A bilingual service: No loss in meaning

So Sunday, I went to my first day of church, La Iglesia Evangelica Presbiteriana Monte Olivos. I was apprehensive, because Jenny had warned me that the Iglesia Evangelica Presbiteriana is much more conservative than up north. No doubt she’s right, but I found myself pleasantly surprised. And in hindsight, as drawn is as possible while still functioning below 100 percent.

First, of all they let a woman lead some of the songs! Hurrah! She also prayed. She was one of five worship leaders during the service, but I was at least pleased to see this much.

And a note there, the service was half Quechua, half Spanish. Something I hadn’t expected, but something that drew me in rather than push me away. Paco, handed me the Quechua songbook and I did my best to read the text. Peruvian Quechua orthography is different than what I learned in Bolivia, plus it’s been awhile, but I think I did alright. Plus, it’s not so hard to guess at the meaning of words when all you’re seeing is hymns. Who knew I’d be improving my Quechua in church?

Bilingualism was amazing. Everyone spoke Spanish and Quechua at different levels in that congregation (myself included) and we were able to meet each other where we were, in true hospitality. And I saw no meaning lost. I find language integral to hospitality, so I was beside myself that bilingualism was enriching, not reducing the experience.

Then came Paco’s turn to preach, as the weekly guest. He got up there and started on a bilingual sermon, turning from Spanish to Quechua without notable pattern, but ensuring all could hear his words. Just that alone would have left me totally impressed.

But then I’d ignore his incredible sermon. He preached on 1 Peter 2: 1-2, which points that those of us discovering God’s mercy crave spiritual milk like babes.

And this is where I learned Paco is really smart. He knows his Biblical literature well. I’m not surprised, as he’s a Professor of Old and New Testament at the Andean Theological Seminary here in Ayacucho, but it is one thing to know and another to witness.

Peter draws on one of the universal letters of the Bible, which I’d get wrong if I tried to write here. Specifically, you can find “spiritual milk” in Hebrews 5: 12 a few pages earlier. There, the message is that the righteous must remember to drink milk, before they have the food and drink of spirituality. It’s a nice parallel to the more familiar “crawl, walk, run” metaphor.

Unfortunately, I lost some of his message here between his rapid translating and my own inability to hold my Spanish comprehension for more than ten minutes. My understanding though, is that Paco said we must remember the spiritual milk, but that we should not just satisfy ourselves all the time with the basics. At some point he said, we have to move forward to the more challenging aspects of “sopa y “segundo,” the colloquial terms for the standard two-part lunch of soup and a second meal. I take these to mean the more complex issues of faith: confession, salvation, forgiveness, etc.

Considering where I am, I very much appreciated that message. For one thing, he reminded me that there is nothing wrong with taking the spiritual milk. I’m new to this, I’m nervous, and want to try and eat the complex stuff while I drink the spiritual milk. It was a message of patience, but one that promised I’d get a crack at the tougher stuff with time. In fact, it seemed quite normal that most people drink the food and take the substantial food together as they grow into the adulthood of their faith.

So, I was not only impressed, but very engaged. Paco really gave me something to chew on and I’m thankful for that. Also, he brought me to a community that really wanted me.

Each member told me to be like I was in my own house. They wanted me to feel welcome and in community for the year, intuiting my own apprehension of the past few days. And as soon as the head pastor, Emerson, learned I played guitar he pressed me to tune his up and maybe learn a few Spanish songs for the coming weeks.

I’m super happy about that. The music was nice, but the sharp keyboard and accordion could do with a duller timbre underneath. Plus, this will help me get far more engaged. Now I just need to get myself one of their songbooks.


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