Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A reflection: Eight people were baptized....

Eight people were baptized in the Eder River in 1708. Eight more, all dressed in white, were baptized in a Caribbean river on a recent Sunday morning, March 15. Still standing in the river, pastor Ariel Rosario noted the historical and spiritual connection between these eight and the original eight Brethren.

The connection prompted me to imagine Alexander Mack standing with us on that muddy riverbank in the Dominican Republic, a perplexed look in his eyes and an immensely pleased smile on his face as he said, "Not in my wildest dreams did I ever anticipate Brethren like this in such a place."

The music on the river bank would sound familiar to most Brethren. The old gospel hymns were sung in Spanish and with drums, of course. The spiritual connection would be obvious. The all-important, wise, and time-tested baptismal commitment to follow Jesus was being reaffirmed again in the baptism of these new believers.

From there, the connections may seem to unravel. The baptismal group returned to their little rented store-front church, where one couldn’t help but be dazzled by the fresh coat of Caribbean bright pumpkin-mustard paint. More shocking was a slip on the part of the youthful painters who incorrectly and in bold letters wrote the name of the church as "Iglesia Pentecostal de los Hermanos la Vid Verdera" (Pentecostal True Vine Church of the Brethren). "Pentecostal" isn’t part of the church’s name and doesn’t belong there. Or does it? This particular congregation is without doubt one of the most influenced by Pentecostalism. That also makes it one of the liveliest, noisiest, and most spirited groups among the Brethren in the DR--and they wash each others’ feet!

Freshly received into the denomination as a congregation and just three years old, this vibrant new church plant covers 100 percent of its ministry expenses from its own offerings. Average attendance is growing toward 200. These members who lift hands, dance, sway, and shout praises in the Spirit are also organizing a community "adopt a street" project to tackle the problem of litter in their neighborhood.

The influence of Pentecostalism is pervasive in Latino culture. Some might think that the Brethren and Pentecostal movements are like oil and water, impossible to mix, but others respectfully disagree. Years ago when we began working in cross-cultural ministry, we received helpful guidance from some wise Puerto Rican Brethren. They cautioned us about the type of Pentecostalism that is overly emotional, legalistic, petty, and frankly divisive. But there is within the core of the movement a socially progressive, open-minded, joyful spirit.

We wonder if the Pentecostal influence among Hispanic Brethren may invite those of other ethnic backgrounds to find ways to reconnect with the Pietist side of our faith heritage. There is one reference at least that suggests the early Brethren arising from the Pietist movement may have been a bit boisterous themselves in worship. "In 1750, a Pietist leader identified as J.B.S. visited Germantown, Pa., and describes four meeting houses there. Of the Brethren he writes, ‘Their meetings are zealous and their preaching and praying often take place with great clamor, as if their God were hard of hearing. One hymn chases another as if they lacked (inner) silence...’" ("The Brethren in Colonial America," Donald Durnbaugh, p. 124).

Americans who come to the DR often find themselves, as I imagined Alexander Mack that day on the riverbank, both perplexed by and immensely pleased to see what God is doing here. It is a joy to see Dominican brothers and sisters finding more and more spiritual and historical connections with the Brethren movement, and at the same time developing unique ways of living out the core spiritual values of our heritage and faith.

US Brethren also often rediscover their own hunger for an intimate relationship with God and a joyful faith of the heart. How many of us long to have our hearts, "strangely warmed" by the presence of the Spirit, as Wesley experienced it? How many of us find it both a bit embarrassing and yet wonderfully liberating to clap our hands and maybe even swing our hips, just ever so little, in joyful worship?

It is challenging to both cherish the treasure of what has been familiar and meaningful to us, and to be stretched by the best of what we see in others. Pastors Ariel and Elena Rosario are in their own unique way "dyed in the wool" Brethren. They express a sense of profound connection spiritually and relationally with the Brethren in the US and around the world. These connections and differences challenge, unsettle, and enrich us all as we seek to follow Jesus together.

-- Irvin Heishman serves as co-coordinator of the Church of the Brethren mission in the Dominican Republic, along with his wife, Nancy Heishman.

Source: 4/8/2009 Newsline

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