Church today, and not quite the service we are use to. In Weberek Lucinda attends a house church held on a Saturday in order to avoid any tension with the dominant religion of Catholism. Although many of the people involved in the work here are protestants they have no desire to upset the traditional Catholic population, a remnant of the Portuguese rule in the country. So on Sunday she will often head off with a group of local Protestants to Besusu to worship at a Presbyterian church. The church is a bamboo structure with a thatched roof and compacted mud floors. Inside are a few pews, plastic chairs a table at the front and a Christmas tree. The Pastor built the structure as a home but gave it over for the work of the church. Protestants can suffer persecution in the villages and at one point the police had to be called to establish the Church’s right to worship how they pleased. Since it was explained to the persecutors that Timor Leste is a democratic republic, they had to concede to leave the Presbyterian church in peace. But still there are problems.
It tuns out the preacher was a Malae from Brisbane, and it was me. I shared a quick simple word from a parable of Jesus in a simple style while Lucinda translated. I think my Pastor can consider his job safe. After the meeting, the pastor pulled us aside and apologised for his humble building. He said that Kings and Queens wouldn’t come to his dwelling. My dear husband said “you say that kings and queens won’t come here, but God Himself is here”. And this was true. We don’t like to think Jesus has favourites, but if He does, it’s the poor. Jesus famously and unquestionably loves the poor, and somehow western Christianity has forgotten, not that He loves the poor, nor to give to the poor, but that he lives with the poor. As I have sat on dirt floors, bamboo huts, rickety plastic chairs these last few days I felt God has given me the ability to see himself in these people. Believers, non-believers Catholics and Protestants alike these are the mainstay of the ministry of our Servant King. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 5:3), is the very first of the beatitudes. Don’t get me wrong I wish these people prosperity, and I believe God does too, but the trick for us is to hold this sweet humble spirit in one hand and prosperity in the other. Many have tried, many have failed.
We had a look around the pastors land, it consisted of about 5 buildings of similar construction, the main one with a concrete block base. Although he has power to his dwelling the only thing I saw it power was one LED light in the church. There is one dwelling especially for cooking but it seemed to have nothing in the way of food except corn. No pantry items or what we would consider staples, no refrigerator and it seems even if he did have one there would be noting to put in it. There was no cooking apparatus either, apart from the remnants of a fire and some pots, There seems to be no income that I can discern. There was a field that was part of his land that wasn’t farmed. The diet here consists mainly of corn and some legumes. The poor eat very little fresh fruit and vegetables, hence the nutrition problem. They had a monkey that was rather cruelly tied up to a post with a rudimentary shade structure. We have to leave our beliefs of animal welfare at the door here as well.
Lucinda told me latter that the pastor is illiterate, so the scriptures we read today may have been the only ones he heard since last week. Christianity is very much a religion of the book, so an illiterate pastor is not likely to make a great living for himself and his family, even if he did have a congregation that could pay a tithe. If I have a burden for these people past nutrition, it is education, especially for the girls, but I will expand on that at another time.
Since we wanted to make room for birthing packs we didn’t pack many clothes, and certainly nothing fancy. Consequently we were by far the worst dressed members of the congregation, but by far the most highly esteemed. We had to establish early on that we were just brothers and sisters in Christ. Foreigners appear to get adoration or contempt here, there seems to be little middle ground until you sit with people a while and communicate a little. I have been thankful to Lucinda and Alina for the translation. Communication no doubt is the key to any cultural divide.
The youth in the church were a good looking well dressed and smart bunch of people. Here is your future of this wonderfull place. I leave my prayers with them, that they would find the courage to hold their heads up and take this land not only in name, but make it their own, and a place where living is not such a struggle for their own children.