Thursday, February 21, 2008

Comunidade de Cristo

This week I've been overwhelmed with love for my little church here in Natal. Nothing special has happened this week to make me feel this way, it's just been one of those weeks where I've had time to stop and appreciate how wonderful it is.

Every single one of my readers knows that the reason I came back to Natal was not because of the beach (although my pictures may indicate otherwise.) It was not because of the weather (DEFINITELY not.) It was not because Natal was the only place that would accept me (at least I hope not.) And it was not because I was in love with a Brasilian boy (although I did get asked if "Living and Loving in Natal, Brazil" was the title of my blog because I was dating someone. Um...let's clear that up right now...NO.) They all know that I came back to Natal because of the church. I tell each of them that the church here is very special, like none I've ever seen. I even sacrificed my pride enough to tell the young people (in Portuguese, thus the pride-sacrificing) at our end-of-year party in December, that they were a part of a church so special that it was unlike anything I had ever been a part of, and to take advantage of it.

Why is it so special? I don't know. Maybe it's because every Sunday the whole congregation stops for about 5-10 minutes during the worship service for a time of confraternizaรงao, where everyone goes around hugging each other and saying "God bless you." You can't escape being hugged, and this aspect is what attracts many visitors to come back again: at our church people hug you! (Sidenote: this part used to make me nervous because it required me to speak in Portuguese, or at least try to understand what others were saying to me. For the first two months it was so awkward I would suddenly have to go to the bathroom until it was over. I always appreciated it for what is was, though, and now that I am linguistically able to participate, I love it!)

Or maybe it's because every day of the week, there is something going on at the building. On Mondays and Wednesdays there is a literacy class for neighbors in their 90s. On Tuesdays there is a cooking class for women from the community to come and share recipes. On Monday and Tuesday nights there are English grammar classes. On Wednesdays there is a midweek Bible study. Every day there are discipleship Bible studies between church members and the missionaries. Several nights a week there are small group home studies. On Saturdays there is a Bible study for young people. One Saturday each month there is a women's Bible study. And Sundays, of course, there is Sunday school and the worship service. And I didn't even mention the English conversation classes I offer each day.

Our church is not big. The roster boasts 50, but we have 40ish members present week to week, with an ever-growing number of visitors. Our offering is small, as half of the congregation is comprised of financially dependent college students who come to church independent of their families. But our reputation is big. Everyone in the neighborhood knows about the "big white church on the corner." The bus drivers know it too. My friends at my bakery know my friends and I are from the church, and my doormen all knew of it before I told them I worked there. My readers always have good things to say, even when they have a dislike for churches in general. "This church is different," they say. "I like this church."

Our reputation was formed through an outpouring of love. People know that at our church we teach love, and that when they walk through our doors they will receive love. They may not like the acappella worship, they may not like that we collect a weekly offering, they may not like lots of things, but they will never question whether or not we are a loving body of believers. After all, that's really what Jesus taught, isn't it? I'd say we're on the right track...


Gregory said...

Thanks, Cris.
I am encouraged by your beautiful description of our family in Natal. I am often encouraged by your blog and fail to let you know. Please know that we are anxious to join you to share in your joys and burdens.
May God bless you more than you ever imagined!

Cyndi said...

Beautifully put!
I was only there for six weeks, but I experienced this loving church as you described it! I can't wait for my next confrater.......(we called it Hugfest!)

Jeremy Kenney said...

Hey we miss you!!! Noah out of the blue yesterday goes I really, really miss Cris! I am glad you are doing well.

Mark and Kelly said...

I can't wait to meet your comunidade!

Anonymous said...

I have a tear running down my face right now. (And let me tell you, that does not happen often.) But it is a tear of joy. Because your post is SO TRUE! I love that church dearly, more than I've loved any church I've ever been to. And the people...I don't have enough time or space to describe those wonderful people.
You just made my week. :)

Anonymous said...

I can tell this church has become beter and beter because we have had people like you Chris that want to help this congragation.And more people want to join us like the guys from Arkansas. Day by day Jesus has revealed His love for us, sending so nice Americans like you all!
Thank you for speaking that about Comunidade! I'm proud of being part of it!