But I find that, once again, I don't really have the words to describe what this place does to me.
It strips away the face, the mask, the covering--and exposes the selfishness, the stinginess, and the truly non-loving inner core of me.
We arrived in the city and got checked in to our hotel, then left to go "greet" some pastors and saints of area churches.
When we arrived at the first one, the pastor and his wife had been waiting for several hours. Their "saints" were about 10-12 young people of the most primitive, poverty-stricken area you can imagine. Their "church" is an empty shell...a cinder-block box which has the beginning shape of a church, but no roof, no doors, no floor. They were so happy as they told me of how they had lost their previous church building, but were holding services in 2 locations and were running about 90-100 in each location. They want this building so that they can bring everybody together. It will cost about $2000 to finish it. The boys, in their early teens and younger, are helping the pastor to lay the cinderblock and dig out the floor. We stood in the dark and prayed over the property, the pastor, the children. We left with them thanking us profusely for taking the time to visit their burden.
The second church stripped away more of our mask.
It was well after dark when our vehicle bounced to a stop and the pastor's wife was at the door before we could even turn it off. There were several of their family and church members who began clapping and singing as we made our way up the rocky path to the church. Inside was a half-wall, with bamboo posts on the top half. The lame man you see in the picture has built all the top half with the bamboo. It was spotless, the curtains on the back cinderblock wall blowing in the balmy evening breeze.
The kids sang, we played with the little puppy, we talked about the future of the church and how it is growing....we visited the pastor's dwelling which is attached. The sign that the pastor's young son had made hung on the door: "Time Belongs to God." Aaah.
The pastor's wife wept and said, "Thank you so much for coming. We have never had a missionary visit us before. You don't know what it means just to know you care for us."
We then went back in and prayed. The tears were flowing profusely. It costs $2 for a lady to register for the Women's conference this coming week. When we asked if there were any who could not afford to go, the pastor's wife said that probably about 10 of them would have gone, but could not pay the fee. When we gave money for them all, it was overwhelming.
$2. Per lady. For 3 days.
The third church. Not much mask left.
Again, cinderblock walls on the bottom half, bamboo on the top. A concrete table outside for coffee on Sunday mornings. A church member works at a sound shop, so there was a sound system (in the open-air church!) with drums and a guitar. The pastor's wife had prepared a solo to sing...we sat on the chairs and laughed and they told us of how God had been so very good to them.
The pulpit is incredible...it is a tree root hewn out of the ground by one of the men who had gather to greet us. They sanded and polished it, put a base and a desk on top, and a beautiful piece of furniture graces the church when you come around the wall they have erected by the door to create a "foyer."
Five ladies from that church are going to the conference now that would not have gone before.
The fourth church blew our minds.
The young pastor and his wife have been married for 3 months. The roof is primitive, their tiny 2 rooms joins the sanctuary....think a one car carport, with an attached storage room. That is the church and the house.
They met us with about 20 of their saints...all brand-new. The church was started 8 months ago and already they have about 60-70 on Sundays--street people! These are the trike and jeepney drivers (taxi-like transportation). These are the street vendors and the poor. Yet, they are growing rapidly and somehow are supporting the pastor and his new wife. They met us with a guitar singing, "We are happy people, yes we are!" Then, "I'm Coming Back to the Heart of Worship" and "Thanks, Thanks, I Give you Thanks"....
Masks are shredded at this point. What's left to keep a mask together after that?
What do you do with this sort of thing?
Finish out your visit, fly back home, and glue your mask back together?
Put blinders on as you go about your day and try to insulate yourself from the incessant neediness in your world that drains you?
I don't have the answer of what one does....but I know there is no glue left for the mask.
What would you do?