I decided that church here deserves a blogpost. I must admit, I had been wary of writing this post because for a while I didn't know what to make of church.
I grew up in a non-denominational Bible church, and for the past three years, attended a Missionary church near Bethel. Both are very straight-lined, easy to understand and easy to engage in. A few times I have attended other churches for class projects or reports, but never have I ventured into a Pentacostal church. Since moving in with my host family I have been thrown into this experience in such a way that my mind used to be spinning for days after services.
Allow me to describe a typical service: We arrive at the church (which is an extension of our house) and find a place to sit. We turn our chairs to face us and kneel in front of them for usually 20-30 minutes of silent prayer while music plays or someone prays from the microphone up front. At times the person praying can get extremely loud and the speakers do not get turned down. After prayer, someone (usually our sister Chila) will get up and lead some songs accompanied only by drums or a guitar. These songs are like nothing I've ever heard before and sometimes are so incredibly fast that I can't even pick out individual words. Many people dance or pace back and forth between the chairs during singing and for prayer. It's a very small building that is easily filled with the noise of voices, instruments and shuffling feet. Singing is followed by someone giving a message. Sometimes the person seems to be shouting at us - sometimes it's a message open for discussion in the middle if someone wants to contribute. There have been a few times when service is closed with a time "dedicated to the Spirit", if I may call it that. Music will be playing and everyone in the church will be praying, led by whoever has the microphone. Things seem to rise to a frenzy and people will start dancing faster and faster or begin spinning in circles with their eyes closed. It is up to the rest of us to protect the kids and elderly (and ourselves) from getting hit in the face or run over at this time. If they come towards us we simply guide them with our hands back towards the middle of the room. Everyone has their own style when they are in this state. Some people spin, as I said. Some people seem to be fighting things or swinging swords. Some stand in one place and shove the space around them as if pushing something away. Many people start yelling. It is a time full of emotion and prayer. Things usually wind down to softer music and a time of fellowship as the service comes to a close.
At first my roommate and I would leave services feeling overwhelmed and speechless. We couldn't even tell our family what we were feeling when they asked us if we liked it. We could only tell them that our churches back home were very different and very quiet. I fought with a lot of thoughts toward the beginning. I wondered if there was something demonic involved. I would be so overcome with a spirit of chaos and confusion that I didn't understand how it could be of God. Eventually I was able to overcome my initial judgments and begin to see the presence of God in these people even if it was in ways I was not accustomed to. Many times we were able to interact with people outside of church as well and get to know them under different circumstances. I took some time to focus on some of the things that I appreciated about this church and this congregation:
There is no hierarchy in this church. Our Mami has her title of pastor, and she truly is a shepherd, but no one calls her that even though she is recognized for it. There are sometimes different people who lead the singing and even the younger girls are allowed to play the drums for the music. I have yet to hear an in tune instrument, musician, or lead singer, but they love to sing to God so much - that's what makes it worship, not my American idea of what a worship team looks or sounds like. They understand that worship is more than singing songs together. If someone has something to share they are given the floor, they love to read the Word of the Lord and corporate prayer is huge. I remember, in my trip to Israel a few years ago, loving hearing all the different languages during prayer at our conference. I try to focus on that now, rather than the fact that I can't understand anything.
Barabara and I have continued to build relationships with people, young and old in our church family, and even have been asked to sing a few times up front (we've busted out a few songs in Spanish!) I'm praying for a lot of wisdom as I experience and explore this kind of worship and church family, seeking solid Biblical truth to apply to what I'm seeing. I've never seen or learned a lot about Pentacostal churches before, but I know there are also a lot of different kinds and they can't be judged as one entity. God's teaching me a lot of flexibility as I learn to see Him in new ways.
Please pray for this church, there is a lot of love in it, but also a lot of hurt. Many of the women are from nearby El Callejon (where I will be working) and their husband abuse them or they are unable to care properly for their families. One woman has been sleeping in the church with her children for the last week because she has no home.
We've learned that we will be living in our same home for the remainder of our semester in the DR which is an incredible blessing. Not only will we be able to "come home" after our travel week, but we will be able to pick up where we left off in learning Spanish from them and already have comfortable relationships with them.
Here are a few pictures so you can see what our church looks like! :-)