by Paul Olver,
Latin America Leadership Team
It was a sticky hot evening. People slowly gathered at the church after work. The small storefront chapel was located on a main street just two blocks from the market in Masaya, Nicaragua. The long side of the rectangular room was beside the street, with two large double doors and a row of windows open to the sidewalk because of the heat.
The congregation of some 30 people sang their hearts out. No one seemed to notice that they were singing in several different keys, none of which matched the keyboard. The passion and fervor outweighed any lack of musical ability.
Suddenly the lights went dark. No one missed a beat. Several people pulled out their smartphones and worship went on by flashlight until the power came back on. Area Director Delia Nüesch-Olver preached on Mary. Evangelical churches in Latin America often avoid even mentioning her – the opposite extreme of Latin Catholicism that idealizes and deifies Mary.
As Dr. Delia was getting into her sermon, firecrackers were heard in the distance, then the sound of a band. Both sounds got progressively louder. It was a religious procession marching right past the church. Hundreds of people filled the street. Eight men shouldered a religious image on a platform. The band included trumpets and tubas. The sound drowned out Dr. Delia’s voice.
The procession slowed down as they passed our church and every one of the marchers looked in the windows with disdain. Then the band stopped right outside. A signal was given and the band turned around and played right into the windows. The little congregation showed restraint — most bowed in prayer, some blessing those who were clearly trying to disrupt the service. But everyone was tense. The sense of confrontation and spiritual oppression was palpable.
After a few minutes the procession moved on and the sounds of the music and firecrackers diminished into the distance. The congregation let out a sigh of relief and, after offering prayer, Dr. Delia continued with her message.
When the service finished people explained that the town of Masaya is a stronghold of traditional Catholicism mixed with pre-Christian folk beliefs. There is a religious procession every day of the year. Ministering in this context takes determination and perseverance. We prayed for the leadership team asking God for a double portion of both.