The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
At the recent Iringa Fall Festival, the Rev. Peter Harrits, director of Bega Kwa Bega, spoke of the dangers of the single story. The single story is the concept that one story – a stereotype, if you will – can encapsulate all stories.
“The single story robs people of dignity,” Harrits said. “It is not what the church is about. The single story devalues what God has made in that person.”
I have been in the role of “communicating” the companionship between the Iglesia Luterana Agustina de Guatemala (ILAG) and the Saint Paul Area Synod for more than a year now. As such, I was eager to visit Guatemala City so that I could do better in this role as storyteller. Indeed, I came home re-invigorated to tell people what I heard and saw and felt; I was full of experiences that needed to be told. But I found myself feeling discouraged at the lack of words that I could properly produce that would do justice. How can I tell a story that is not a single story? And even more so, how can we all tell these stories? Harrits challenges us to tell stories that showcase our own vulnerability, as well as stories that are mutual, inclusive, empowering, and sustaining.
In a globalized and interconnected world, we as the church in North America, need our global companions. As Bishop Lull wrote in this issue’s column, she went to the ILAG under the assumption of being a “teacher.” And while she did teach about grace, and Martin Luther, and about being a Lutheran today, she instead found herself largely in the role of a learner. As a learner, her story was shaped by the stories of the people she met.
I was a learner, too. Here’s what I learned and here’s what I have to tell: Our church life needs global companions.
This collective need for companionship is one that I experienced first hand in El Tuerto. El Tuerto is a neighborhood settled in the ravines of Guatemala City, where homes are stacked on top of each other, hanging from the cliff sides. There at the bottom of a steep and precarious staircase sits La Resurrección, a community of faith led by Pastor Marcelina Monroy whose witness spoke to me and, I believe, speaks to needs that are shared by many in the communities that I call home.
We entered this church, damp from the rain and a little shaky from the uncertain climb through the dark. Like many of the Lutheran church spaces I’ve been in, there was bright welcome and immediate comfort. After greeting the church leaders, we filed out together and began our ascent up to the home of Casimiro Zarat, who gives communion at La Resurrección. There, we prayed. We then traveled to two other homes and prayed with congregants.
Each of these families welcomed us with graciousness, hugging us with a strong embrace. I was overwhelmed by the courage in faith of these people we visited. The courage in faith of welcoming a stranger into your home where they can see your belongings and how you live; of reading scripture and praying with a foreigner who does not share a common language; of embracing a stranger in a deep hug that revealed no insecurities. How much I lack this courage in faith, I thought, as we stumbled back up to the van.
It turns out, I needed the witness of La Resurrección. We need the witness of La Resurrección.
We also need El Divino Salvador del Mundo, a congregation in the El Mirador neighborhood, where four young men – Carlos, Pedro, Edgar, and Eduardo – met us under a torrential downpour to tell us about the church work that they are so passionate about. The church can learn from the witness of El Divino Salvador del Mundo, where they process through the streets during Lent, carrying floats depicting the Passion of Christ. They do this as an act of devotion and public witness, carrying Christ to the doors of those who need to pray.
Our church also needs the witness of all of the leaders of the ILAG. The leaders who walk an hour, take a bus for four hours, and another bus for four more hours, to attend a leadership retreat; the leaders that greet each new morning by singing together on the church roof. We need the 17 year old boy who leads the church while also attending school full time, and the leaders who ask questions about God’s grace with hunger and hope.
Our church needs La Resurrección, and El Divino Salvador del Mundo, and the witness of all the leaders of the ILAG. Yes, we need all the Lutheran churches in Guatemala, but also those in Tanzania, and in all the other places in the world where we have companions in Christ. Courage in faith is only stronger when it is also global, and we need that courage in our faith. Our church needs the hunger for God’s grace that exists here in Minnesota, too, amplified by the voices and the hope that exist globally. We need all the voices on the rooftop greeting every new morning, and we need to carry Christ to those who need the Word the most –on the doorsteps of Minnesotans, and Guatemalans, and Tanzanians, and in every place in the world where companions in Christ live.
There exists a single story of being Lutheran in Minnesota – of hotdish and Lake Wobegon – just as there exists a single story of life in these places where our global companions live, worship, pray, and gather together in Christ’s name. As Harrits said, “The single story is not what the church is about.” How can we better tell the stories of what it means to be Lutheran as global companions in Christ? How can we tell others about why we need La Resurrección, and El Divino Salvador del Mundo, and the witness of all the leaders and congregations of the ILAG, and beyond?
Coordinator for Synod Communications