Our first visit...
We arrived in sister church community in the late afternoon. Seven of us had broken off from the synod delegation to spend time with people we knew through story and the occasional email. A celebration awaited us, but news of a family in mourning had been shared with our sister pastor. We walked down an unfamiliar dirt path, down a hill to a home where many people had gathered. The crowd parted so that we strangers could enter the home. It was very dark inside, and as our eyes adjusted to the candlelight we could see the family members weeping at the loss of their daughter. Maybe she was ten years old. Our sister pastor did not really know the family, but in moments of trouble and grief, there is community and solidarity and faith.
The smell of the candles, the cadence of prayers of the rosary, the sweaty heat of many bodies inside the adobe house, the confusion of not knowing how to behave at a vigil for a little girl in a country we had just met cement this memory into our beings. Our first moments in our sister church community were moments spent in being together. Just being together.
When it felt right, we quietly left. We walked up the dark path toward the light at the top of the hill. The light shone out from the half-walls of a small shed-like building, made of corrugated tin and bamboo slats - the church. We were ushered inside, where a big table almost filled the entire space. The church benches were lined up along the walls, and there was just enough room for us to squeeze past and find seats. After the seven of us were seated, the spaces at the table filled in with men, women and kids from the community. The food was placed in the center of the table. It was incredibly hot, tight with people who were strangers trying to learn about each other despite the barrier of language.
We seemed to be waiting for something and noticed two empty chairs at the head of the table, right at the front of the church, under the cross. We thought we were waiting for the pastor and his wife. We waited.
And we waited.
And then Julia walked in, walking arm in arm with a blind man on her left and his blind wife on her right, weaving carefully around all of the crowded benches as the women, the men and the children made way, to the head of the table. The guests of honor had arrived, and the meal began.