Sunday, May 4, 2014

Semana Santa in Spokane, Part Two: Virtual Church

This is our second post of several about our recent trip to Spokane. Although Holy Week or “Semana Santa” is a wonderful time to be in Guatemala, we determined that this would be a good time to visit our home in Spokane, Washington. Richard needed to do a couple of follow-up appointments with doctors, it’s a week when very little is happening from a work standpoint, both our birthdays fall in that week, we could renew our visas, visit family and friends, sit down with an accountant to prepare taxes, and spend Easter with family.

Debbie and Richard
Easter Sunday
Our travel schedule over Holy Week gave us the opportunity to attend Easter services at Knox Presbyterian Church in Spokane, our ‘home church’ prior to our call to Guatemala. As we bathed in the experience of hearing and feeling everyone’s greetings and welcomes, we got to thinking about how technology has kept us connected with those who have supported us and encouraged us in our ministry in Guatemala. Through a variety of media, we’ve found ourselves engaged in the lives of congregations around our denomination. These unexpected connections have encouraged and sustained us in ways we never would have anticipated.

Worship in the Villages
Worship at the Baptist Church
Sunday morning in Guatemala has become a fascinating mix of cultural, linguistic, and spiritual experiences that have allowed us to ‘taste and see’ so much of what is wonderful about the gathering of different communities of faith across international, denominational, and demographic lines. When traveling in Guatemala’s countryside with US groups or as a part of other church-related activities, we worship in our partner congregations in some of the simplest of surroundings, a dirt floor sanctuary and rough wooden benches, partially in a language we don’t understand at all, and partly in a language we’re just learning to understand. Even so, the warmth of the congregation, and their expressions of love and trust in God and one another, connects us in ways that transcend the differences in language and demographics we know exist. When we’re home in Cobán, I've begun attending a local Baptist church down the road from us while we anticipate the establishment of a Presbyterian church here. I met the pastor at a church event several months ago. Every week (at least the weeks when I attend) this church lifts up prayers for the ministry of the new Presbyterian church being established in Cobán. It’s good to connect and build relationships with members of the greater community of faith. Yet for me church services in Spanish are still more linguistic and community building exercises than they are times of learning and spiritual growth.

"Virtual church" in our home kitchen
Then there is our time of ‘virtual church’. After attending services with the local congregation, we gather around our kitchen table, start up the computer, and connect to our church’s website from which we can download and listen to the previous Sunday’s worship service over the Internet. Sometimes we stop and think; here we are in Guatemala, listening to a worship service (sometimes hearing our own sons’ voices) thousands of miles away. Even as a former “IT guy” the technology is still just amazing. We have other technical connections with encouragers and supporters we've come to appreciate. We receive a regular devotional reading from Pastor Chris at Hillsboro Church via Facebook. We've had Skype sessions with groups who have active ministries in Guatemala. We receive regular weekly messages, often with links to a recent sermon from Pastor Chris at 1st Church Lake Forest. And of course there are the regular email, Facebook, and other social media messages of news and encouragement.

People ask us how we’re adjusting to being so far from familiar friends and family settings. The answer is “surprisingly well”. Our new life has connected us with so many new and fascinating people, as well as new opportunities to serve people in ways we never imagined. At the same time, maybe our adjustment has been made just a little easier because of the ways in which our encouragers and supporters hold us up with their prayers, their gifts, and all those tokens of connection that are only a click away.

Richard and Debbie Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers, Guatemala

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