Photo: Jaime Cazares (right) and his family. Photo provided by author.
This is a web-exclusive article on the theme “Journeys with church.” For more stories on this theme, see the November issue of The Mennonite.
When we read about the early church, such as in Acts 2:42-46, we tend to focus on the ideal church and forget that it was made up of ordinary people who had their struggles. While the church was flourishing there was also pain, and as the church increased in size, it also faced internal problems.
Today’s church needs not only to focus on the times when things go well but be aware that dissolution may arise. We need to remain united and keep fellowshipping in every stage of the church’s life.
I spoke with church members and attendees about how they think of church.
The first person interviewed was a man I work with painting houses. I knew him for years in Newton, Kansas. His family attended Iglesia Menonita Casa Betania at that time. Ever since I’ve known him he has not been interested in church, but he agreed as long as I didn’t use his name.
He said church “is a way to come to know God.” The reason he did not attend church, he said, was because he had a bad experience with church leaders fighting over him. He had been a youth leader and had preached. He went to another church, he said, “because that church did not value my brother, and when I went to another church, the two pastors were fighting with each other because members were following me to the church I went to.”
Still, he added, “I will consider attending a church with my family.”
I’m now pastor at Iglesia Menonita Aposento Alto, a young church plant located in the north part of Wichita, Kansas, where many Hispanics live. I asked my church members if I could interview them. They all agreed but wanted it to be part of the worship service. So we arranged the chairs in a circle and let people talk. But we did not get far because they shared their stories with passion. Many shed tears as they talked about the comfort the local church brings to their lives.
Imelda Ordoñez Samaniego said the following: “Church is a temple or sanctuary meant to edify. Standing together and worshiping plays an indispensable role and nurtures and sparks spiritual fire.
Church is a home, a brotherhood and a blessing. “It has been very positive. It’s where I learn to have faith and always be in the love of Christ Jesus. I attend church to worship together the holy name of God. It is a commitment to God, out of obedience to his word. I find profit, food for my soul, comfort and relief to share my tribulations and be encouraged with the organic fellowship that takes place every Sunday after worship.”
Jenny Paredes, another member, told her story and affirmed her parents instructing her to put God first in her life. Her dad was Catholic and her mother Protestant. Her passion to read books led her to search for the meaning of church, and she found John 8:32: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” She found a church where Jesus would be followed.
Abigail Lopez is a new believer. It was inspiring to hear her relate her experience with such passion. She said: “I attended another church and felt like a stranger, but here I feel like I’m in a family because. I attend church because I get nurture by reading the Bible, and I plan to keep on coming.”
These uplifting statements reminded me of the Anabaptist view that “Jesus is the center of our faith, community is the center of our task.”
Jaime Cazares Jr. is pastor at Iglesia Menonita Aposento Alto in Wichita, Kansas.