What I Saw On Sunday
What do you see when you come to church on Sunday? Do you hope they sing your favorite song? Are you praying the sermon doesn’t go too long, so you can avoid long lines at your favorite restaurant afterward? Are you grabbing a bulletin to double check if you have nursery duty?
As a church planter’s wife the past few years, here is my view. I try to arrive 30 minutes early to prepare my Sunday School classroom and to look out for visitors. Anyone coming for the first time might feel anxious, and I want them to feel welcome. In my country of service, instead of shaking hands, we give a kiss on both cheeks. Not giving someone kisses is offensive, and everyone likes a greeting from the pastor’s wife, so I have lots of kissing to do!
Then comes my Sunday School class. I have 2-5-year-olds, so the class is never boring. Our class has all the good questions and comments, like, “Why did God create mosquitos? They itch me!” Most of the kids speak Portuguese, but some are still learning, so I’m teaching the lesson in two languages, trying to be sure all the kids are learning what God has for them that week. A couple of 2-year-olds ask for their mommy, and, to avoid tears, I sometimes carry a kid on my hip as I teach. We sing songs with big motions; do crafts with glitter, glue, and beans; pray; and send the kids out to their parents. I’m often out of breathe by the time it’s over. I mean, holding a 2-year-old while doing the motions to “If I Were a Butterfly” is a workout! So, there I am in my high heels, panting and crawling under the table to pick up the beans from craft time. I have 7 minutes to clean the room, take my own children to the bathroom, and be in the sanctuary for the service.
Almost every week, at that moment, any one of our church women walks in the room. From my lovely posture on the floor, I look up, and I can tell it by her face. Something is wrong. With tears in her eyes, she tells me what her burden is, and I pray with her. Then, I carry my bag of Sunday School materials to the sanctuary, make sure my kids got their snack, and go sit in my special chair.
I interpret the service into sign language for our deaf and hard of hearing members. My chair is in the front and faces the congregation, so I can see the deaf and the other faces in the crowd. I see the single mom who came on her only day off, and the time she set aside for God is a beautiful aroma to Him. I see the woman living with an unsaved, antagonistic husband, and her face tells me what a hard week it was. I see the empty seat where the woman I’m discipling should be sitting, and I pray she will come and grow. I see a faithful deacon and his wife who serve behind the scenes, and their unseen work is a blessing to us all. I see families who asked to meet with us last week. Each family spent an hour complaining about the things they wish we would change in the church. I pray we will be humble to make the changes we need to, and that my heart won’t be bitter against the criticisms. I see my husband sitting in the front. He got to church hours before the service. He has unlocked doors, sent out reminders, helped the sound system team fix glitches, and greeted every person. He is praying for God to help him focus and preach God’s Word to God’s people. I pray for God to speak through him. I look at my two precious children, sitting on the front row with the deaf. I pray for their little hearts to take in God’s Word and for them to grow up to love Him. Then, I pray for me. I ask God to help me in the midst of serving on Sunday morning. I desperately want to worship Him. I ask Him to please help me focus on Him.
The first song plays. I start interpreting what I hear in Portuguese into Portuguese Sign Language. Though I have thought about every word and put it out of my hands, I sometimes feel like a machine that is working without really thinking about or feeling the songs in my heart. I pray again to focus. The next song plays. I catch my breath. This is the song we all sang at the funeral for the young man in our church who died of cancer. I think of him whenever I hear it. I look up at his mom. She has a tear going down her cheek. I see his dad, filming the church service, and he is wiping his face. “Focus. Interpret. Lord, please help me think on you!” I close my eyes and sign the rest of the songs, thinking of the God I worship.
My husband gets up to preach. The sermon is exactly what I need to hear. I see faces in the crowd. I see them nod in understanding. I see their sly grins when a sermon illustration hits home with them. I see some look down and nod with conviction. I see others with their arms crossed, determined to keep the truth of the Gospel from touching their hearts. “God, please open their hearts!” I pray, while my hands keep interpreting.
By the end of the sermon, I’m exhausted. Through all the songs, sermon and announcements, I’ve been moving my arms nonstop for an hour and fifteen minutes. And that’s after the Sunday School workout I did the first hour! But my biggest challenge is coming next.
At the last “Amen”, a line starts by my chair. A woman wants to schedule a time to meet with me for Biblical counseling. Another woman has a story she thinks is funny and she thinks I should want to hear it. A group of ladies has a fantastic idea of how to help another church member this week, and they encourage me by letting me know about it. Somebody walks up to tell me I look a little fatter this week, and they wonder if I’m pregnant? (I’m not. That’s just another random thing that happens when you live in another culture, I guess.) I talk to our new visitors. I see the person sitting all alone, and I ask them about their week. The fellowship time after church usually lasts an hour. Around 2:00, the last person gives the last kiss good-bye.
I collapse into a chair. I rejoice for those who are growing in Christ, and I ache for those who are yet to receive Him. I need a good cry to get out all the happy tears and all the sad tears. But even more than crying, I need to do something else . . . I’m dying to go to the bathroom!
About the Author: When Sarah and her husband, David, arrived in Portugal in 2010, learning Portuguese & Portuguese Sign Language was their first task. Since then they have taught in local schools and after-school centers, built relationships with neighbors and co-workers, and begun two church plants in Montijo. Their desire is for God to be glorified in Portugal!
Learn more about their ministry by visiting their website: www.boothsinportugal.com