On Sunday I went to the New Jerusalem Friends Church and enjoyed worship among my Aymara Quaker friends. Going to this church is convenient as Hal and I live in a small guest apartment on the same property. In fact, our window faces the basement window of the church where the youth meet every Saturday night, and late into the previous evening we got to listen to the young drummer practicing his rhythms. I predict he’s going to become very good if he keeps up this vigorous practice.
I arrived at 10:00 a.m. for the second service, but things were running late, so I caught the tail end of the first service where the preacher was preparing the congregation for All-Saints-Day, coming up the end of the month. He strongly exhorted them not to follow the animistic customs of the culture by bringing food and offerings to the tombs of their dead ancestors.
The temple was full for this first service, and at the end a multitude of people moved to the altar to pray. Then they filed out to make room for the next service. As they passed the pew where I was sitting, many shook my hand and we exchanged verbal blessings.
The second service contrasted to the first. It began with an hour of Sunday school, and the lesson focused on time management, complete with PowerPoint illustrations. David Quispe taught the class and did an excellent job. This delighted me because David was one of a small group of teenagers that our daughter Kristin belonged to. I remembered all the times the kids gathered at our house to roast hot dogs (a novelty) and have fun. Now David pastors a church and is raising his own family. (He had been invited as a guest teacher for this Sunday school class.)
Somewhere in the middle of the class, I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see my dear friend Salomé. We embraced and she invited me to sit with her in the back row. I’m afraid we whispered during the rest of the class (an advantage of being on the back row).
The following worship service rang with music, most of it adopted from the lively Pentecostal tradition that is so popular with young people here. No one danced, but quite a few clapped, and everyone sang at the top of their lungs. Then the church president went to the pulpit for announcements but took about ten minutes updating the congregation on the problems with the construction of a new room on the fourth floor of the building. Saturday night when they were to pour the cement, it rained, and some leakage damaged the ceiling of the auditorium. People are pretty upset, and the president assured everyone that steps were being taken to address the problem.
Pastor Silver Ramos then gave the morning sermon, apologizing for the lateness of the hour, but assuring people that he would not rob them by cutting down his sermon. He didn’t. He preached on the same subject as did his co-pastor in the earlier service, on the dangers of following the customs of the culture during All-Saints. He emphasized that death is death, and that if they were to bring a Bible to put on the grave of their ancestor, he would not read it. He’s dead and the dead don’t read. If they were to lay bread on his grave, he would not eat it. The dead don’t eat. “With death, everything ends,” he warned. I squirmed a bit, wishing he’d come out of the Old Testament and give some New Testament hope on the promises of God for our resurrection life. Maybe he’ll preach that sermon at Easter.
I’m again aware that I’m in a completely different culture. But I’m also aware that these people are my brothers and sisters and that I love them. It really is good to be here again.