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Mission of the Heart, Part 3

Mission of the Heart, Part 3

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Published by Steve Buttry
This is part 3 of my 2000 series for the Des Moines Register on a mission trip to Venezuela, after the December 1999 mudslides
This is part 3 of my 2000 series for the Des Moines Register on a mission trip to Venezuela, after the December 1999 mudslides

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Published by: Steve Buttry on Jan 15, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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This is the third part of the four-part “Mission of the Heart” series
Copyright 2000 Des Moines Register Reprinted with permissionMarch 21, 2000 TuesdaySECTION: MAIN NEWS; Pg. 1AHEADLINE:
Worshippers' languages differ, but spirit is sameDrama, music unite Iowans, Venezuelans
By STEPHEN BUTTRYREGISTER STAFF WRITER  El Pauji, Venezuela - The spirit is moving in the narrow street in front of Fuente de Vida School. Few of the Iowans sitting in the benches that block the street understand thewords Pastor Freddie Castillo is singing. The tune they recognize instantly. Bythe time he reaches the chorus, two Assemblies of God are singing in unison. "How Great Thou Art," sing the Iowans. "Cuan Grande Es El," sing Castillo andthe Venezuelans of Fuente de Vida, or Fountain of Life. Castillo is not Fuente de Vida's pastor. His church and home were destroyedin the mid-December deluge of mud, rain and rock that washed away or buriedthousands of Venezuelans. In the jargon of disaster, this was an "act of God." Yet Castillo has onlypraise. "Gloria a Dios," he says, then repeats it, as if he can't say it enough."Glory to God." A loudspeaker booms his words up and down the mountainside. Again and again, the phrase was repeated through the week that about 60Iowans from First Assembly of God in Des Moines spent in Venezuela last month. Language was no barrier when the joined assemblies worshipped in the streetalmost nightly during the Iowans' time in El Pauji. If the visitors could notunderstand words, they could enjoy music. They could share an embrace. Theycould follow dramatic presentations. They could understand Pentecostal fervor. They could appreciate the beauty of the setting, 2,800 feet above sea level,overlooking a valley. Clouds settled about the church most evenings, gently butthoroughly covering the mountainside. "I've sung 'How Great Thou Art' many times but never on the side of amountain, standing in the clouds!" Mike Livingston of Orient, Ia., wrote in hisjournal. "It was a really neat experience." The street, barely two cars wide from the door of the school to the sharp
drop-off about 20 feet to the street below, was decorated for the Iowans'arrival with streamers, balloons, flags from both countries and a Christianflag. Another American flag had been made using long red-and-white balloons for the stripes. Pastor Alexis Mora, known to his congregation and the visiting Iowans simplyas Pastor Alexis, counted uno, dos, tres, and his congregation shouted inEnglish, "Welcome in the name of the Lord." Dogs and children roamed freely during the services, all held outdoors. Thechurch's sanctuary, which might hold 60 people, was too tiny for the crowds,which at times topped 200. Lively Latin music and passionate preaching, amplified by speakers, attracteda steady trickle of people from the neighborhood. On the street below thechurch, a man watched behind the bars of his shop window. Several youths fromthe barrio and a few Iowa men gathered on the school's roof, the youths danglingtheir legs from their balcony seats. Sermons were followed by altar calls, where new believers would come forwardand Iowa missionaries and native pastors would lay hands on them and pray. After Tuesday's spirited message by Juan Madriz, a former addict who runs aChristian drug-rehabilitation program, a man fell over backward, momentarily"slain in the spirit." A woman trembled visibly. Michelle Schmidt, who was behind the woman andtouching her, recalled praying in Spanish and in tongues, "as the Holy Spiritdirected." The woman "began to shake more, and I could feel her body heaving asshe sobbed," Schmidt later wrote. "I prayed aloud, 'Que cada cadena rompa! Quete llene con el amor y gozo del Senor!' (May every chain break! May the HolySpirit fill you!)" As the woman began to shake, Schmidt recounted, "it felt as if she were goingto fall down. I opened my eyes for the first time since I'd begun praying andsaw my friend Dr. Sue Adamson praying for her also. As we continued to pray, Sueand I each instinctively paused momentarily and held the young woman up. Her knees had buckled and she was falling backward into our arms." The woman appeared truly free, Schmidt said. "Her countenance evidenced thespiritual transformation that she had just undergone. She absolutely glowed." Two days later, the woman told Schmidt at the medical clinic that she had nocontrol over the shaking. "I think it was the Holy Spirit moving in me." Each worship service featured testimony from Iowans through interpreters.
"About 25 years ago I recognized a hole in my life," Denise Cornelison of Minburn testified at the Tuesday night service. "I tried to fill that hole withmany things."  Nothing worked, she said, until a friend led her to Jesus. "I could justbring my garbage to him and he would make it good." As the crowd gathered for Thursday night's service, fog was settling into thevalley below. Above the cloud for a few minutes, lights twinkled on themountainside across the valley. Soon the fog hid them as well. Lindsay Ruisch and Steve Holte led the Iowa youths and a couple of Venezuelayouths in performing a pantomime drama about temptation and salvation. Then,some Venezuelan children performed their own humorous drama. For the Scripture reading before Iowa Pastor John Palmer's sermon, Dan Reedand Dr. Jim Lovell played the roles of Peter and John, commanding a crippledman, "In the name of Jesus Christ, rise up and walk." By the time Palmer started to preach, steady drizzle was falling. He jokedlater that he had asked God to help him keep his sermon short. "What Jesus did for that lame man, he's still doing for people today," Palmer said, jumping in place to illustrate God's healing power. "Satan has come tokill and steal and destroy, but Jesus has come to give life." Missionary MaryMahon translated, virtually echoing the urgent cadence of Palmer's message. Dr. Randy Ruisch and Ken Butters testified how Jesus had changed their lives."Jesus healed my daughter," Ruisch said after recounting a near-tragic accident."If you are sick, Jesus can heal you." Palmer resumed preaching as the rain intensified. "Jesus Christ changespeople's lives," he said. "It is more than just believing in your head. It'strusting in your heart." The bilingual version of "How Great Thou Art" became a musical theme for theweek, recurring in worship services in El Pauji, at the emotional Saturdayfarewell gathering and in a Wednesday lunch more than two hours away in ElGuapo. Pastor Domingo Dominguez invited a group of the Iowans into his home for lunch. Afterward, his children, son Eliezer on the four-string cuatro guitar anddaughter Lourdes on the tambourine, led an enthusiastic hymn sing. For the firstcouple of numbers, the Iowans clapped enthusiastically but stumbled on theSpanish lyrics. 

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