As I come home from our church after checking that everything is locked up and cleaned up for the night, I have this feeling of happiness in my heart.
It was another busy evening for Centro Cristiana Vida Abundante, the Hispanic church that is sharing the space at Gilroy’s United Methodist Church, where they pack the fellowship hall with services three times a week.
Each Sunday, Monday, and Friday, they arrive early and go door to door to canvass the neighborhood, inviting people to come to church. One man brings out a long ram’s horn, which he blows as a call to worship to let the neighborhood know church is ready to begin.
They use colorful flags in their worship services to act out stories from the Bible. Sharing a meal together is an integral part of each worship time they spend together. No one ever goes away hungry.
After dinner, I usually greet Sister Pina, who can always be found scrubbing in the kitchen while dressed to the nines in gorgeous outfits of deep blue, silver or gold. She gives me huge hugs and is always smiling, laughing and singing, “I do everything for my Lord! I’m washing dishes for my Lord!” she sings out as she twirls in a circle, waving her hands high in the air.
Two years ago, it all began – we thought – as an experiment in charity. Gilroy Methodists heard about a Hispanic group of families who were meeting to hold church in a local park because they had no building of their own. Their young pastor was forming a new church. They were meeting in a park until after dark, and small children were getting cold. They came knocking on our doors, seeking a place to worship.
In these difficult economic times, many United Methodist churches in our district are staying open by collaborating with churches of other ethnicities (Korean, Hispanic, Vietnamese, Chinese and Tongan). Many Methodist churches are growing, while those with traditional models remain the same or are losing members. We are no exception.
On one occasion, the Hispanic group invited our youth to share dinner with them. They cooked a dish called mole, the first international dish of the Americas.
Our kids were a little tentative at first, but it turned out they loved the spicy chicken dish in a chocolatey dark sauce served to them made from a mixture of ingredients from three continents: North America, Europe and Africa.
As opportunities continued to present themselves for interactions we would otherwise not experience, we began to understand that although we may speak different languages and practice our faith with different rituals, we believe in the same basic Christian beliefs. When two of our parishioners, Dolores and Felix Kirchner, stopped by to drop off their donations for a church yard sale, the Vida folks invited them to stay and eat together.
“They were so warm and friendly. It was like a family,” Dolores said.
In another interaction, they suggested that they help remodel our two dilapidated outside bathrooms, and the project turned into a multi-cultural collaboration in which we got to know each other more. Their young men and their contractor, Luis, who spent many hours laying tile on the floors, refused any payment for labor, saying it was their way of serving.
So far, there have been few conflicts in terms of scheduling shared use of the building, with one exception being our annual holiday bazaar. As we celebrate our anniversary of two years of collaboration, my favorite memory so far comes from the night before the bazaar. I arrive to see that even though the Vida church can’t use the hall, they are still having refreshment time. They set up in the parking lot in complete darkness. I admire their adaptability and determination as they serve hot drinks and tortas (Mexican sandwiches) from boxes set up on the pavement.
Mimi, a young girl in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy, greets me warmly, leaning far forward to give me big hugs. Then one a man hands me a torta and gives me an extra one he insists I take home for my husband. The group remains cheery in spite of how cold it is, and dark. How many of us would still hold our fellowship time under such conditions? But they are determined.
We come from small villages in Mexico, they tell me. “We know how to make do.”
Their young Pastor Jubenal tells me that their church prays for our church – they pray for our finances for the ministries of our church, and for the privilege of being able to continue to share the use of our building. We are grateful for their donations that help keep our doors open.
“We know you do good in the community,” he says. “We want to support that.”
What began as what we thought was an opportunity to be charitable to our neighbors has become so much more. I am surprised to learn that they pray for us.
As raindrops begin to come down, splashing across the pavement in the darkness, the beam of a headlight falls across them as people begin to leave. The drops light up like little crystal stars that have fallen from the sky. And I realize what a beautiful night it is.
I go home feeling blessed.
Centro Cristiana Vida Abundante meets Sundays at 3 p.m., Mondays at 7 p.m. and Fridays at 7 p.m. Services are in Spanish. The United Methodist Church meets Sundays at 10 a.m. Services are in English. All services are held at 7600 Church St. in Gilroy. Vacation Bible School for 1st-through 6th-graders will be held July 30-Aug. 3, from 9 a.m. to noon. For more information, call 607-2442.