January 24, 2014 Alausí, Ecuador
Pastor Felipe walks up the steep slope to his parents house in the highlands of Cañar to pick me up for a day of visiting indigenous Quichua congregations in the Andes Mountains. Dressed in a black poncho, his long raven black hair falls from the white Cañari hat he wears. His deep voice echoes as he talks about how he became a pastor in the Indigenous Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ecuador (IELIE) and about his work with Pastor Lauro and the Lutheran Bible Institute of Ecuador (IBLE). Along with Pastor Lauro, a Lutheran pastor from the coast of Ecuador, Felipe works towards creating biblical literacy among Lutheran Quichua communities in the Andes by offering Bible studies and Lutheran theology classes.
Pastor Lauro, Pastor Felipe, and I hop into the minivan and drive. We pass rich, green farmland filled with crops and sheep that graze on the hills. My stomach begins to knot and I begin to feel lightheaded as we ascend closer to the peak where Iglesia Nueva Jerusalén rests at 10, 498 feet above sea level.
We are greeted by Pastor Taita Alberto. Pastor Lauro introduces me, saying that I have studied to be a pastor in the Lutheran church in the United States. “Although this is something we don’t understand here, it is her reality in the United States,” Pastor Lauro says to Pastor Alberto, referencing the Ecuadorian Lutheran church body’s prohibition of women’s ordination. Pastor Alberto shakes my hand, “Welcome, sister,” he says to me.
Prior to coming to the village, I was told that in the Quichua villages there has been a lot of prejudice against Lutheran Quichuas. Others in the community call them “medio cristianos” (half-Christians) because they received baptism as infants and not as adults which is the custom for most non-Lutheran evangelical congregations in Ecuador.
Pastor Lauro asks me to share my story. So I do.
I was baptized the day I was born by a nurse – a rebel nun – stationed at the NICU at St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, PA. As I was on the brink of death, she poured water over my head and uttered Words of redemption over my small frame. As the water seeped into my pores, God’s promises of love and adoption claimed me as a child forever grateful for the good work that God would continue to nurture in me until completion. The doctors who delivered me told my parents that as a premature baby with underdeveloped lungs, I would not live much longer and if by some small chance I did survive, I would not be able to talk or sing or dance or walk or function well without assistance. Yet, by the grace of God, the baptismal promises spoken over me birthed resurrection in my mouth and lungs and hands and feet as I have grown up flitting between Sunday school, choir concerts, dance recitals, playground monkey bars, the great Pyramids of Egypt, the pulpit, the birth place of Christ in Palestine, praise band platforms, the slopes of the Andes Mountains, and the communion rail where the “for you” promise resounds from the echoes of that rebel nurse’s words the day I was born.
As I share my story in Spanish, Pastor Felipe translates for me in Quichua. We read scripture together as a community about God’s work within us as a work of grace that comes to us without merit. We rejoice in the gift that is to be called children of God.
As I sit down from sharing my story, Pastor Alberto thanks me. He asks the women present to sing for me as to share their story in their way. The women seated on benches, wrapped in shawls, grin sheepishly and slowly make their way to the front of the sanctuary. I hand Pastor Antonio my guitar and he sits to accompany the women in their song. He begins strumming and the women start to sway with such purpose.
My heart trembles at the sheer volume and intensity in their sound together.
Amidst the slopes of the Andes, the women sing Psalm 121.
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
Their voice is the sound that brought down the walls of Jericho.
Their song reminds me that we are embraced and held by the Maker of heaven and earth – the One who promises to watch over our lives, to watch our coming and going now and forevermore.
It is a song I am familiar with as one who has been rescued from the grave.
It is the song that filled my lungs with life 28 years ago.
It is the song that continues to be the cadence by which I move on this earth.
It is the song the Quichua of Alausi have heard as their own and labor to proclaim to their neighbors.
It is the song we strain our ears a little harder to hear as ones who need to be reminded that the dividing wall of hostility has crumbled down* leaving only room for redemption, for reconciliation, for new life to burst forth like Jericho songs echoing off of the Andean slopes.
Click here for another video of the women asking me to join in their next song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwcYWftLDn4