Last Sunday (20th of December) we hosted the very first service for the new church plant here in Arica. We had been working with several families over the past few months, and had decided that it would be a good idea to try to get everyone together for a Christmas service. The people seemed to think that it was a good idea also, because each one that we talked to about it pitched in their ideas about what to eat, or what to do. Everyone was genuinely excited!
In this Christmas service there would be preaching, singing, eating, and games. For the food we decided to ask people to bring some sort of Chilean salad, and we would provide the main course – anticuchos (shish kabobs). The day before the service, we drove all over town picking up the necessary things, and doing some last minute practicing for the Christmas hymns and special music Sandra and I would sing, and preparing the area that we would be using for the service. We were all very excited about the service.
Noon on Sunday finally came, and with it people started to show up, however very slowly. It has to be a latin-american thing to be late, but I think we are finally getting used to it. At about 1:30 everyone had arrived. It all there were 21 people (including our family) that came to the meeting! When the last ones arrived, we got everyone together and began. I opened with a greeting and then prayer. I played the guitar while we all sang a Christmas hymn, or tried to at least. Not only was it a new song to almost everyone there, but I couldn’t get my voice on the same key as the guitar. But after a few train wrecks, we finally it got going. I don’t know exactly why, but I was so nervous. Sandra noticed that and tossed me an encouraging word, “Don’t be nervous.” But when it was her turn to come up and sing a special with me, we were both just as nervous. Again, I’m not sure why, but it turned out alright. Something that was quite funny was that I had picked out 5 Christmas hymns, and by the time that we finished with the fourth one I was ready to shift gears into the message because almost no one knew the songs. But just as I told everyone that we were going to put away our song sheets, one of the ladies raised her hand and asked if we could sing the last song because it was the only one that they all knew, and I almost skipped it! We all sang and everyone enjoyed the song – Silent Night.
After the singing, I opened my Bible to John 3:16 and spoke about the greatest gift ever given, Jesus. The general idea of the message is that for thousands of years people would die. Good, bad, old, and young alike, death was our common end, but when Jesus came he offered eternal life through the forgiveness of sin. He told Martha after Lazarus’ death that “he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” God’s gift to the human race, eternal life! We had already been working with most of the people who were there, and had already led all but 2 of them to Christ. Because of that we talked about the 2-fold gift – eternal life and abundant life. There was no one saved at the service, but there was a good response to the message. After the service was over, I approached one of the ladies whose salvation I wasn’t sure of and asked her if she knew that she would be going to heaven when she died like we talked about in the message. “O, yes, pastor!” she said, and then told us how she had been saved 6 years earlier in Bolivia. It is good to know that there are others around the world who are leading people to Jesus also!
After the service was over, we changed the setup of the chairs to include tables, and then began the cooking and arranging of salads, cake, and refreshments. Everyone pitched in to do their part. It is always so exciting to see everyone working together in a church setting! The kids played while the meat was cooking, and then when it was all ready we gave thanks and ate. It was a wonderful time.
To finish off the day, we played a few games, one ‘get to know you’ game and then some Christmas Bible trivia. As a whole the service went very well. People were asking when we were going to start the church services regularly. We are now starting to look for a more central place that we can rent so we can begin our services. Please pray for us that we will be able to find something suitable and affordable.
All in all everyone really enjoyed the day. I can hardly wait to get everyone back together again, but this time with the ones who we’ve been working with but that couldn’t come to this event. Please continue to pray for our family and work here.