Nov 4, 2007
So for the past week our lives have been dominated by one word and one place: Kagman. Kagman, a village on the eastern side of the island, is about as rural as it gets in Saipan. And it's far--at least what passes for far in Saipan. It's a good twenty minute drive from just about any other point on the island. This bucolic location has been the site of our church's big evangelistic effort, a two week series of nightly meetings. Our pastor and a core group of church members worked hard for months in advance to lay the "groundwork", tirelessly visiting people door to door in the community and conducting Bible studies. The actual meetings began Saturday night, October 20, and most of the members committed to coming out to Kagman just about every night for the next two weeks to sing, greet, assist with the children's program, pray, and even cook! (We provided samples of delicious vegetarian dishes and copies of the recipes almost every night). It made for a long night, and was often physically and spiritually exhausting, but in the end the effort was worth it. Unlike most evangelistic meetings where the first night is the biggest and the numbers dwindle after that down to a small core group, attendance increased each night as positive word spread. And this past Sabbath, twenty-two people decided to get baptized, almost all of them local folks (which is phenomenal since there are virtually no indigeneous people in the Seventh-day Adventist church on Saipan. Or there weren't until now.)
But, while it's easy to get excited about numbers, the real success was individual--for each person that caught a vision of living a healthier lifestyle, for each person that felt that touch of God's love in their hearts, for each person that finally found the answers they'd been looking for, the effort was worth it.
To be honest, the actual execution of the series was a bit disorganized. We started out with a set program of events, an eclectic mix of music, scripture, health talks, and sometimes even drama. That rapidly devolved to a kind of fly by the seat-of-our-pants operation directed by our speaker, Pastor Melvin Duenas, a pastor who flew in from Guam from for this event. The progam came to consist of the health talk, the main message, and music as Pastor Duenas saw the need for it (sometimes to the surprise and consternation of the unsuspecting choir!). Fortunately, God wasn't limited by our foibles and He seemed to work in spite of our gaffes.
My main contribution to the effort was to make sure there was drinking water on site and to lead the prayer operation for the event. Babs boldly took on the task of coordinating the vegetarian tasting samples including special K loaf, vegetarian "meat" patties, veggie chili, burritos and lots of other tasty dishes. Needless they were highlights of every evening. Providing the water was a pretty easy task. As for the prayer, my fellow prayer "warriors" and I would arrive for the beginning of program, then decamp to an out of the way location--usually a nearby home that we had access to--to pray. Our prayer time consisted of combination of quiet, meditative private prayer, group prayer sessions where each person prayed as they felt moved to do so (we call this "popcorn prayer"),and Bible reading followed by sharing scripture promises and specific prayer needs. We'd finish up about 10 to 15 minutes before the program ended, and return to the "big tent" to so that we could be there to meet and mingle with the attendees when the program was over. I think leading in the prayer was the best way for me to contribute, as I'm sure if I'd sat through all the meetings I would have quickly gotten myself all lathered up and distracted by the differences between my new-school theology and the speaker's old-timey take on the message. By praying, I could focus on what God was doing, rather than on critiquing what the speaker was doing.
The "Big Tent" at dusk, not long before the meetings begin. The tent was constructed by several talented church members. One of the answers to prayer for this meeting: In the midst of the rainy, typhoon season, we had great weather throughout the series. There were a few rain showers, but none of the massive downpours or even worse, a typhoon, that would have completely ruined the tent and the event.
The Choir sings. They sang just about every song in their repertoire and learned to sing on a dime, as one never knew when their service might be called upon.
That's me and one of the members of my drama team, REAL Christian Theater. On the first night, we performed a skit about how people relate to the Bible (this particular actor portrays someone who keeps the Holy Book sealed in a plastic container and never opens it, let alone reads it). As the schedule shifted, the rest of our scheduled performances were moved to the following Sabbath morning program.
Me, introducing our first skit on Sabbath morning. For the past two Sabbaths (and also this coming Sabbath as well. They've decided to have a few more meetings this week and extend the series a third week), we've had our church services under the big tent in Kagman. Please note that the screens you see in the background highlight that day's topic and have nothing to do with the skits we're performing.
In this skit called "The Bus" about spiritual priorities, Jesus (played by me). . .
get's moved to the back of the bus. . .
. . .and eventually kicked to the curb. . .
. . .with distasterous results following.
A skit about how we get "stuck" in sin. . .these actors are "stuck" to the "Sin Chair"
This skit, entitled "Molding Jesus" talks about how we often try to make Jesus conform to our image, when in fact what he wants to do is transform us into His image.
The Children's Program Before: The kids program shifted around a few times, starting out in their own tent behind the main tent, then moving to the parking lot of Roshi's, a variety store alongside the lot where our tent was located, before finally the good folks at Roshi's invited the us to have our kids programs inside the store itself, where they could sing and play and learn as loud as they liked without worrying about distracting those in the main tent. The Roshi's manager and staff were beyond generous, clearing a whole section of their floor space for us to use.
The Children's Program After, in Roshi's Store.
Potluck Providence: The potluck on the first Sabbath was a miracle--at least for our church. Sadly, potlucks at our little church in Saipan are known to be pretty sparse, and here we were going to feed a whole army of guests and a strictly health-friendly menu too! Well, God moved, and the church responded, providing more than enough healthy and tasty food.
After two weeks of meetings, 19 people--including a whole family of eight-- decided they wanted to be baptized and join the Seventh-day Adventist church (a twentieth person was the son of one of our members). So this past Sabbath, November 3, after church under the big tent in Kagman and another potluck we came back to our side of the island to hold the baptisms on the beach near our church (the waves were too high on the eastern side of the island).
"Wade in the water. . ." The baptismal candidates get ready to take the plunge.
The candidates were baptized two at a time. That's our Pastor Eliki on the left and Pastor Duenas, the evangelist from Guam, on the right.
Back on the shore, we sang hymns intermittantly between baptisms. (If you look carefully, you'll see that my shirt is wet up to my chest. I'll explain why in my next entry!)
Having baptized 20, the pastors make a final call to for anyone else who wants to be baptized and. . .
. . .two more step up.
Our new family members.
Here's Babs and I with Ricardo and Rosemary and all their kids--all of whom got baptized. We met them last Sabbath at lunch and I had no idea they were considering becoming members. I'm looking forward to getting to know them better. And here's a big prayer request: We want to find away to offer to enroll all their kids at our school! It'll take a miracle, but miracles are God's business, right?
The two Barbaras. This woman, Barbara, has an infectious smile just like my lovely wife Babs. They hit it off right away, maybe because they have the same name. An interesting side note is that the beach area where Barbara was baptized belongs to her family. She grew up on the shores of this beach and swam in the very waters where she was baptized. I thought that was really beautiful.
Though the evangelistic effort is wrapping up, the friendships and fellowship that will grow from it will hopefully last a lifetime, and beyond.
For a critical perspective on the evangelistic series, and on "God's work" in general, check out my lastest entry at my faith issues blog, Faith Journeys.