul says in the Bible to “Fight the good fight, finish the race and claim the prize that Jesus has for us – eternal life.” True hope, joy and freedom only come from faith in Jesus.”

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