In late September of 2018, I began a journey that started in Rome and ended in Kathmandu. In Italy, my purpose was witnessing my older brother’s ordination into the diaconate of the Roman Catholic Church. In Nepal, it was to witness God’s church at work in the majority world and come alongside brothers and sisters building it in a hostile environment. One week ago, I returned from Guatemala and El Paso to see what the people and the church there have been able to accomplish by uniting in the face of unstable governments, danger, and significant socio-economic disparity.
All three locales share similarities. Tourism is a significant part of their economies. They have terrible traffic and excellent food. They represent ancient civilizations, which have seen many battles and conflicts. But their differences are stark as well. Rome has arguably sound infrastructure, reliable access to electricity, and clean drinking water. It does not have significant slums, just less affluent areas. It does not worry about monsoon season floods polluted with sewage, or huge earthquakes. Neither Nepal nor Guatemala can boast these same features.
While in Italy, I visited a multitude of ancient churches, heard ethereal choirs of nuns sing vespers at sundown, and participated in rituals that honor and celebrate the grandeur of God not only in word, but in sight, sound, and smell, especially the ordination mass at the Papal Basilica of St. Peter’s in the Vatican City. In Nepal, the Christian church is much younger, smaller, scrappier, and tucked away. Structures are mostly cement, the bottom floor of an apartment building, or a converted old house. In Guatemala and El Paso, you have a combination of the two: everything from the Spanish colonial style cathedrals to small evangelical churches tucked away between corrugated tin shacks in slums outside of trash dumps.
When we go on pilgrimage together, one of the most consistently bolstering parts of our explorations is experiencing the unity and solidarity of the body of Christ the world over. In the name of Jesus, we were warmly welcomed in so many places where it would be strange or even dangerous to welcome foreigners like us. We worshipped in the homes of people who live in some very dark places, but who are called to be a light there, shining for Jesus. This reminded me time and again that our God knows no boundaries and doesn’t exclude anyone from the invitation to His embrace. Also, the people who make up the body of Christ all over the world are full of things to share and witness to bear to what the Lord is doing in their midst, and how he is leading them. The stories they carry of their own faith and what God has done for them and through them is enough to encourage the most despondent of hearts.
In places like St. Peter’s Basilica, the storied architect Bernini, who designed the enormous colonnade on the piazza outside the church, designed it so that it would mimic the arms of Christ, reaching out into the world to gather up and welcome in all who would come into the house of worship. That colonnade is made of marble and ornately carved stone in a cosmopolitan European capital, but the same idea applies to the small houses in narrow, dusty streets or far-removed rural homes putting on kids camps and Alpha courses in Guatemala. Except in those cases, it is often arms of flesh and bone that reach out into the poverty-stricken streets and encircle their neighbors with the love of Christ, whether they’ve ever heard of Him or not.
God taught me again and again of His love as he revealed himself in so many unexpected places on three different continents through Christians of every tradition. These people pray for us, their brothers and sisters in Christ, and our own very different struggles at home. This coming year, groups from Coracle will worship in the UK on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, dive deep into Virginia’s history of slavery, spend time at yet another border between Israel and Palestine in Bethlehem at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in June, and return to the thriving yet persecuted church in Nepal in November. We invite you to join us!
Please pray with us for the global church, and that we may all be further united in mission and in purpose to bring the Love of God more and more into the fissures and tears, to bridge and heal divisions and historically entrenched conflicts. You’ll be hearing more about all of these partners in the days to come and you can also pray about opportunities to see them in action yourself in the coming months and years. Email us with questions! Thank you for being our brothers and sisters, a bit closer to home, and for staying with us on the journey!