Never before have I truly appreciated church like I am learning to do now, here in Peru. You see, church here is different. It's not just a place. No actually, it's not much of a place at all. There's no air conditioning, sometimes no walls, and frequently a lack of chairs. It's hot and sweaty- a place where you can smell the wear and illness of the people surrounding you- often too close for preference.
Yet church is a place where there is love. You can feel God there and feel the love when you arrive. You are greeted with a warm embrace and a kiss of friendliness and gratitude for your presence. You see the eyes of old- eyes who have suffered through more than their share of challenges. Yet you also bare the eyes of small, beautiful children whose barefoot feet are covered in bites and dirt- yet whose smiles extend far beyond their dimples- like a rainbow lighting up their dirt-cracked faces.
Church is a place I know quite well. I know the old man who comes every week with hardly any teeth. I know the children by name and which ones are shy and which love to sing. I know the preacher far too well for often I am "he". I know the songs that I lead out every week- sometimes with a cracked voice or a cold- yet I sing with I can as loud as my voice can carry. Yes, I know this place- and I can proudly call it mine.
I go to church for God here in Pucallpa. I smile because I want others to see Him through me. I sing because I am genuinely joyful- even if I often don't comprehend the language to which I'm singing. I am far from a pastor or a public speaker- yet when God calls me up to the front to talk- I fear not, for He speaks through me.
Sometimes I think I miss it. I am deceived into thinking I miss church back home. Yet really what church do I have back there that I truly belong too and what do I miss?
Do I long to sit in the pews again and solely be an audience- just a listener- afterwards rating the service on a scale from 1-10 for my entertainment. Do I miss shaking the hands of people who know my face or know my family but know nothing about me- who I am or what I am like. Do I miss being a shadow in church- a silent image that no one remembers while I am gone? Do I miss singing songs that I know all the words too by heart- in a quiet, solemn voice that sounds like death is near to come? Do I miss dressing up- spending an hour in the morning doing my hair and trying to select the perfect outfit- not for God (because I honestly believe He could care less) but to impress mere man and try to fit in like everyone else.
No I don't miss it anymore.
Because church here is my church now and it's become so real to me. It baffles me today that really at my church 7 people are choosing to live for Jesus Christ and get baptized. The thought makes me tremble- that I am a part of this- and that maybe by some small chance something that I did.. the way a 19 year old girl with dreads who tried to sing and tried to talk up front and smiled.. might have helped encourage their decision to choose to live for Jesus. Yes this is my church and here is my family. It has become so real to me that God is working here and in this place.
So what is real to you about church? Church is so much more than a place- it's a family. Church is where you can feel the love of God- no matter how you look, how much money you have, or how you feel. I encourage you to help make your church a real place of genuine worship where people can feel Christ's love. I pray that you find a church that is real to you.
*In the states I have got the privilege to be part of some amazing churches. I especially loved Tulsa Adventist Fellowship and all the people there that left an amazing impact on my lives. Nonetheless, I have been to many churches where I don't feel God's love and where church doesn't affect me. This is not to offend any one or any church. I hope and pray it inspires you to love more in your church and to seek out a church family that helps you grow closer to God.