Worshiping with Juan

A Real Life Experience told by Caroline & Don

She said:

After we met with Juan to “seal the deal” on the boat, took a photo album of pix of our S.S. classes holding the Stephen boxes with their offerings toward his boat, met his family, drank coconut water, saw the boat and his church, the real story began.

Juan invited us to attend a worship service with him.  We assumed it was at his church which was right down the road from his house and so we gave our driver/interpreter some time off.  Wrong assumption. Then we jumped on mass transit (the back of a pickup) along with the rest of the community and hung on to the grip bar and rode and rode and rode passing Juan’s church by miles.  We kept watching for Juan’s cue to get off because now we are the only gringos with “no Española.”  Finally somewhere near the Honduras border – okay, I exaggerate, Juan nods for us to get off.  But, there is no church in sight.  Juan motions for us to jump on the back of a second pickup truck waiting for us at the intersection of a remote side road.  Hmmmmm, I trust this guy, right?  My comfort level is about as far as the end of my nose.  And we rode and we rode and we rode until a man opened a large foreboding gate for truck no. 2 to enter.  I’m thinking I will never be seen again at this point and the American Embassy won’t even know where to search.

Soon we see it — a large open field with a big group of people gathered on their plastic chairs lined up seemingly awaiting our arrival.  Now I am truly embarrassed as Juan takes us to front row seats as the guests of honor and things begin.  This is a combined service of several small churches gathered.  There is a raised platform where the main events happen and VERY LARGE AND VERY LOUD SPEAKERS are set up.  There is a woman who seems to coordinate the key players and she is the most ardent pray-err.  I mean her prayers reached a feverish pitch and volume and went on and on and on about as long as our ride there.  Not sure what the petitions were, but they were mighty sincere.  There were different people reading scripture and some worshipers including Juan would follow along in the little fat Bibles.  There were song leaders for the hymns and each hymn was at least 20 verses.

Every song had the exact same beat and was accompanied by a keyboard player and all songs were clapped by the members on a Clap – rest-clap rhythm with the exception of one gringo in the crowd who insisted on a rest-clap-rest rhythm.  Dear Donald is forever on the offbeat, but maybe I should have followed in kind and they may have figured that’s how we do it in America.  🙂  But he was so into that clapping that he totally missed the 500-pound sow and her trailing piglets that went through the worship area.  What a sight.

He says

“OH, NO!”, I am thinking to myself.  What did I get Caroline into?  That bumpy pickup truck ride was forever.  And now, a large pig comes around the corner with loads of piglets in tow.  It’s heading straight toward Caroline.  I so hope she doesn’t see it.  Who can’t see a 400+ lb. pig heading your way? 

We’re separated by Juan; the clapping and praying is loud; we can’t even see one another.  Is that pig going to charge her or run between her legs?  How can no one else not be watching this pig?

Meanwhile, I really love the clapping but it has been going on for an hour.  Juan knows we only have 30 minutes.  How do we get out of here with grace and not show fear or be rude?  Hey, they’re starting a syncopated, hand-clapping beat.  Thank God the beat is getting interesting. I certainly enjoy the enthusiasm and it is catching.  

But for Caroline, I hope she doesn’t jump up in the chair and get knocked over.  Please Caroline, don’t run.  I’ll go for that pig if it begins to look out of control.  No one else is moving.  It’s got to be safe — I hope and pray.  I’m gripping the bag with the white liquid, ready to throw.  Juan, please move, do something.  The clapping continues unabated.

I’ll play like I’m unconcerned and hope she picks up on that.  But, we can’t even see one another – Oh good, the syncopated clapping continues as they become more fervent.   Please Caroline, pick up on the new beat!  This can have a bad ending!

Please Lord, one big favor for Caroline!

She says

The chickens were pecking between our feet so I lifted my sandaled feet every now and then so my toes were not mistaken for kernels of corn.

Children’s church was done adjacent to the main event with kids lined up in chairs doing motions to songs led by older girls.  Older men would come and go reading them scriptures and perhaps a catechist would ask them to recite back a scripture one at a time.  (Some boys chose to disappear at that point and play in the mud puddles.  Who could blame them?)

The women all wore white cloth veils and the decorations consisted of strings of fabric strung across the crowd blowing in the breeze along with the tropical flowers in the vases.  People put offering in the bowls but often took out change including up at the altar which was perfectly acceptable.

It was still going strong when we left after 1 1/2 hours but we needed to get back to our driver.  Juan said it would continue all day and night.  Women were preparing a meal as we walked by.  He brought us baggies of maybe coconut water during the service but I was too stupid to figure out how to open it and drink it; Don was too leery about its contents so we left them.  Sorry Juan.

It was quite an experience.


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    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
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