Thursday, October 12, 2006

God´s Love in the Time of Addiction

Coming across a church in Honduras that is called Fire of God, I am reminded why those who are not accustomed to the Christian life and all its attributes, would deem ¨those evangelicals¨ as crazy fanatics and why they would immediately run the opposite way within sight of anyone carrying a ¨Jesus Saves¨ sign. I grew up Catholic and am very well acquainted with Mr. JC Himself, but I used to think ¨those crazy evangelicals¨ to myself too. Well, I still think that way about some of them, but over the past couple of years, I have been educated about a thing or two and am now more careful to judge.

It was bound to happen that I wanted more than just the routine of going to mass, 50 minutes of which were devoted to sheer ritual, reciting memorized prayers, and performing gestures in between, and the rest was 10 minutes of homily either by an inaudible octogenarian or a foreign priest with an accent so thick that he might as well have spoken in tongues since nobody understood him anyway. In other words, like my Theology Professor in College declared, I was guilty of being a nominal Catholic like the rest of the class. It´s embarrassing but I never really read much from the Bible until the required exegesis in freshman year, and only heard the same Scripture passages during mass year after year.

The Leap. Then one day I attended service at a non-denominational church. In all honesty, as much as I wanted a profound experience, I actually felt like I crossed into the Twilight Zone. People were all over me as I walked through the door, greeting and blessing me, and the congregation was bouncing off the walls dancing and praising to LOUD music. And everyone knew everyone and most of all, everyone seemed just TOO HAPPY. Scared little Catholic girl, I was indeed. Nevertheless, I kept going back and started to learn more, such as the Christian speak, i.e. commonly used words in the sermons and conversations that I have never used before in everyday language such as testimony, ministry, His stripes, miracles, restoration, and a lot more. I just kept thinking to myself, ¨Change is good. Change is good.¨

It was good indeed for as different (and weird) everything seemed at first, I found exactly what I was looking for so long, church hopping and all, for quite some time- a real message. For the Word of God to make sense in real life and not just be some be some strange text full of Ye´s and Thou´s. Passages I´ve heard all my life suddenly started to make sense, not just in meaning, but in application as well. It took a lot of work and utmost open-mindedness on my part to start reaping the benefits of really seeking and learning. A lot of heartaches too. For at times, nothing just made sense- different parts of the Bible seemed to contradict each other- one part says Thou Shalt Not Kill and then in another, God commands to annihilate clans and clans of people. Hmm. And then there is just that persistent insecurity- it is just too darn hard to be good or understand things- at least in the way that those happy people are. There was actually a period that out of frustration, I consciously stopped praying and tried to not believe in a God, or the God, or whatever it is supposed to be.

It was the emptiest feeling I have ever experienced in my life.

Living Presence. I don´t know if I ever will be eloquent enough to be able to explain why I believe in God, especially to a non-believer. All I know is that all my life there has been this presence in my life guiding me every step of the way, even when I didn´t pay much attention to it. I don´t even dwell too much on issues of historicity or factual basis of the Second Coming like all the intellectuals like to debate about. I have just come to accept His reality in my life and now I am just focused on patiently growing day by day and embracing the truth the love of God can bring. And dare I say it- the miracles.

A Miracle Called Morris. Last Sunday I went for the first time to a Christian church here in town and it just so happened to be the night where the congregation was welcoming the return of a group of young men from a spiritual retreat. Needless to say, there was the hour and a half long intro of singing, praise, and invocations, but finally the participants were called in to the sanctuary. They then ran into the building and started dancing for joy in front of the church like I´ve never seen youth dance before. For a second I could´ve thought I was in a rave party, seeing the frenzy that they were in. And then each of the participants were called to step forward one by one and share their testimony. One of them was Morris, the ultra friendly and convivial server /bartender in one of the town´s best restaurants, who is also usually seen in the social scene (not that there´s much) when not at work, always with a bottle in one hand and a cigarette on the other. He is a very pleasant person, but the few times I had the chance to spend time with him, I saw all the signs. Needless to say, this 21-year old was all about work, booze, smoking, getting stoned and getting…some.

So there was Morris, in front of the congregation, proclaiming his love for God and that the old Morris is gone and has been interred. He then asked forgiveness from his family and wept uncontrollably as he did so, as his family (and myself, along with my host mother) went into his embrace. It was the same thing for the rest of the participants- one by one, proclaiming their salvation, claiming they are free, and falling into the arms of almost always, their mothers. What struck me the most was that some of them looked as young as ELEVEN YEARS OLD, weeping with such remorse, as if they were already carrying the sin of the world at such a young age. Eventually, I found out that they were indeed. This group of about twenty young men was the rock bottom of this town, the product of broken families – living with the addiction of alcohol, cocaine, you name it. So imagine the look on their mothers´faces as their Prodigal Sons have come home.

Learning from a Former Non-Believer. A couple of nights later, Morris, being a long time family friend of my host mother, visited us in our home to thank us personally for our presence at church that night. He was his usual self- jovial, happy, but the only difference was, he was sober. And the delight that emanated from him was incredible. He wreaked with joy such that I recognized it as to be the same kind of happiness that I saw in real Christians, you know, the kind that I found TOO happy it was odd. Glass after glass he drank with us- all of them water. He shared that since the retreat, he had no desire or craving at all for his vices, even after years of addiction. I then found out the extent of his dark past and I was amazed by his honesty and the ease with which he opened up and just how his world went downside up overnight. This is coming from someone who, too, used to think, ¨those crazy evangelicals.¨

I am still not over by what I witnessed that night. I keep thinking to myself, here I am, having believed in God and always faithful to His ways all my life, and yet, I don´t ever remember a time where I think I have danced and praised God, in the way those boys, now men, did. Such reckless abandon in their worship and joy in their faces – the very kind I would like to be able to have one day, and the reason behind I keep finding myself in the company of Christians.

And then there was Morris at our dinner table, asking to lead the prayer before our meal. If I didn´t know better, I would´ve thought to myself, ¨Oh, he´s one of those Christians who are too happy.¨ If I needed any more convincing about what the love of God can do, witnessing the change in Morris and those boys would have clinched it. But the thing is, I don´t need any more convincing, I just need to shed all my still existing inhibitions and hang-ups and completely open my heart such that one day, I, too, may experience fully the joy the love of God brings.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Two Birthdays and a Funeral

There`s nothing more intimate than being invited into family occasions to celebrate with them and also, share their moments of mourning. It didn`t come as a surprise that my moving in to live with a woman in her 50´s who is well-known and well-loved by the entire community has given me instant access to the world I am living in now. Integrating has become effortless. A week after the move, I am still blown away by the depth and breadth of this free-spirit I have come to get to know and how she is received, along with myself, in every single home or corner store we pass by. I feel immensely blessed by this opportunity and it is only the beginning.

In the past week alone, I attended an 18th and an 80+th birthday party and a burial. In all three occasions I found myself surrounded by strong family ties and life-long friendships fueled by an insurmountable amount of love for each other, whether in a time of joy or sorrow. Imagine the octogenarian celebrant, surrounded by her 9+ children, multiplied exponentially with her grandchildren, all taking the time to slowdance with her. And then there was the late night gathering of a throng outside a funeral home, where friends and family awaited the arrival of the deceased; when the hearst arrived, there was silence and when the tears started pouring, shoulders to cry on abounded.

The past month has been a blur, being pulled right and left in getting to know the community, and up and down, emotionally. Supposedly the first few months of service are going to be slow and I would have to agree- that is, when it comes to business being done. Deadlines don't exist here and when it comes to keeping appointments, well, I learned all too well that they do take place- eventually. Pretty big adjustment for someone who used to swear by an Outlook Calendar, but in a way, I think I`m learning to enjoy just going with the tranquila pace of life here, and the attitudes. On the other hand, my social life has skyrocketed into the atmosphere- that is, of course, if you count visiting community or family members and chatting over Coke or tortilla y quesillo and going to local grocery stores to stop and chat as social events.

I have also been able to go out dancing in more consecutive weeks (even days) than I can remember, even compared to back in the U.S. And I don`t necessarily mean going clubbing. Over here, there is room for dancing for any occasion, any place, and I love it. I couldn´t remember ever dancing with a group of vibrant and humorous 50+ year old women (and an 80+ year old, let´s not forget!), shaking it to merengue music til we dropped. And last weekend I was on a field trip with a network of women's groups trying to form an alliance in the region and when we were having lunch at a poolside of a resort, reggaeton played and I on instinct just bobbed my head to the music. When all of a sudden, the hot mamalicious of the group just grabbed me and next thing I knew, we were putting on a show for the rest of the ladies...showing them how it's done and how music and dance truly defy all age and cultural barriers. It was hilarious...and amazing. As much as I would hate to admit it, I realized that the 40/50+ year old women I have been hanging around with have so much more energy than I do and could definitely outlast me whether in dancing or socializing. I have some serious training to do, I say.

On the work front, I cannot say that things have been too peachy. I guess I can`t have everything I want in one sitting. These days I have been developing my virtue of patience more than ever, figuring out how I can be really useful to this community. I have decided that on top of being involved with the arts center, I would like to focus on working on women's issues, collaborating with the Municipality Office for the Women. But before I get to do that, I have to get through an ocean of political drama and bureaucratic hoopla. Although it`s supposed to be a "municipal" office, it is not really the case as it hasn`t really been getting any form of support for some time from the local government. To say the least, I discovered how challenging it is to get the time of day from the seat of power when it comes to women´s issues, being in a machista town where more roads are of utmost importance. I have been frustrated for a while, but I guess this is where my creativity and wits are supposed to step in, and fortunately, I have been finding encouragement here and there simply by having the right frame of mind and patience, of course. Right now I have no idea on where to find the solutions, but I guess my real work has begun. And like everything else in Honduras, I know everything will fall into place, eventually.