Well into the training, Luis invited me to visit the Saturday evening gathering of friends, family, and neighbors.
I arrived about 15-minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin. Luis was thrilled I had come and wrongly assumed I would be leading the meeting,
"It is so good that you have come, Bro. Guido, you can lead the meeting tonight..."
"No, Bro. Luis, I have come as a visitor and look forward to the blessing God has in store for us tonight. Besides, as your teacher, I'd like to see how some of the things we are practicing in class are working out for you with your new group."
"But what should I do?" he asked with a confused look on his face.
"Do it just like we practiced in the classroom this past week. Pick one of the ice breakers to loosen people up. Lead them in singing 2-3 songs that relate to the Bible Study. Talk about the message of the songs. Facilitate the Bible Study #4 making sure all participate. Close with a time of ministry praying for the various needs. Finish up serving refreshments and visiting with everyone...just like we practiced and talked about in class earlier this week."
Luis smiled and said, "Oh yeah, now I remember. No hay problema (no problem.) Let's do it. Are you ready to go?"
We walked across the street and entered a small room crowded already with some fifteen adults and a bunch of kids running in and out. There were 3-4 other believers present, but the rest were all people who Luis knew and had been visiting during the preceding days.
After greeting everyone, Luis's wife Rosa passed out songbooks and then led everyone in singing a couple of their favorites. I was a bit peeved that Luis had jumped straight to the songs instead of employing a fun icebreaker to ease the tension of those in the room who didn't know one another.
Not only did Luis skip the icebreaker, but he let Rosa choose songs that had no connection whatsoever with the 4th lesson. Then, instead of doing lesson #4, Luis flipped randomly through the pages of his Bible looking for some familiar passage, and proceeded to read out loud a few verses from one of the Gospels. Internally, I was totally frustrated with Luis that instead of following the simple meeting outline as he had been trained to do, he was just "winging it." If I were grading him, he certainly had earned an "F" by this time.
Luis then proceeded to share an "off-the-cuff" choppy commentary on what he had just read. Where was the group participation that we stressed so highly in training? My blood pressure was rising by the minute.
Suddenly, one of the visiting women stood and interrupted Luis's "sermon." She had tears in her eyes. I nearly fell off my chair when she began speaking...
"This is the first time in my life that the Gospel has been presented to me in such a clear and simple way. I truly understand now what Jesus did for me and I want to declare my allegiance to Him. What do I need to do to be saved?"
Luis walked over to the woman, smiled real big, and gave her a huge abrazo (hug.)
Then, out of Luis's mouth flowed the clearest presentation of the Gospel I had ever heard. The handful of believers present gathered around and led her in a prayer of repentance. When the "Amen" was said, everyone clapped. One by one everyone stood in line to abrazar and congratulate the their new sister in Christ. Even before everyone had finished hugging, someone picked up an out-of-tune cracked guitar and next thing I knew everyone was singing! Spontaneous prayers, testimonies, and more singing followed. As prayer requests were made, everyone would gather around the person and pray over them. In the middle of everything else going on, someone brought in mangoes to suck on. Soon it was hard to tell if we were still "in church" or had moved into the "social time."
And where was I during all this?
Sitting in the corner picking myself off the floor from the lessons the Holy Spirit was teaching me--the novice--about His ways not being our ways, and His thoughts not our thoughts.
That outreach group soon became a church and continued to do everything just about as opposite as possible from everything we were teaching. But out of that seemingly "chaotic mess" dozens of people were saved, baptized, and a local ekklesia was birthed.
The "rest of the story" of that church plant could be written up as a book, but suffice it to say, I learned several big lessons that evening.
1) Locals know their people better than the outside "experts."
2) People do not come to Christ by our methodologies (however good we think they may be.)
3) The importance of love and relationships developed with those one is trying to reach (Luis was a "10" on a scale of ten on this one.)
4) It is much easier gathering people (not-yet-believers) who live close by and presenting the Gospel to them all at once, than winning a bunch of individuals separately and then trying to gather them all in one place.
5) A simple atmosphere of warmth, acceptance, and informality is more appealing to those we are trying to reach with the Gospel than a programmed formal church service.
6) As good as our way of doing things might be, His way is better.
7) What works with one group may not work equally well with another group. In other words, one size does not fit all.
Any of these lessons resonate with your own experience? What are some of the lessons the Holy Spirit has been teaching you of late?