The one Sunday for our group in Belize was a big day on the trip itinerary. We had practiced several specials to sing for the worship service at New Hope Baptist Church, and Pastor Troy was excited for us to meet the beautiful people of Belize that God was bringing together and forming into New Hope Baptist Church.
We ate a quick breakfast and headed out for the building, and helped get doors and windows opened and curtains opened. (The church, as per cultural norms for the area, does not have any climate control, so opening doors and windows to get air flowing is a top priority.)
The church family started to arrive. Sheldon, a garifuna man well over six feet tall, brought in his adorable little boy and his half gallon jug of Crystal water. George and Laurita, the Spanish/East Indian couple who are to be married at the church in a couple weeks, arrived, Laurita with her earnest good nature and George with his smiling chill. A Mayan mother and her children came through the doors, and the little ones headed straight to the room where they would sing and hear their gospel lesson. And Dave, the American citizen who has lived in Belize for over forty years, carried in the arrangement of flowers from his backyard that his wife had brought every week before losing her battle with cancer just two weeks prior.
Pastor Troy told us that the norm in this area has been for neighborhoods to be inhabited by one ethnic group, and for churches to be attended only by inhabitants of the neighborhood in which it is located. New Hope Baptist Church has been a beautiful example of breaking out of this mold, and as we sat among creoles and mestizos and sang in the choir with anglos and mayans, this beautiful Gospel mold-breaking was on full display.
Our group provided several songs of special music, with all of us participating in some singing and Alex, David, and Andrew contributing instrumental pieces. Our songs were situated between memory verse quoting, taking up the offering (featuring new giving envelopes we brought with us), and testimonies from the church members.
One testimony was shared by Hamlet, a man who helps Pastor Troy out with a great deal of manual labor around the church facility and the Lewis home and grounds. Hamlet shared with us that he had made a decision to obey Christ by regularly contributing his tithe to the church offering. In the week after that decision, he had, for the first time in his life, caught an iguana while he was doing work on Pastor Troy's home grounds. The iguana had provided 38 eggs and, between the meat and the eggs, three meals for his family. (Iguana and guana eggs are a real thing here, and considered a delicacy.)
Pastor Troy preached a great message out of Psalm 63, and after the service, he dealt with a twenty-year-old young man by the name of Martin, which resulted in Martin trusting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior! Due to many cultural factors, many of the conversions and discipleship progress that has happened at the church have come only after many months, and sometimes years, of conversations and untangling of some difficult religious histories. It was beautiful, on this day, to be present as God gave the increase.
I had actually come to know of Martin earlier in the morning. I had selected my seat for the service, which involved setting my water bottle under a seat, double-stacking the plastic chair in my spot (this is encouraged for, um, larger people, to avoid breakage), and setting my Bible on the seat. After fifteen minutes of greeting people as they came in, I came back to my saved seat to find Martin in my seat and thumbing through my Bible. This made me like him immediately, and we hit it off - he told me he wants to be like me and marry a white woman and have good kids, and I taught him how to dap, before the service started.
After the service, we were treated to lunch at Coleman's Cafe, which is a highlight of the trip for those who have been. They have a great buffet lunch with local delicacies, and Alex told us he was eating for himself and his parents, who came on the last trip and were partial to the restaurant.
After a short rest at the Lewis home, we made it back to the church building for a Sunday evening teen outreach event. We did a photo scavenger hunt in the neighborhood, and when the neighborhood is bounded on one side by the Caribbean, you know it's going to be fun. Our guys had a blast mixing with the local church teenagers running up and down local streets getting pictures. The evening continued with skits by our guys and a short challenge by Pastor Andrew, which was well-received.
This Sunday gave us a full glimpse of the heart of 'Pastah Troy' (the creole-influenced pronunciation everyone seems to use, including us now), and, honestly, the heart of God: from many peoples, a people coming together as one under the Lordship of Jesus Christ to advance God's kingdom in this corner of the world.