Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mormons in Arequipa

On Sunday, Amanda and I mended our heathen ways and went to church --- and we had such a great time that we're seriously tempted to go to church more often when we travel!

The day started off on a somber note. As we walked to the chapel (which we found after abandoning the church's meetinghouse locator and turning to Google, the other source of truth), we passed a man who was falling-down drunk. In fact, he fell down about fifteen feet in front of us. We crossed to the other side of the street and kept walking. The farther we walked, though, the more I felt like the men in the parable of the Good Samaritan who behaved just as I did when confronted with a prostrate, needy figure. It didn't help to turn around and see that anoyher man had stopped and was helping the guy to sit up. I mentioned how I felt to Amanda; she was thinking the same thing. We talked about it for the rest of the walk to church: what should we have done? We're in a foreign place with no idea whether this person is safe or dangerous and no real way to provide any immediate meaningful assistance. But how dangerous could a person so ill he's collapsed really be? Don't I speak Spanish well enough to ask him if he wants help (and know enough first aid to tell if he needs help), and to call for it if he does? And wouldn't even setting him upright have been more meaningful than the nothing that we did? Whatever the right response to this situation might have been, I'm pretty sure it wasn't crossing to the other side. Clearly I have room to grow in my discipleship of Christ.

The church was only a little ways off a narrow street with the dramatic Misti volcano rising behind it. Of course we instantly recognized the universal church architecture.

Misti Volcano
Miraflores Ward building in Arequipa
We went inside and found our way upstairs into the chapel. Almost immediately, one sister after another came over to shake my hand, give Amanda a kiss, and welcome us. Interestingly, only two brothers came over, and that was later (and neither of them was a member of the bishopric).

As you would expect, the meetings were classic Mormon meetings - not only the gospel butalso the culture of the church is essentially the same wherever you go. Sacrament meeting was a standard testimony meeting, running about twenty minutes over because too many people got in line in (what were supposed to be) the last five minutes of the meeting.

Sunday school was really good. Once people realized that Amanda and I were not married, they whisked us off to the single adults class. (Of course, they also expressed surprise that we could be traveling as friends without romantic involvement -- the guy who introduced us into Sunday Scool said to the class, "This is Amanda and Jason, they claim to be single but I don't belive them.") The YSA teacher was fantastic. She was the mother of on of the guys in the class and was both very well prepared and capable of riding herd on a rambunctious class in a way that enabled her to present the lesson as she wanted to. (I could easily cast her as a beloved but terrifying Mother Superior in a Catholic school.) Of course, all of Amanda's teacherly sensibilities were delighted at witnessing another good teacher at work (and in church no less!)

One of the best moments in her lesson was when she likened the disciples' waiting in the garden, while Jesus prayed, to a funeral wake. It was a brilliant move because, although Mormons don't do wakes, Catholics, especially South American Catholics, do. So the teacher was drawing on something that would make a lot of sense in the cultural context while also shedding light on (at least part of) what Christ may have been asking the disciples to do; namely, to sacrifice sleep to support him in his hour of need, even though there wasn't really anything they could do, practically, to help him (just as people at a wake sacrifice sleep in support if the departed).

Priesthood was also vey good. Apparently, every fist Sunday of the month, the lesson consists of practical instruction on how to perform a pristhood ordinance (in this case, blessing the sick), as well as the doctrinal underpinnings for that ordinance. I vaguely recall past wards attempting something along thoise lines, but here I thought it was a great idea and super useful (in a way that EQ lessons so often are not). Of course, I was not expecting them to ask me to be the one to demonstrate the anointing! I declined at first (but they insisted) and told them I didn't feel comfortable doing it in Spanish (they said that was fine), but ended up doing the demonstration anyway. It was fun -- and a good reminder of how important it is to know how to do these things!  (Amanda, too, was put to work. I found her playing the piano for relief society -- there was no one else who could play in the ward.)

By the end of the three-hour block, I was best friends with 26-year-old returned missionary named Ruben, and Amanda was joined at the hip with a woman named Gloria. Ruben and Gloria had taken us under their respective wings during the meetings (and played a key role in impressing us into service as described above). After church, they invited us to lunch with them. We accepted and found ourselves bustled off into cabs (along with a few other ward members) and into a roasted chicken restaurant on the other side of town. They didn't bat an eye at going out to a restaurant on a Sunday! :) We had a lot of fun, ate well, exchanged email and Facebook info, and parted ways with hugs all around.

We had originally planned only to attend sacramant meeting; we ended up spending most of the day at church or otherwise hanging out with the members. We didn't see the museums we'd planned to see, and we almost missed out on booking our Colca Canyon tour, but by the end of the day we had had a ton of fun and been spiritually uplifted, too!

From left to right:  Gloria, Amanda, Me, Ruben, Alexandra, Lucie, Nela


Anonymous said...

What a great experience!

Ashley said...

What a fabulous day! And guess what!?!?!? You did something SPONTANEOUS!!! I'm so proud of you! :)