I’m just back from a 10-day mission/service trip to Nicaragua with PAN . My heart is so full of stories, of people that I met and of experiences, that it is hard to know where to begin. But perhaps I will begin with one of the first lessons I learned while there.
One of the primary purposes of our all-women team was to run a 2-day conference for Nicaraguan women from some of the surrounding churches of Managua. In my mind, I had a picture of what a women’s conference might look like. Being that we were going to encourage churched women, I felt that it was important to provide spiritual nourishment for them – worship, times of prayer for one another and quiet times of prayer ministry. I also thought that the ‘workshops’ that we were going to offer were going to be of a ‘spiritual’ nature. I was shocked and dismayed to discover that the workshops being offered on Day 1 were: paper flower making and flower arranging.
Ok, wait… what? Paper flower making? I thought this was a ‘spiritual’ women’s conference, designed to empower and encourage women in their faith! And flower arranging? I’m sorry…. what? *eye roll*
I am sorry to say that I scoffed mightily at this whole idea. I railed against the idea that I was headed to Nicaragua to teach women how to fold paper into flowers. I ranted. I rolled my eyes. I decided that I was sure-as-heck not doing that! I was taking down my gift of music and prayer in order to serve the women. While the others would be working with flowers and paper, I was going to sit in the little chapel on site, and offer a contemplative space for worship and prayer.
My friend and I practised a song set for weeks that we felt might work in a different cultural context. We agonized over which songs to bring, which ones to sing in the worship at the conference and which ones to sing in the chapel for contemplative worship and prayer.
The night before the conference, I was feeling weepy and vulnerable. I felt very out of my element in this new country, this foreign culture. I wasn’t sure that I could do worship on the short keyboard and with English songs – I was now worried that even though we had brought a projector and the lyrics, that the women would not be able to follow the words at all or understand what we were singing about. How would they worship?
What am I doing here, God? I asked.
I approached one of the speakers for the conference, a woman from El Salvador. Knowing she was a women’s pastor, I asked for prayer and help. Through another woman at the table who translated for me, I let my vulnerabilities seep out. I let her know of my trembling heart inside, the questions and doubts that I was even meant to be here and I asked for prayer. After prayer, we sat and another woman began googling songs that we might know and that they might know as well. We didn’t recognize song after song. Then, one song…. Breathe…. we knew it and they did too. We sat and sang, Breathe, we in English and they in Spanish. We felt a divine hand on that moment. This was one song that we could bring as an offering.
I completely surrendered my everything to God. I didn’t know why I was there, what I even had to offer these Spanish-speaking women who were coming. And so I simply prayed that I might be a vessel of love. That’s it. What else could I offer? My gift felt so small. And I felt even smaller.
The conference began and true to form, nothing went according to the (loose) plan. We were invited to lead our 3 worship songs first, and as we did, I felt the power of those at home who were praying for me – I felt God’s strength as I played and sang my heart out to Him alone. There was no self-consciousness, no sense of being on display, despite the fact that none of the women were singing. They sat and listened politely to the first song, and then during the following songs, there was a smattering of talking and chatting amongst them. I didn’t worry about it. I just played and sang for Jesus…. what else could I do? I could tell that the music was not connecting with them, but just continued in worship. We sat down and then the (blind) Spanish-speaking worship leader set up on the keyboard.
I had never experienced worship like that as I experienced that morning! It was raucous! It was loud! It was joyful! It was fervent! There was clapping, dancing and arms raised all over the room. Women were in tears, eyes closed. I was in awe of how these women worshipped with their hearts and souls bared. (And did I mention how loud it was?) We had told the worship leader he had time for 3 songs. He went on for an hour!!! But the women were so engaged! They were having a great time worshipping God in music.
As he stepped down from the platform in order to allow the speaker to begin, I once again, asked God, “What am I doing here?” My gift, my offering that I had brought seemed so out of place in Nicaragua. These women appreciated their type of worship, not ours. Our worship did not speak to their hearts the way that theirs did. They couldn’t understand the lyrics. I couldn’t figure out how to bless them with our music. It seemed there was no place for my gift that I had thought was so important.
As it turned out, there was work being done on the chapel, so we were not able to use it for a prayer space. Not only that, but with temperatures of over 35 degrees plus humidity, it was well over 40 degrees in that small space. I had to ditch my vision of providing a place of personal prayer ministry and worship for conference participants.
We held the flower workshops in the afternoon. And the women loved it. Yup! Perhaps it was because it gave them a brief break from thinking about how to feed their children that day, perhaps it was simply a very rare opportunity for them to create, it gave them something of beauty to be proud of, something that they had done. Perhaps it took their minds off the pain and hardship of daily life, even if only for an afternoon.
The women had gained much more from the flower workshops than anything of the worship music that I had offered.
Humble pie. Eat up, baby.
The second day I felt uncertain of offering our worship set (again), having had experienced their style of worship from the previous day. But I could only offer what I had brought. We sang and played 2 songs from the previous day and then we began the song Breathe. Suddenly, all 100 women stood to their feet and began to belt out this song that they recognized. As they sang in Spanish, we sang in English.
What happened next is difficult to explain but basically it felt as though the worship offered by all of the women ushered the very King of heaven into the room. It felt like heaven came down. The presence of God was very tangible. We left the front wiping tears from our eyes and the Spanish worship leader took over from there. I was undone by the Presence of God in that place and I sat and cried at my seat. The women continued to worship, loudly, fervently, lifting up their hearts to the Father. And I sat and cried in wonder at it all.
What I had brought turned out to not be what I had hoped it might be. What I had scoffed and sneered at had brought these women such joy. Everything had been topsy turvy… but isn’t that just like the Kingdom of God?
And I had gained a very valuable lesson in humility from my good Father.