Vaya con Dios
Sparks Iglesia Nazareno
A day of firsts: I made my first visit to a Nazarene church—the Sparks Nazarene Church—and my first visit to a Spanish language service. This was also the first church where I’ve actually been greeted before getting into the building. A gentleman shook my hand and patted me on the shoulder while directing me to the sanctuary, where I was greeted again, twice. I felt absolutely welcome.
The church’s website said the service began at 10:50 a.m.
I was immediately introduced to Pastor Jorge Cifuintes’ wife, Evelyn. We chatted a bit (my Spanish is rusty; her English much better), and I told her my purpose. She was unfamiliar with the gig, so I explained as best I could.
The service took place in a blue and white gym with a band and the minister about 2 feet off the ground on a stage. The stage was populated with the usual accoutrements for an evangelical church: a conventional drumset, congas, keyboards, an acoustic guitar, and lots of cords and mics. Above it all was a screen upon which would flash song lyrics and the key points of the minister’s sermon. Also on stage was the English translator, Sandra Ford, who doubled as a singer. I thought about her presence for a second. She wasn’t there for me; she was there for the people who no longer speak their parents’ language.
Pastor Jorge began with exhortations to get ready for devotion, “We’re going to worship the name of the Lord … get comfortable, take your jackets off.” And with that the music began. I wasn’t familiar with these songs, but I had less trouble understanding them with the lyrics up above. Quien como el Señor/poderoso y fuerte/Quien como el Señor/El es digno/Vamos alabémosle. (Who like the Lord powerful and strong/Who like the Lord is worthy/we go to worship him.)
The congregation, about 27 strong by the end, got right with it, singing along, swaying and clapping their hands.
After the opening songs, the pastor gave the flock a chance to voice their personal thanks to God. I really liked this. This is where the rubber hits the road, where people proclaim their evidence that God works directly in their lives. One got a new job, another was grateful that her daughter was now in a better relationship, another was grateful for being able to leave her country and for getting a raise at her job, another was thankful that her daughter had reached her first birthday.
Pastor Cifuintes is a passionate speaker, engaging the congregation with humor and affection. At one point, when he sensed a bit of boredom on the part of one of the younger members, we all got up and gave the person next to us a backrub. It was absolutely charming.
The reading was Joshua 18:1-8. Those who know these verses—"How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord has given you?"—won’t have any trouble making the connection as to how poor people might feel about this country.
The pastor’s sermon was about how to live our lives well in God. I’m going to be really superficial here and tell you the four things the pastor said would help people live successful lives as God’s creatures. First, live each moment with all your intensity. Second, invest your time in big, life-changing dreams. Third, invest your money in important things. Finally, invest in your personal growth, particularly the pursuit of education.
“Our fountain [of good things] is God,” said Pastor Cifuintes. “It’s not your job, your work or your health. It’s God. All other things are like a crutch.”