We've been to what looks to be our new spiritual home in Cuenca, Iglesia Verbo, two weeks now. An exciting group of people. Let me tell you why.
When it comes to welcoming the newcomer - native Ecuadorian and extranjero alike - these folks go all out to welcome you. They may not give you an extra large size chocolate bar here like Grace Chapel back home does - and Ecuador is home to lots of cocoa bean plantations, though the price of the chocolate in Hershey branded form is decidedly higher than in the States - but they do give you something that is precious. . . a rose (men and women get this) as well as a hug or warm embrace Latin American style. Roses cost a lot less than chocolate bars here, btw. Try around 12 cents per single rose.
English speakers like ourselves are also accommodated by the use of a personal translator of the worship services (less song lyrics played by the different worship musical ensembles on the platform). To utilize this free service, you sit in the main back row of the large and new auditorium and wear some large looking wired earphones (wireless will no doubt come this way in the future like it already has in North America). Be careful when you stand and sing, though. . . you might disconnect the headphones from the connector, especially if you are a tall gringo like me.
We've had the opportunity to get to know and thank personally a couple of translators: Erica, who translates @ the 9:30 AM Sunday service, and Belen, whom we met last night at the Sunday evening service - which can last for up to two hours, btw. Erica has a ready smile and interacts with native Spanish speakers who are taking Verbo's English language classes, which I understand are free. . . what a deal! They also offer free Spanish language classes for the gringos among the congregation.
Verbo recently had translation from Spanish to English available at all its Sunday services morning and evening. They've had to officially cut back to just the 9:30 and the 11:00 AM services, leaving the 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM worship services Spanish only. . . but, if they know you are a gringo, and have someone who can translate in a moment's notice, there is translation available still. This happened when one of the members of our Welcome - Bienvenidos - class that meets on Monday evenings saw Carolyn Anne ( I think she's literally the only white haired lady in the entire 2000 plus congregation) and found for her a translator, Belen. True Christian love in action! This gentleman wouldn't quit until he found for her a translator willing to help. Dogged man for Christ and his people, indeed.
We happened to come when Verbo was communicating, for the first time in over three years, its desire from amongst the pastors (10 of them) and elders of the need to grow the physical building out some more to accommodate more new people not already part of Verbo or a Bible believing church. The pastor we heard, Roberto, said then and last Sunday it was the hardest message he ever had to give. . . but it was easily his most rewarding one, as the church now has $70,000 in cash and pledges in hand to enlarge the buildings and its classes and programs. Using the Ecuadorian rule of 3's and 4's, this amounts to around a quarter of a million dollars for building and ministry expansion. A third floor for the existing two story modern building is planned. This will allow for more teaching space - currently the church has just five classrooms from what I can see - and kitchen furnishings, which will equip the kitchen to finally be a warm, inviting meeting place for youth, couples, and so on to get to share a cup of coffee, some pan dulces, and good extended conversation after the worship services.
This is a church that has a heart for God and His Word, and for people. There is probably not anywhere in Cuenca that does not feel its influence. Our hotel hostess, Carolina of Hotel Pichincha, knew immediately of Verbo when I mentioned it to her in conversation. Our ever friendly English language adept pharmacist, Tatiana of Fybeca Farmacia in El Centro, has gone here (and we encouraged her to come on back and be a part once again). From its humble beginnings in 1987 as a small group Bible study, Verbo - which means the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity - has grown to over 2,000 people in scores of home Bible studies all over Cuenca. . . and six other sister churches planted in Ecuador, and one in Peru. The future? They are visioning and praying for *20 more* sister churches in the next ten years. Verbo is currently growing at the rate of one person a day, if a recent Saturday bimonthly Baptism is any indication.
If this kind of movement amongst God's Holy Spirit - and yes, you can sense His presence here by the Spanish speakers as well as the English speakers - doesn't excite you, I don't know what to say. Wow. . . what a church! What a time to be alive and to give one's life to the Master's business which will lay up treasure in Heaven tested by the Refiner's fire!
Sign me up.