On Sunday I attended the morning service at Santiago Community Church, a non-denominational English speaking church in the heart of the city.
We were made to feel like part of the church family and were welcomed by name during the announcements. The hymns were the old fashioned kind that we use in the Free Presbyterian Church at home and were accompanied by a talented choir.
Ailsa – my sister – and I went out to the youth group which was led by a very enthusiastic and gifted teacher! They were doing a series on the Pentateuch, which is interesting because a lot of youth groups tend to shy away from law books like Leviticus because they are too heavy. A good teacher is able to interpret these books in light of the liberty of the New Testament and make them accessible even to kids.
After the service there was tea and biscuits and we got to know the congregation. People came from all over, many were native Chileans and there were also people from England, Ireland, Canada, the USA and more. They were very friendly and even dropped us off afterwards at an Italian restaurant that was very good.
This got me thinking about other churches I have been to around the world and the aspects that make them so special. Northern Ireland has many, many churches. This is both a blessing and a curse. Churches split and schism over issues as pedantic as the colour of the carpet, whereas when you are abroad there may only be one English church to serve a 100 miles radius, if not more. This set up means that the smaller issues are not quite as divisive and people of many different denominations can come together and focus on the centre of Christianity, which is Christ.
I had a particularly good experience in Japan where we attended two churches, Mitaka Evangelical Church and Yokosuka Baptist Church. The former is a missionary church conducted in Japanese with the provision of an English interpreter, and the latter is a church that primarily serves the American naval base at Yokosuka as well as reaching out into the wider community. Both were very good with regards to worship, preaching and fellowship and I hope I can go back some day. These churches are an example of putting 1 John 1:7 into practice: “but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
I have only had one bad experience with a church abroad. Two years ago we were in Los Angeles for Easter Sunday and attended a PCUSA church. I have no complaints about the service itself but we felt rather isolated. Asides from the man who shook hands at the door, no-one spoke to us.
This could be because there are so many guests at Easter, but nonetheless it didn’t make a good impression. Of course I’m not implying that all American churches are like that!
I do not intend to slate the Northern Irish church either – I love my home church and think many of the churches at home are great. However, I think in Northern Ireland we are too spoilt for choice and we are guilty of expecting the church to meet all of our specific tastes, and if a church cannot meet these needs we simply abandon it. From these foreign churches we can learn that we are blessed to be able to attend services, read the Bible and fellowship with others in our own language and that we should thank God for what we do have rather than moaning about what we lack.