Lynne Santangelo and Jean Fontaine’s Accompaniment Report – June 13, 2016
We’d like you to pretend you are accompanying us on the trip we took last Saturday to the small community of 25 de Agosto. Imagine a long drive on a narrow dirt and stone road with vegetation and banana plantations right up to the shoulders. We are dropped off as the road comes to an end, and greeted by a smiling woman standing in front of her home. The house is made of plastic stretched over a wooden frame and is surrounded by beautiful plants. She indicates it’s time to go, and we pick up plastic lawn chairs.
We are joined by others carrying chairs as we cross a bridge walking toward a clearing among coconut trees and other vegetation. We arrive at the church! It’s a metal roof supported by hand-hewn wooden posts. The “floor” is uneven ground. We arrange our chairs in a rough circle as more and more people keep coming with their own chairs. A man collects some green coconuts and opens them with a machete to offer us and others refreshing drinks.
We learn the name, 25 de Agosto, honors the date this unoccupied land was invaded by people who were displaced by violence in their home areas as well as some families escaping floods near the river. The newly arrived were traumatized and had every reason to distrust each other, but a small community of believers emerged to care for one another and a worshipping body that aspires to be a Presbyterian church was born.
Tonight they are so eager to share with visitors that they have moved their worship time up an hour so we will not have to travel late at night. A man in a wheelchair is the last to arrive. We now number 35, from a newborn to a woman in her eighties. The worship leader rides up on a moped and takes her Bible out of an attaché case. Someone hurries in with a wooden lectern on his shoulder, and we begin to sing. We recognize How Great Thou Art by the tune and clap along as exuberant praise songs fill the air. The leader begins a prayer and soon everyone is praying aloud with their own words. After the scripture readings and a homily, an open Bible is passed around as the offering plate. The service concludes with more songs and prayers.
We listen as our new friends share their plans with us. While they want electricity and hope to get enough boards for walls, their real concern and desire is to reach out to over 500 children of the community. Many have only one parent, and most families have very little income. This congregation is building to serve the community with love and compassion.
As we take pictures, share hugs and ride back down the road, we ask ourselves: Would our church change the hour of worship or make any other change for the convenience of visitors? Do we think of outreach before building concerns? Do we really treat each other as brothers and sisters? Do we always remember that the Church is the worldwide body of Christ and not our building?