On Friday Jan 2, our van turned from the main highway onto a small dirt road leading us to the village we had been waiting to visit. The whole church of Ameya was waiting to give us a warm welcome as we pulled into the hot, dusty, church grounds. There were people of all ages from infants to seniors. They met us with enthusiasm and love and gave us a warmer welcome than any of us could have imagined. Some of the people had walked in the heat and humidity for an hour just to be there. They shared cultural dance, music and food with us. Later that evening they all came up to individually give us a hug and said the blessing you say in Spanish “Que Dios le Bendiga” (May God Bless You). When I was asked to give a short greeting on behalf of our FCC team, something unexpected happened to me as I stood in front of everyone. I felt like time froze for me and I was taken into a brief flashback of the time leading up to our visit.
I had been praying about the possibility of this trip for over 4 years. Some of our leaders had joined me in talking about this for the last 2 years. Now, our team had been working hard for months to plan this visit and had been praying for Ameya and this Covenant Church there. Our FCC church family had been supporting us with prayer, donations and buying lots of fundraising coffee (which I had been roasting at every free moment I had after work from October to December). Our team had been thinking of their men, women and children as we planned events for them, we had been preparing gifts to take for the kids, we had been expectant of the ways we could learn from their leaders, we had been anxious to hear about the great work they are doing despite being an under-resourced village, we were curious to see their vocational school and the public mobile library they started. We had been looking forward to this moment even before ever meeting a single person from this village. And finally, the day arrived and here we were standing in the company of our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters in Christ.
So as I stood there watching everyone waiting for me to say something, I was overcome by a feeling deep in my heart that I couldn't ignore and I felt tears well up in my eyes. Our team later told me they experienced this same feeling at that moment. We were experiencing what the body of Christ has felt for centuries when people gathered in the name of Jesus to encourage one another in their journeys. We were experiencing what the Holy Spirit does in hearts when brothers and sisters truly show hospitality and welcome in Christian love even without knowing each other. We were feeling what the Apostle Paul did when he wrote his letter while in the city of Ephesus to a house church at Rome saying, “I have been longing for many years to visit you.” (Rm 15:23) I believe now in that moment, what we were feeling was actually a glimpse of God’s love for us, the people of Ameya and people all around the world. We were feeling a glimpse of what we will feel at the last day when people of every tribe, nation, language and background stand in the Great Reunion. I can't even come close to describing how God was moving in all of us on that day. After what seemed like a long pause, but I'm sure was only a tenth of a second, I greeted the Covenant Church of Ameya on behalf of our family here at First Covenant Oakland. I told them, “Even though we've never met you, we have been longing to visit you! We have been praying for you! We have been asking God to bring us here to spend this time with you!” They clapped, cheered and shouted ‘Amen!’ Some of them were crying.
There are so many stories of how we saw God moving in Nicaragua, but I had to take time today to write about this one first. It causes me to remember that we are a part of a larger body of Christ around the world that genuinely needs each other and that has been brought together by the blood of Christ to form a new family in God. If you trust in Jesus as your savior, you are a part of that movement of God! This is your family! Let God move you this week in the reality of the unity you have with believers in the Bay Area and around the world. Whether you get a chance to meet your family in Christ in Ameya, Nicaragua or here in Oakland, be expectant of what God wants to do among us everytime we meet for worship, at a connection group, an outing or a meal. Be encouraged today that you are not alone but you are a part of a great cloud of witnesses who throughout time and throughout our world have placed their trust in the risen Jesus and who will one day be reunited forever in the presence of the Lamb of God.
Que Dios le Bendiga,