Our church experience today was amazing.
First, let me say that finding a church to go to in L.A. was important to me – a place I could feel safe as we approached an event that has made me nervous for years as we’ve planned it. But I kept those thoughts to myself because I knew Andy would be perfectly comfortable with the Mass at the hospital, and I didn’t want to dump a bunch of stress on him. And my fears of this surgery are unreasonable, so no need to taylor our experiences to take them into account.
My amazing husband, two days before we left, sent me an email at work with a link to an E-Free church near the hospital totally unsolicited! It looked cool – an English service at 9:00 a.m. That would give us time during the rest of the day to do a little sightseeing, etc. This was before we knew the neighborhood, when we thought there were sights to see just in this neighborhood.
So, this morning we thought we had it all planned out – First Evangelical Free Church of Los Angeles. It was about 2 miles away so we got up early enough to walk there, but we figured we’d take the bus back (since the temps were predicted at 104 degrees). Of course, we are here for Andy to get his hip fixed so didn’t want to plan a ton of walking, but this seemed do-able.
And it was. We walked through the tough neighborhood, and into one that was a little less so. We got to the church at about 10 minutes before the English speaking service was to start – according to the internet. But nobody was there! Well, not nobody literally, there were three women in the church. They were decorating the church because today was special – the anniversary of the Spanish language service. The services (English and Spanish) were combined into one at 11:00 a.m.
Sigh! We figured we didn’t want to walk back up the hill (remember I remarked about how surprised I was to have hills in my previous post), so we asked if we could help. They graciously accepted our offer and we put up streamers with create paper around the church. Then one of the women who spoke English invited us to go down the street to the two houses owned by the church and decorate there for the carne asada meal after service as part of the celebration. More info about these amazing houses later.
It was fun to work with these ladies, and they were so accepting of these two gringos who just sort of showed up at their church expecting to be able to just be a part. They introduced us to Pastor Doug Moore, who was very friendly. He came to this church 27 years ago, and started the Spanish service 26 years ago (yes, they celebrate the anniversary every single year). He grew up the son of missionaries in Chili, so he came to the church bilingual and was well equipped to make a go of this endeavor. He asked what brought us there, so we explained our little story. Then he was off to prepare for service, and we watched the worship team practice songs we knew very well in both English and Spanish. Also met the associate pastor and his wife during that time – they were both part of the worship team.
The music worship was amazing – good songs, good leadership, all songs a mix of Spanish and English. I don’t speak a lick of Spanish, but I joined in on the Spanish portions anyway, and it felt completely like I was worshiping.
Then suddenly the Pastor is speaking quickly in Spanish and we hear the words “Bozeman Montana.” Next thing we know we are invited up on the platform and Andy is explaining – in broken Spanish – where we are from and why we are in L.A… Those of you who know my husband know that he did a great job, but this is not a position he would have elected to put himself into – he just doesn’t go around drawing attention to himself in that way. Then both Pastors laid hands on us and the entire congregation prayed for us – in English and then translated into Spanish.
Can you believe it? It was amazing!
We were invited to the carne asada luncheon afterward, and we went! They treated us like royalty – we were given prime seats in the shade under an avocado tree, and they brought our food to us first. And we learned so much about this amazing church and received personal blessings from so many of the congregation – who treated us like we had been going to the church for years, not like we were there for a one time only visit. It was the authentic cross-cultural experience that we thought we had no chance of having while here. God is so good!
The church itself is almost 100 years old. They also have an African congregation (E-Free) that meets in their church in the afternoon. The “English Congregation” as they call it has about 80 members, and the Spanish congregation has about 150. The Spanish clearly dominates the activities of the church. They built the congregation by offering English Second Language classes to the neighborhood. Now there is not a perceived need for that, so they offer afterschool academic help to the neighborhood children. The Spanish congregation is poor, no question about it, but they are joyful and supportive of one another and full of so much faith. They blessed us beyond measure!
We ended up being there until almost 3 p.m., and the pastor’s wife gave us a ride back to the hospital, so we didn’t have to take the bus or walk.
Those two houses, well, the church bought them over the past couple of years, and fixed them up. Now they use them for a housing ministry. In one house the associate pastor, his wife, and their three young children share with single mother families who need a place. And the house next door is also occupied by a single mother, three college age church members, and functions as a meeting house for youth. Four nights a week the two houses share a dinner meal between them. The back yards are completely open to each other as a communal area.
Think about this – that associate pastor and his wife are basically 24/7 ministry. I can’t even imagine! Amazing!
I could go on and on, but this is already too long. God blessed us with this experience.