We just now returned to our hotel room after a very long and busy day. As I was pulling out the computer to begin writing the post for the day, Jim turned to me and said, “Today was a great day.” Those were the exact words I was planning on using to title today’s blog post. It truly was a great day all around.
The morning, however, started with sadness. Our sweet Ann Parker heard late last night that her father had passed away. As she cried with us this morning, we could not even imagine how hard it must have been for her to be so far away during this time. We know that she is grieving the loss of her dad, that she hurts being away from her mom and that she wishes she could be there with her family during this time but she has such a wonderful heart. In spite of grieving today, she kept right up with everyone. She prayed with those who needed prayer and blessed those around her. She was a picture of God’s grace in the midst of incredibly difficult circumstances. We know today is just the first day of the grieving process for her so when you think of her, will you please pray for her by name? I know she appreciates it and she is blessed by those who are showing their love for her in this way.
This morning, Ann was grieving, Brandy wasn’t feeling well and Jim and Pastor Gil were busily putting the finishing touches on the sermons for today. We were up early and, after getting home late last night from the youth service, we were all dragging our feet just a little bit. Then we got to church. The service started with vibrant worship. One of my most favorite things about their services is that worship lasts for at least 45 minutes. Can I get an “Amen” from Kyle and Lisa Cooper and worship leaders everywhere? We so enjoyed worshipping with them and it was awesome when some familiar songs came up. We got to sing “Our God Is Greater” and “This Is Amazing Grace” in Spanish this morning. It was so fun.
After worship, Pastor Gil and Jim took the platform and Pastor Gil gave a great sermon with Jim translating. It was familiar to us from Lakeshore as it was on needing God’s mercy, His grace and His anointing in our lives. When they finished preaching, Pastor Ruben came up to pray and with tears in his eyes, prayed for his congregation. During the prayer he asked if anyone wanted to come forward and receive prayer. No one came. Then Pastor Ruben said a couple more words of prayer and offered one last chance for people to come forward…nearly the entire congregation came to the front. We had to push chairs out of the way to make room for everyone. Once the people had all come forward, Pastor Ruben asked if our Lakeshore team would pray for the people and anoint them with oil. The whole team went forward and we prayed for each person one by one. We all prayed in English but it didn’t matter. God knew what we were saying. There were so many with tears streaming down their faces as they asked for more of God’s anointing in their lives. They believed again for God given dreams to be fulfilled and the whole atmosphere was charged with the Holy Spirit’s presence. We didn’t think things could get better…then came the second service.
After a brief break between the two morning services (including more salteñas and good Bolivian coffee, of course) we headed back in to the sanctuary for the second service. There were even more people from the church in the second congregation than the first and the service proceeded much the same way.
After the worship, Pastor Ruben asked if I (Genelle) would come forward and translate something that had happened during the first service. A woman and her husband came forward and she explained how she had been extremely sick last week in the intensive care unit at the hospital. She was paralyzed on one side of her body. She and her husband and her son had prayed and prayed along with the intercessors of the church and on Tuesday night, she looked up in her room and she saw a large cloud filling her hospital room. The next morning, she woke up and the right side of her body worked again, perfectly. God had healed her. Several days before then, her son had told her that on Wednesday she would walk again. Sure enough, Wednesday was the day she got up and walked. The doctors looked at her and told her she could walk right out of the hospital.
The fact that she had come to church today was a miracle in and of itself. She had come forward for prayer this morning in the first service at the Holy Spirit’s prompting and received prayer by the team. I believe it was Brandy who had prayed over her during the first service. As she was giving her testimony in the second service, she said that, while she was able to walk again into that first service and that was a miracle, that she still had had pain in her head and her spine. She said that while she was prayed for during that first service, she could feel a heat that started in her head and went all the way down her back. In that moment, all her pain was gone and she knew she had been healed a second time. How great is God?
This testimony took place before Pastor Gil brought the word to the second congregation. The sermon was even more powerful the second time around and Pastor Gil finished preaching and took the opportunity, after seeing how God had moved through the congregation in the first service, to offer the same chance for prayer in the second. I honestly think only a handful of the congregation did not come forward. They all crowded around the front of the sanctuary and, again, we had to move all the chairs out of the way and we had the privilege and the honor to pray with them all. Their hearts were so open and ready to receive what God had for them. They truly are some of the most precious people we’ve ever known. As Pastor Gil told the people this morning, God loves them so much that He whispered into the ears of people in South Carolina, “Go to them and show them and tell them how much I love them.” He loves them that much and we get to experience first hand a small piece of that love that He has as he plants that love in our own hearts for these people.
We ended the service by all gathering around Pastor Ruben to lay hands on him and pray for him. We have all come to love him so much and it was like praying for a blood relative…only the blood that binds us is far greater than any earthly blood could ever be.
It was a joy filled, emotional, Holy Spirit moving time at both services and we left the church to head for lunch excited and drained all at the same time. We went out for an amazing lunch (again, we won’t go hungry) and then headed back to the hotel to take a 30 minute rest, change our clothes and get ready to head out to the church property at Peji.
For those of you who were with us at Lakeshore in December, you will remember that Peji is a 27 acre piece of property outside the city of Santa Cruz. The team got to see first hand the place where the church has started to build a retreat center, the bread factory, the first house where they will eventually house orphans, the foundation for the second house, and the locations for a future missionary training center and a soccer field to be used for outreach. It is a big piece of land filled with even bigger God-given dreams. Pictures don’t do the property justice and each person on the team was able to catch Pastor Ruben’s heart and his visions for that place. We also met a family of Colombian missionaries that live and work full time on the property and are there to see those dreams come to fruition. There were also chickens, cows and horses on the property that made some of us city folk even more excited…especially since the cows are family pets and came right up to us for treats… and for photo bombing our pictures.
We left Peji armed with loaves of bread from the bread factory and headed back into town. We were still pretty full from our huge lunch so decided to skip dinner and head straight for dessert. Tonight’s menu consisted of giant ice cream sundaes for everyone. We sat at a large table in a small restaurant and ate ice cream and laughed and laughed with one another. We literally laughed until we cried…laughter truly is good medicine. We discovered that today is actually National Ice Cream Day in the United States so we felt like we were doing our part to celebrate as well. Today is also Jim Billings’ birthday so we got to sing to him over our sundaes. As we were all diving into our ice cream, a waitress come over and asked if it was his birthday. We said yes and in no time she came back with a giant piece of cake and more wait staff to sing happy birthday again. Cake and ice cream for dinner? Yes, please. We talked and laughed and then laughed some more. I don’t know if it was the sugar, the extremely strong espresso drinks that were ordered or just the good company but it was a night we will not forget.
Today was full of the stuff mission trips were made for. The Holy Spirit moved through services. We were able to pray for our brothers and sisters. We fellowshipped with our Bolivian church family. We got to hear the testimony of answered prayers. We caught the vision of the local church first hand. We built relationships with each other and laughed and laughed together in the best kind of fellowship. It was, without a doubt, a great day…and we can’t wait to see what God will do tomorrow.