Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hosanna - Ecuador, Day 1

"Be the church you long for." I've said it a hundred times.

I've typed that sequence of letters on a tiny phone keyboard, I've written it into the pages of my manuscript. I've papered the walls of my church-broken heart with its words, willing them to stick by force of repetition, up and down, side to side, be the church you long for, Shannan. 

Maybe I'm not always sure what it is I long for.

Calvin and I were the first off the bus this morning. The service had begun, the block walls of the building holding worship like hands hold water.

"Go, go!" Our in-country trip leader shooed us in.

Beautiful girls lined up on both sides, around Ruby's age, their long hair pulled back from their features, eyes shining, skirts swishing. They held out long-stemmed Ecuadorian roses while music spilled from behind them, Hosanna! Hosanna! erasing any space between us.

We'd heard about the preacher on the drive over, a man who had once raged at his family. A drunk who, on one bleak night, scared his young daughter straight to the open doors of the church down the street. "I knew a church could help me. I knew a church meant hope." Today, that man stood in a gold sweater, older now, clapping and singing along. "Hosanna!" I picked him out in an instant, because just as God's power and goodness know no limits in the face of desperation, the gratitude of the redeemed cannot be contained. I thought of my friends back home, the ones in rehab and the ones on the run. And all I could hear was Hosanna.

A little girl walked over, wedging into the pew between me and Brianne. She smiled shyly at first, two tidy rows of baby teeth, her jacket zipped up to her chin. Plucking the rose from my lap, she grinned. "Roja?" I asked. "Si!" She pointed to the leaves then, giggling, "verde!"

And so it began. She welcomed me to her table there on the front-row pew. I scooted my chair in.

We held sweaty hands and spoke only in colors.
She raised her arms. I scooped her up.

Too soon, it was time for me to say goodbye and head off to my first home visit.
Why was I even surprised when the translator told me it was her home - Zulema's home - we were to visit?

"Lindos! Lindos!" she said of every flower we passed, keying into my love language and quick to share it. We held hands the whole way home, past brick walls studded with shards of broken glass, past graffiti and a dozen stray dogs. 

Turning the corner, we entered a small, forgotten courtyard. "Papi!" Her father greeted us at the door, smiling, holding back the lindo rose-patterned curtain that serves as the door to their dirt-floored, one-room home, on loan from Zulema's grandma, shared between Zulema, her parents, and two siblings; the size of one of my bathrooms back in Indiana.

"Our home is humble, but our door is always open," her father spoke softly. His hopes are many - for a steady job, a better home, an improvement of his family's condition. For his three children, he hopes they one day become "professionals".

With tremendous pride, he pulled a file folder from a cramped shelf bearing the letters received from Zulema's Compassion sponsor. He pointed to the brightly-colored comforter still encased in plastic, curiously hanging as if a decoration on the muddy wall - a prized gift from the sponsors. "She has shoes. An education. They help us."

Zulema's parents do not attend church, so we invited them. Before it was time to go, I prayed for his wishes along with my own - that we would remember one another as family, that they would feel God's pleasure and love for them, that we would never lose our taste for daily bread or our faith that it would find us.

I told them how special their daughter is and how grateful I am to have spent time with her. I hugged her hard and walked away from her home, my left hand lonely.

It's Sunday, and I have a better idea of the church I long for.

I want a church of broken people who shimmer with the glow of redemption.
I want a boiled-down, universal language of commonality, a singular thread.
I want an invitation to dance badly and hug strangers.
I want a humble house of God with a curtain for a door, flung over the jamb, covered in roses.

I want a haven, a never-gives-up hope.

But if I really want those things, I have to first be willing to be them.

We have the opportunity to live as though we believe all lives are equally sacred. We get to be part of this. As a Compassion sponsor for over ten years, this gift has never been more clearer than today, squeezed into the home of folks on the far edge of the margins.

Today, I'm asking you to pray for Zulema's parents, who are on a path toward God's goodness, whether they fully realize it or not.

I'm also asking you to release a child from poverty in Jesus' name by sponsoring a child through Compassion. 

At the close of this Sabbath, here at the center of the world, I'm asking you to believe with me that we are messengers of hope and recipients of wild grace when we dare to be the church we long for, opening our eyes wide to the church already at work around us in every Zulema, every Papi, every child extending a long-stemmed rose.

Follow along with Ashley from Under the Sycamore.
Follow along with Ruth from Gracelaced.
Follow the hashtag #compassionbloggers on Instagram.

*Most images courtesy of @mikevarel