I was fresh off the plane and only able to understand slivers of conversation in Pidgin English. But, as I sat cross-legged on the blue tarp-covered dirt that provided a sitting area for the outdoor church service, I smiled as I realized the voices around me were reciting the Apostles Creed.
My mind I was immediately transported back to a church history class I took in college. Before each class began, we would sit in our red cushioned chairs and recite the Apostles Creed together, reading from the large screen that hung over the stage. During our final exam we were required to write the creed from memory, a requirement that by the end of the class somehow became easy as repetition etched it into our memories.
Now here I was, miles and miles away from that auditorium filled with students, knowing what was being said without fully understanding the language. That moment felt especially beautiful. How amazing it is to be a part of the global body of Christ.
Twice a month I have the pleasure of gathering with a group of ladies as we seek to grow closer to God and pray for each other. Some are married; some are single. Some have young kids, others grandchildren. We have a wide range of denominations present and a truly unique assortment of accents. It is heavenly. Somehow the two hours always fly by and never seem quite long enough. Even though the group is constantly changing as people come and go, I am so grateful for an authentic community—a safe place to share and hold each other up in prayer.
Sometimes church gets a bad rap. It’s not perfect, true. It is made up of imperfect people seeking, but often failing, to walk in the ways of the One who was perfect. We don’t always get it right; I know I don’t. I am reminded of that daily. And yet isn’t that one of the most beautiful things about the body? In our imperfections we see just how much we need each other. In our pain and our weakness we get to support each other. The diversity of the body makes it that much more rich and flavorful.
Clearly God loves diversity. From the variety of cultures, skin tones, languages, and even different textures of hair, it is abundantly clear that there is room in the Body for different. No wonder different styles of worship exist and different denominations are formed. God is such a big God that I believe He enjoys being worshiped in different ways.
In Papua New Guinea church denominations are extremely important. I was recently filling out information to apply for our daughter’s birth certificate and one of the questions asked for our denomination. Well, I grew up attending the African Inland Church as a child, went to an Evangelical Free church in grade school, attended a Baptist church in high school, and then a non-denomination church while in college. The church we currently attend is Lutheran (although when visiting, my mom remarked that it was the most Pentecostal Lutheran church she’s ever been to). I filled in Lutheran.
I’ve learned so much from each of these unique churches, from the church in Congo that blasted out hymns each week with trumpets and sang from well-worn yellow songbooks to our current church that closes each service with a communal recitation of The Lord’s Prayer. I have learned that there are many ways to worship. I have learned that often at the heart of things we are all actually more similar than we are different. I have learned that God can speak just as strongly during a service held under a tin roof while sitting on backless benches as He can in an air-conditioned auditorium that seats hundreds. I have learned that watching people give—really give (a live duck, literal first fruits, foundational posts to build a new church building)—is incredibly humbling and one of the most inspiring experiences. Yes, the church has its flaws but it is also so, so incredible.
My local church in PNG has become my family, so graciously teaching me how to properly shake hands with everyone when a gift is presented, smiling through my language mistakes and loving me in spite of frequent cultural blunders. We hold each other’s babies and share tears during funerals. As a woman, sometimes I get frustrated by the cultural expectations that men sit on one side of the church and women sit on the other side, but I am also amazed at how valued women are in the local church here, even being given space to share their voices from the stage. So we grow together, learn from each other, walk this often bumpy road as a body and what an exquisite body it truly is.
What is something you’ve learned to love about the church in the country where you serve? How has being involved in a church different from the one you grew up in stretched and changed you?