By means of introduction, in September Fernando was asked to assume temporary leadership in a church whose pastor had had to relocate. This congregation, in a community about 20 minutes east of La Ceiba, had been without a pastor for two years and greatly desired a leader. Fernando had previously served with a pastor friend at his church in La Ceiba but felt his help was no longer needed. In the past few months, he has really enjoyed getting to know this group of believers, preaching on Sundays and facilitating small groups, children's and youth outreach events, and leadership training.
Because the church met on Sunday evenings and Fernando would usually arrive home late, I hadn't gone with our two kids. But now that they meet on Sunday mornings we can go as a family.
If you hopped in the car with us and came along, we would take you to this community, turning off the highway toward the ocean and onto a dirt road toward a small concrete building. We would pass by children playing and animals, such as chickens and pigs. Getting out of the car, you'd have to watch your step because rainy season creates puddles and mud in the sandy ground, and you'd have to step onto concrete blocks and some wood planks onto the bare concrete floor of the church.
A street in this community (from this link)
You would hear worship music playing in Spanish and Garífuna, and you would be greeted with a handshake at the door. You would see handmade decorations hanging from the wood rafters of a metal roof, feel the welcome breeze from a few fans high on the wall, and take a seat on one of the plastic chairs. You would probably see people kneeling to pray, preparing their hearts for the service, either at their seats or at the platform, where a glass podium, sound system, instruments, and decorative back curtain are located. Open windows would allow you to see people walking by outside, going about their daily activities. People of all ages would trickle in, even after the service officially starts, often greeting each other with handshakes or, between women, the cheek-to-cheek air kiss typical in Latin America.
If you're a man, you'd be wearing nice slacks and a dress shirt, or a polo shirt if you're a young adult or teenager. If you're a woman, you'd want to wear a skirt or dress knee-length or lower. In Honduras, dressing semi-formally is considered important, especially for those who are in front leading worship, giving announcements, or preaching. If you brought your baby or came along with Miss A, women would ask to hold him or her; babies are more than welcome in church gatherings, and other women are always more than happy to hold them.
The service is usually held 9:00-10:15, but starting and ending times are somewhat flexible; people are more focused on the event of the moment than following a firm schedule. After an opening prayer and Scripture reading, worship would begin, and the motto seems to be, "the louder the better." Instead of projecting lyrics on a screen, songs are learned through repetition and, especially in Garífuna, call and response style. Instruments usually include Garífuna drums and rattles, sometimes a drum set, a piano, and sometimes guitar. Raising hands and swaying to the music is common (Mr. J really likes participating in this way!). After the announcements and offering, you'd see Fernando step to the front to give the message.
Fernando preaching (several years ago)
In this community, like others located close to larger cities, Garífuna is still used but is becoming gradually eclipsed by Spanish. Fernando preaches in Spanish so that everyone can understand, but he speaks Garífuna when preaching in more rural areas. People often respond to sermons by calling out, "Amen!" and sometimes clapping. You'd hear very soft piano music in the background during the sermon. Fernando has appreciated the spiritual hunger and openness of this particular group of believers, who give their full attention the duration of the sermon.
After the final prayer, people talk and shake hands before leaving. We, like they, would return home to eat the main meal of the day around noon and rest a bit during the afternoon.
Holding hands on the way to church
Before finishing this post, I have to share about going to church with my parents on a visit to Washington. Right before the service started, there was a countdown (minutes and seconds) on the screen. When someone in front began literally right at the start time, I had a laughing attack. (This is called "reverse culture shock.") How good to know that with different customs and approaches to worship we serve the same God and are the same family!