It recently dawned on me that it had been some time since we’d shared with regard to the church music ministry. It’s definitely one of my core ministries here in the church and demands significant time and effort during the week and particularly at the weekend. At times, it’s all too easy to allow the forest to become obscured by the trees. But when I stop and reflect on what God has done over the past three years, as I’ve done this week, I am encouraged no end.
When we arrived in Trinidad and first attended El Jireh church, the music ministry consisted of two guys and a guitar. One sang, one strummed. Furthermore, the range of songs was extremely limited, with the same two or three tunes being sung every week. Recognising their need for support in an area where I had experience, I got involved right away, playing my guitar and writing out new music. And it was here that I was to learn some important early lessons in missionary work in laid-back Bolivian culture. Where I had initially offered support, within a few months, I had become the de facto leader of the ministry, as I discovered that the ‘band’ were all too happy to devolve the key responsibilities to me. Subtly, and without seeking it, I had become the music guy. There’s no doubt I added polish and a more professional attitude to proceedings but whether it did anything for church growth is another matter; indeed, as my two co-workers slipped out of the church fold for personal reasons, the music ministry for the remainder of 2010 consisted of a missionary and his guitar. In terms of encouraging growth in the local body, this represented a definite backward step.
In early 2011, a new family began attending the church (in itself cause for celebration in a church which has, at times, lacked a familial backbone) and, out of the blue, their two early-teenage sons approached me at the end of a service, expressing their desire to learn guitar and keyboards and play in the church band. Around the same time, one of FT’s administrative workers, Wilson Menacho, also shared his interest in learning the guitar. We began rehearsing together once a week, while I met individually with the three to teach them their instruments. By the time Amanda I left for my sister-in-law’s wedding in Canada in August, we had been playing together in church for several months and I was able to leave Wilson in charge of the music ministry in my absence.
I was to return, in October, with, to paraphrase Paul Simon, my suitcase and bass guitar in hand (a victim of American Airlines’ draconian luggage policy back in January 2010). Some, rhythm, then, was added to the mix, as well as a growing range of new songs – some translated from English, some contemporary Spanish-language, some old Spanish-language favourites. At Christmas we shared carols for the first time ever with the congregation.
In 2012 we’ve seen continued growth, in musical ability, in the range of songs at our fingertips, and in number, in what has been an amazing example of the grace of God. While we were leading the church in singing Christmas carols, a talented musician of years gone by was simply moving on to his next bottle. Carlos had been a band-member of the church I attended during my first stint here as a volunteer, back in 2000-2001. He was a vivacious, charismatic young man, with a powerful voice and bags of confidence. He was set to become a mainstay of the church music scene for years to come. So it was a shock to us all, and an early insight for me into the fragility of Bolivian society, when it was discovered he had fathered a child out of wedlock. Several more children with various mothers were to follow and Carlos wouldn’t darken a church door for over a decade.
So I was as flabbergasted as anyone when Carlos, stone-cold sober, turned up at El Jireh earlier this year and repented before the church for his past misdemeanours. With his haggard features and swollen stomach, he had aged in appearance well beyond his years. But the old fire had been re-kindled. As far as I’m concerned, ‘miraculous’ is the only appropriate adjective.
And now he is back in the church music fold. With several years of experience in local radio behind him, he has the gift of the gab in spades, and leads the times of musical worship with aplomb. That means there are now three of us capable of chairing the music slots in church, two of them Bolivian, which takes a big burden off my shoulders, and, more importantly, has allowed the church to see ‘one of their own’ up at the front on two out of every three Sundays.
Please continue to pray for the music ministry, especially for maturity and unity for Carlos, Wilson, Diego and Daniel. Though it’s some time away, our upcoming furlough year in 2014 presents a golden opportunity for the band to break free of missionary dependence. Please pray that the guys would rise to the occasion over the coming months and that, control-freak that I am, I would be given the discernment to know when to take a backward-step.
Here are a few more prayer items for this week:
- For the youth group’s social evening, taking place tonight, particularly for Amanda, who has been working around the clock all week to organise everything.
- Craig is responsible for
overseeing the church’s Christmas service, which is by far the biggest opportunity we have to reach our community every year and requires detailed
advance planning. Tomorrow, the main parties involved will be meeting together
for the first time to decide on the direction it should take. Please pray for
- Huge progress has been made over the last couple of weeks in registering the land we bought over a year ago in our name. Fully acquiring these, and selling them, will be a great help to us as we build our house. Give thanks.
- More students at the local secondary school where Craig has been teaching the gospel of John have come to faith over the last week. PTL and all that.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!
Craig & Amanda