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Register Reprinted with permission March 21, 2000 Tuesday SECTION: MAIN NEWS; Pg. 1A HEADLINE: Worshippers' languages differ, but spirit is same Drama, music unite Iowans, Venezuelans By STEPHEN BUTTRY REGISTER 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 the words Pastor Freddie Castillo is singing. The tune they recognize instantly. By the 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 and the Venezuelans of Fuente de Vida, or Fountain of Life. Castillo is not Fuente de Vida's pastor. His church and home were destroyed in the mid-December deluge of mud, rain and rock that washed away or buried thousands of Venezuelans. In the jargon of disaster, this was an "act of God." Yet Castillo has only praise. "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 60 Iowans from First Assembly of God in Des Moines spent in Venezuela last month. Language was no barrier when the joined assemblies worshipped in the street almost nightly during the Iowans' time in El Pauji. If the visitors could not understand words, they could enjoy music. They could share an embrace. They could 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 but thoroughly covering the mountainside. "I've sung 'How Great Thou Art' many times but never on the side of a mountain, standing in the clouds!" Mike Livingston of Orient, Ia., wrote in his journal. "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 Christian flag. 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 simply as Pastor Alexis, counted uno, dos, tres, and his congregation shouted in English, "Welcome in the name of the Lord." Dogs and children roamed freely during the services, all held outdoors. The church'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, attracted a steady trickle of people from the neighborhood. On the street below the church, a man watched behind the bars of his shop window. Several youths from the barrio and a few Iowa men gathered on the school's roof, the youths dangling their legs from their balcony seats. Sermons were followed by altar calls, where new believers would come forward and 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 a Christian drug-rehabilitation program, a man fell over backward, momentarily "slain in the spirit." A woman trembled visibly. Michelle Schmidt, who was behind the woman and touching her, recalled praying in Spanish and in tongues, "as the Holy Spirit directed." The woman "began to shake more, and I could feel her body heaving as she sobbed," Schmidt later wrote. "I prayed aloud, 'Que cada cadena rompa! Que te llene con el amor y gozo del Senor!' (May every chain break! May the Holy Spirit fill you!)" As the woman began to shake, Schmidt recounted, "it felt as if she were going to fall down. I opened my eyes for the first time since I'd begun praying and saw my friend Dr. Sue Adamson praying for her also. As we continued to pray, Sue and 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 the spiritual transformation that she had just undergone. She absolutely glowed." Two days later, the woman told Schmidt at the medical clinic that she had no control 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 with many things." Nothing worked, she said, until a friend led her to Jesus. "I could just bring my garbage to him and he would make it good." As the crowd gathered for Thursday night's service, fog was settling into the valley below. Above the cloud for a few minutes, lights twinkled on the mountainside across the valley. Soon the fog hid them as well. Lindsay Ruisch and Steve Holte led the Iowa youths and a couple of Venezuela youths 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 Reed and Dr. Jim Lovell played the roles of Peter and John, commanding a crippled man, "In the name of Jesus Christ, rise up and walk." By the time Palmer started to preach, steady drizzle was falling. He joked later 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 to kill and steal and destroy, but Jesus has come to give life." Missionary Mary Mahon 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 changes people's lives," he said. "It is more than just believing in your head. It's trusting in your heart." The bilingual version of "How Great Thou Art" became a musical theme for the week, recurring in worship services in El Pauji, at the emotional Saturday farewell gathering and in a Wednesday lunch more than two hours away in El Guapo. 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 and daughter Lourdes on the tambourine, led an enthusiastic hymn sing. For the first couple of numbers, the Iowans clapped enthusiastically but stumbled on the Spanish lyrics.
When the Dominguez family started "How Great Thou Art" in Spanish, the Iowans joined in English, their combined voices reverberating loudly off the concrete floors and plaster walls. Reporter Stephen Buttry can be reached at (515) 699-7058 or buttrys @news.dmreg.com GRAPHIC: _By: GARY FANDEL, REGISTER PHOTOS: Still smiling: Despite the devastation produced by rain and mudslides in Venezuela, young faces can still grin at a visiting photographer, or beam at missionaries' prayers for their recovery, above. LOAD-DATE: October 15, 2002 33 of 242 DOCUMENTS Copyright 2000 Des Moines Register All Rights Reserved Des Moines Register March 21, 2000 Tuesday SECTION: MAIN NEWS; Pg. 4A LENGTH: 695 words HEADLINE: Iowans' objectives gave way to flood repairs -for now BYLINE: Buttry Stephen, Register Staff Writer BODY: Mission of the heart By STEPHEN BUTTRY REGISTER STAFF WRITER Blanquita de Perez, Venezuela -When a busload of Iowa missionaries arrived to work on the Pentecostal church in this coastal village, the task at hand was apparent. The outside walls of Iglesia Cristiana Templo Dios Pentecostal were caked with mud almost to the top of the door. The mud that once filled the church had been hauled away, but the walls and floors remained coated. No services had been
held in the church since floods and mudslides devastated much of Venezuela's coastal area in mid-December. On one wall, someone had scrawled "Dios" -God -in mud. The Iowa missionaries traveled in two buses and a van, some to a medical clinic outside Caracas and some to the coast, on the other side of the large mountain called El Avila. When the brakes went out on one of the buses that Thursday morning, the interpreter who was to accompany the coastal party was diverted to help shuttle medical and dental workers to the clinic. A busload of Iowans who had forgotten most of the Spanish they had learned arrived to help a church of Venezuelans who had never learned English. With gestures and phrase books, the Iowans and Pastor Antonio Ramirez considered the work ahead. Mike Livingston, Steve Gallaher and Frank Sage started trying to find a way to restore power to the building. Washing with rags and cleanser, scraping with sandpaper and shovels, other Iowans began cleaning the walls and floors, then painting. They were proving what Dave Russell had told the group earlier in the week: "Your hands and your heart can say as much as your tongue." When the Iowans made plans last October for this mission trip to Venezuela, the workers' job was clear and simple: The crew was going to add two floors to the Fuente de Vida School in the mountainside barrio of El Pauji outside Caracas. The December mudslides changed plans. During the long cleanup, Venezuela's government prohibited new construction. Showing how abruptly work had been halted, steel reinforcement rods reached up from the school's roof. Instead of erecting walls around them, the Iowa work crew turned to other chores. Early in the week, El Pauji commanded the Iowans' attention. Some of the work addressed the heavy erosion in the area, which was spared the catastrophic landslides. Men used wheelbarrows to haul dirt that had slid against the school walls, then reinforced the walls with steel rods and concrete. Workers cleaned trash and mud from the streets. The Iowans overhauled the wiring and lighting in the church and the nearby home of Pastor Alexis Mora. "The electrical system defies description," Livingston wrote in a journal. "If the inspectors see this, they would shut the whole place down." Others painted the upstairs of the church light blue. Barb Sittig, a Des
Moines artist, added a mural of a shepherd tending his flock. Thursday and Friday, most of the workers took a bus to aid in the more heavily damaged areas around the coastal resort of La Guaira. By the end of Thursday, the interior of Pastor Ramirez's church was cleaned and mostly painted, and power was restored. Several workers had started scrubbing mud from the outer walls. The missionaries helped chip away chest-deep dirt in the courtyard in front of the home of Marco Villamediana. Even after a morning downpour, the dirt was very hard. Chunks had to be broken out with a pick, then shoveled into a wheelbarrow. Pastor John Palmer, well-known in Des Moines for his church's television commercials, took his turn swinging the pick. He faced good-natured teasing from members of his flock who insisted such physical labor was unprecedented. The Sunday after the Iowans left, Ramirez had services in his church for the first time since the flood. While the work crews were pleased with that accomplishment and the other tasks they finished, they never lost sight of their original plan. At the Saturday morning farewell gathering in El PaujO, Steve Drake of Ankeny asked the crowd to note the steel reinforcement rods, pointing skyward from the school's roof. "We will come back and help you complete it," Drake vowed. GRAPHIC: _By: GARY FANDEL, REGISTER PHOTOS: Mountain of work: The Venezuelan coastal community of Blanquita de Perez was hit hard by mudslides in the December flooding. Some of the cleanup will take as long as a year. Open wide: Dr. Sue Adamson, with help from nurse Becky Stover, examines an ailing Venezuelan teen.
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