Spirit of the Living God

A Letter from Dori Hjalmarson, serving in Honduras

July 2018

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Whenever we invoke the Holy Spirit, speaking the language too deep for words, we can be sure that renewal and transformation are taking place. In my six months in Honduras, through the power of the Holy Spirit, I have not stopped experiencing such transformations of the mundane into the holy.

On a recent Saturday, I spent time with women of the Presbyterian Church of Honduras, as they fasted, prayed, and consecrated a retreat center that they are newly managing as a ministry of the church.

In pairs, we walked through the property, blessing the buildings and grounds: the dormitories, the chapels, the trees and grass, the entrance, the kitchen. We touched doorposts and tree trunks with hands carrying olive oil, and we prayed prayers of blessing. I was chosen with my partner to bless a large, partially outdoor structure that was previously a parking shed. New concrete floors have been laid, and a wall has been newly painted. Since the retreat center has been under new ownership, this room has housed several large gatherings, including my installation as mission co-worker in Honduras.

My partner María Elena and I moved from one end of the room to the other, on opposite walls, placing our hands on the walls, and the bits of furniture, and the floor, and we prayed individually for the transformation of this building into a new purpose, blessing all the people who will experience the presence of God here in the months and years to come. We met in the middle, grasped hands, and knelt in the center of the room. We each prayed, and then I sang a song in English, and she sang in Spanish.

“Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me,” I sang. “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.”

I haven’t sung this song in years; the last time I remember singing it was in my childhood church in New Mexico. I don’t know what made it pop into my head, except for the movement of the Holy Spirit, during this intimate Pentecost moment. María Elena and I agreed later that we both felt “transported.” The parking lot had been transformed into a sanctuary.

A few weeks later, another song helped me feel transported.

Soy bautizado como manda el salvador,
¡Qué grande gozo siento yo en mi corazón! …
Seguiré a mi Jesús,
Pues para mí lo del mundo se acabó;
Y ayudado de su luz
Proseguir en sus caminos quiero yo.

“I am baptized, as my savior commanded. What great joy I feel now in my heart! … I will follow my Jesus, because for me all the world is nothing, and helped by his light, I want to persevere on his path.”

This is the refrain of the song from the Pentecostal tradition that I learned one sunny Sunday morning in the southern coastal state of Valle. As usual on these overnight visits, I had been invited to sleep in the home of a church member. It was a typical home, five or six rooms built of wood and adobe, with a wood-burning stove, water pumped from a communal well, and hammocks swinging from rafters. The most prominent displays in the living room were photographs of the family’s two teenage daughters and diplomas they had earned.

The church community rose at dawn. After breakfast of eggs, beans and tortillas, we started on the path of Christ’s commandment, winding our way through pastures and front yards, past horses and cows, mango trees heavy with fruit, and up the rocky creek bed. Two guitarists led us in singing, and at the right time, when everyone had gathered, the denomination’s senior pastor said a simple liturgy, waded into the water pooling among the rocks, and baptized two young men, immersing them in everyday cloudy and gurgling creek water, bringing them back up into the light, reborn.

Life in the church Honduras has helped me to both simplify and complicate my understanding of prayer, liturgy and worship, and what it means to be Presbyterian. “For God chose us in Christ,” the letter to the Ephesians reads, “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love God predestined us to be adopted as God’s children through Jesus Christ.” This chosen-ness is both eternal and immediate, having taken place before the beginning of the world, and taking place again and again with every immersion of baptism, with every anointing, with every choice we make to follow the rocky road, up a creek bed, in search of Jesus Christ.

Continuing with the Ephesians, “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious One, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Christ better.”

Your faithful prayers, commitments of financial support, and letters and e-mails continually encourage me and gladden my heart. Your support has assisted Honduran women and youth to travel to the United States to network and promote their work among U.S. Presbyterians. You have helped continue theological education programs among pastors and lay leaders of the Presbyterian Church. You have helped transform a retreat and conference center into a vital ministry led and directed by women of the church. Some of you I have been able to greet here in Honduras this summer, and I am looking forward to many more opportunities to partner with you and help you encounter Christ among the people of the Presbyterian Church of Honduras.

Dori


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