I broke out of the Hope Bubble last night and attended a prayer service at a nearby church.
I had the time of my life.
Hope is fairly centrally located in Holland and is surrounded by hundreds of churches of all denominations. This comes in handy for me particularly now that I am taking a 2-credit, second-half-of-the-semester religion course titled “The Many Faces of Christianity.” So far, it has been a spectacular and mind-opening class that has allowed me to learn a plethora about the Christian faith and even opened my eyes to my own beliefs. The most crucial part of the class is to do “Church visits.” They’re exactly as they sound. We are required to attend five different types of services (Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, a service at the Hope College Gathering, and a multi-cultural service of any type) and write up a short review of the service and the parishioners.
Of all the options, I know least about the Pentecostal group, so I decided to make it one of my first visits. I randomly looked up a nearby church and decided on the Sinai Assembly of God. I arrived promptly at 6:45 for a 7pm prayer service and noticed the small word on the church sign that my research had failed to inform me of: Spanish. Okay, no big deal, I thought, I’ve totally got this. I know a bit of Spanish and I’m sure I’ll get the gist of the service.
I guess I probably should have expected it, but after arriving and sitting down, I found I was the only Caucasian face amidst 40 Hispanic Pentecostals. However, it was moreso the unfamiliarity of the service that had me nervous at that point. As parishioners entered the sanctuary they all greeted each other. Every single person made their rounds. When they approached me, they smiled a toothy grin, stuck out their right hand to shake my own, and introduced themselves. One man approached me and said, “Hello there, Hope College Student!” (Do I have Hope College stamped across my forehead? Apparently so.)
The service began and all of a sudden, every face turned to me. A large commotion began and a woman jumped up from her seat and ran to the front of the sanctuary to stand beside the worship leader. She began to translate every Spanish word into English, just for me. It was awesome.
I had a great time at the service and upon concluding, many people came over to me and asked me how I enjoyed the service. I guess what really got me was their pure friendliness. Although they had no idea what my religious background was, where I was from (other than the most common assumption, Hope), or why I had chosen to come to their service, they welcomed me in with open arms and encouraged me hear their words, to share in their faith, and to worship the God that they love and want to serve. They made my day, my week, probably even my month, as I’m planning to go back next week and join them again.
It reminded me of how we should be treating others. How awesome it was to feel welcomed in an unknown community and to feel accepted in a place I had never been before with people I had never met. Sometimes it’s great to stay with the norms and keep the routine you’ve built for yourself. But, the more you break out and find the unfamiliar things in life, the more you grow, the more you learn, and the amazing people you encounter aren’t so bad either. Remember:
John 15:12-15 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.