I have been attending church services with Pastor Mario and his family, who also happen to be my host family here in the Dominican Republic. They attend church in a neighborhood of Santo Domingo called Guaricanos, in the Northern section of the city. His church is called: Dios es Mi Paz: Iglesia Cristiana Reformada (God is my Peace: Christian Reformed Church). Mario has been the pastor of this church for the past year and a half, although his original assignment was to fill in for six months while the church looked for someone to lead it. He has explained to me a little about the role of the traditional pastor in this culture, and many times, the people within a church not only look to the pastor for guidance, but also to provide both moral and day-to-day structure in their lives: from what is right and wrong to what they should eat, wear, and do in their spare time. Matters of dispute are often settled by the pastor, and the people within a congregation tend to have strict reliance on whatever the pastor says. This is further complicated by the fact that many people, especially in smaller neighborhoods within the city, are often uneducated. It is not uncommon for people to be altogether illiterate.
In my conversations with Mario about his ministry in this part of the city, he has explained to me that the church has only been “reformed” for the length of time that he has been the pastor, and previous, the church held a very legalistic and strict stance on all matters of both spirituality and everyday life. According to Mario, much of his time there as pastor has been spent trying to teach the congregation how to be reformed and to learn to rely on the Holy Spirit instead of only him.
I have had the opportunity to be a part of this very welcoming congregation on several occasions over the past week, and yesterday, I had the opportunity to help lead worship for the small congregation. Ezekiel, pastor Mario’s assistant and an employee of the ministry center, called yesterday morning to ask permission to come and pick me up. He took me to his home (set up dormitory style) at the ministry, and on the way, we picked up a friend of his who walked up to the car with a keyboard under his arm and singing a song in a lovely tenor.
One we arrived, I was introduced to Ezekiel’s mother, met many of the people who lived there, and was escorted into a backroom. There, Ezekiel and his friend took out instruments, brought chairs, and settled in for rehearsal. We went through the songs that were to be sung for worship that evening, but more than that, we jammed for hours. It was a much needed and refreshing experience. Both Ezekiel and his friend are extremely talented, self-taught, and can sing, play the guitar, play the piano, and play and tune by ear better than most musicians I have encountered in my life. These few hours were the first that I have felt totally comfortable here in this country, the first that I forgot about how hot it was, and the firs that I did not over-concern myself with cultural differences and language difficulties. We sang in English and in Spanish, and it truly did not matter. If I ever believed that music was universal, I have experienced first hand now.
Worship that night went well, I was well received, and Pastor Mario even taught the congregation the chorus to “Light of the World” in English. There was a lot of laughing and mispronunciation, but it can’t be any worse than my attempts at their version of the Spanish language 🙂 It was a lovely experience, and one that I hope to repeat. There are few things that make me feel honestly happy like music does, and I am grateful that Pastor Mario, Ezekiel, and the people of Dios es Mi Paz were so welcoming and accepting as to allow me to participate in their service.