Wednesday, March 1, 2017

We Walk to One More Neighborhood Church

“I’m not the usher, I’m just helping. Please make yourself at home,” said the woman standing near the door as she handed us bulletins.  As we walked into the sanctuary, many people welcomed us, sometimes shaking our hands. One of the most welcoming gestures was the one that included giving us earpieces.


The congregation of Immanuel Community Church is primarily people of Indonesian heritage, and Indonesian is the language of the service. We were given the earpieces so we could listen to an interpreter who sits in a small room in the back of the sanctuary translating the worship service into English.


After the service I thanked the translator and asked her how many sets of ear pieces the church had. She said they had 14 sets, but if I invited friends they would buy more. (I should add she did a great job of keeping up with all that was said throughout the service.)


During the piano prelude, most people bowed their heads. (That is certainly a difference in church cultures. There are churches where people are chatting and laughing right up until someone in front hushes them. In this church, “solemn prayer” begins and ends the worship service; it’s a time of silence, prayer, and meditation. There is something to be said for the both the cheerful fellowship of one style of preparing for worship and the quiet reverence of the other.)


A woman liturgist opened the service, greeting the congregation (in Indonesian, of course), “Though the weather is cool outside, we here can warm each other.” There was a reading from Psalm 18. The Scriptures read during the service were projected on the screen in Indonesian and English, but it was only read in Indonesian. Of course, the singing was almost all n Indonesian.


In the prayer time, prayers for for those who have “stepped away back from You,” “mercy to reach our younger generation,” and prayer “for those in Indonesia that they might find a place of worship”. (Though Islam is the majority religion in their home country, there is a tradition of religious pluralism.) There was also prayer that God would enable us to avoid temptation.


After the opening songs, a greeting time, prayer, and scripture reading, the congregation divided. Some stayed in the sanctuary for more Indonesian worship, while others went to a different building for an English language service. Most of the young people go to the English service and Mindy went as well, but I stayed in the Indonesian service.*


A guest speaker, Pastor Johanes Sudarma from San Leandro, spoke in the Indonesian service. He introduced himself, explaining that his name meant “John.” He also expressed admiration for the name of the church, Immanuel, meaning “God with us.”

The sermon was based on II Samuel 23, which tells about King David's mighty men. The title of the sermon was “Lion Chaser” because Pastor Sudarma focused on Benaiah, a mighty man who killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day. He spoke of the strength and power of a lion and how difficult it would be to defeat such a creature. (I found it very easy to picture the strength of a lion, since I was recently at my brother’s place, Project Survival’s Cat Haven, and spent some time near Titan, a majestic 450 pound lion.)

He used David’s mighty men as examples of those who dreamed big and achieved great things, but he also used Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Billy Graham as examples of those who dreamed big and accomplished much. The sermon provided a bonus challenge to the translator, because once in awhile English phrases or whole sentences would be dropped in with the Indonesian, and she would have to decide whether to repeat the English (especially if it was just a phrase) or assume I got it.


One of the closing songs was “Bapa Engkau Sungguh Barik.” I knew I had no hope of singing along with it, but the Doxology was a tighter call. Both the Indonesian lyrics and the English lyrics were displayed, but everyone was singing the Indonesian lyrics. So what was I do do? I hummed.


After the sermon, the offering was collected in red and black baskets. The money in the red basket was to be used for ministry, and the money in the black basket was for building maintenance. The service concluded with announcements, including choir practice for Good Friday and Easter services, cell group meetings, and Bible readings for the week).


Quite a few people invited us to stay for lunch, and the Hermono family provided a wonderful spread in celebration of their son’s birthday. There were Indonesian snacks by the hot tea dispenser, birthday cake, and several dishes that seemed to be Chinese rather than Indonesian. Whatever the style, the food was very good.


We had a good time talking with people after church, both about their ministry and about our adventures visiting churches. I asked a man named Laurence why he attended Immanuel. He said that he wasn’t a Christian when he first visited the church as a student. But when he faced a difficult time in his life, he realized he needed the Lord.


Immanuel Community Church obviously provides a sense of community to Indonesian people in the area, but as a non-Indonesian, we were made to feel part of the family as well.


Statistics
Service Length: 1 hour 45 minutes
Sermon Length: about an hour
Visitor Treatment: A number of people greeted us as we came in or as they passed where we were sitting. During the greeting time, people around us came up to shake hands. We were invited several times to stay for lunch after the worship service and encouraged to come back next week.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 70
Probable Ushers’ Count: 100
Snacks: hot tea, various sweet and savory snacks including raisins, pastries, and mango; sodas, several vegetable and chicken dishes, rice, as well as 2 birthday cakes
Musicians: vocals (3 women)
Keyboards (one or two men)
Piano (man)
Drums (man)
Songs: “The Upward Way”
“Mighty to Save”
“For God, There is Nothing Impossible”
“Father, You are so Good”
“Doxology”
Distance to Church: around the block, although we were told about a break that someone had cut into the church’s fence on the edge of our our apartment complex...so we could have jumped the wall and gotten in that way.
Open WiFi: no
Tie/Suit Count: The visiting speaker wore a suit and tie
Church Website: www.iccfresno.org

*Though most of the people in the English worship appeared to be junior high, high school, or college aged, there were several adults. Mindy was impressed with the message (based on part of Psalm 23, it included some fascinating facts about sheep, along with exhortation to remain close to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, particularly during dark times.)