“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep. And I fall asleep counting my blessings.” Remember that song from long ago? How often to we count our blessings while we’re being blessed? I had that opportunity this past Sunday.
Margarita and I went to San Salvador to attend a Celebration of Liberty in Christ at the First Baptist Church of San Salvador. It’s a large church not far from the National Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Savior. It’s not like our quonset hut-sized church in El Refugio. Their foyer is as big as our sanctuary. Their sanctuary could hold four or five of ours. There is a parking garage under three floors of classes, offices, and a conference room. So for provincials like Margarita and me it was especially exciting to walk up the steps to the glass doors just to look inside.
If you’ve ever visited a church not your own, your first impression comes from if or how you’re greeted. Spread throughout the sumptuous foyer were women in matching dark skirts and white blouses bearing in large letters their first names. Irene greeted us with a blessing and a copy of the church bulletin for the day, and asked a little about us before escorting us to a table where another woman sat taking our names and the church we represented.
Our greeter then invited us to a Sunday school class on the other side of the foyer. We excused ourselves to attend to nature’s call after two hours of rough bus riding and I gave Margarita a tour of the church. I’d been there several times before.
We were impressed by the hospitality in our first few minutes and further impressed as we entered the well-lit classroom. We begged pardon as we passed in front of the teacher and her laptop-projected lesson on the wall to sit in the chairs that were being set up for us as we approached. We’d missed part of the lesson but enjoyed her commentary on Deuteronomy 30.
Class over, we shook hands with many of our classmates and made our way to the sanctuary. We were impressed on everything moving on schedule. Not something we’re used to in El Refugio. We took our seats in the second row on the center aisle as has become our custom. I like to read lips in case the speakers mumble or abuse the microphone. Remember, I’m still learning Spanish and too many church speakers aren’t trained in diction let alone the use of sound systems. That makes it more difficult for me.
We were treated to some classical music on piano, two flutes, and a melodica (a keyboard that you blow into). It was lovely and mood setting in contrast to the tinny guitar, ear-shattering bass, tempered keyboard, and booming drums we endure regularly at our church.
A little before the appointed time, a pastor began the program. He announced the hymn and I opened my Baptist hymnal. To my pleasant surprise, the lyrics were projected on the front wall and I was able to lift my head to sing. As we got into the familiar melody I became aware of another blessing. I was able to hear my voice. Tears came to my eyes as if a miracle had just occurred. I almost never sing in our church. Even when I strain my throat I can’t hear my voice for the band. From lack of use, I felt my voice dry and cracking but also trembling with joy for the wonderful lyrics of praise and my ability to feel grateful to God for allowing me the added joy of tell Him so with my voice.
The special theme of the service, “God, Union, Liberty”, our national motto, brought another blessing. We sang the Himno Nacional, our national anthem. Its words are true expressions of love of country rather than a poetic recounting of a battle. The music itself has two themes, both singable. For me, it is always especially moving to sing this hymn because I am an immigrant and I don’t take my freedom for granted.
The Himno Nacional was followed by the Oración a la Bandera, Pledge to the Flag. It is recited a phrase at a time by a leader and we repeat. It’s quite long compared to the American pledge but it is filled with praises for the land, the sky, the crops, loving families, dedicated teachers (which always moves me), the ocean and more. The Salvadoran flag represents many things to the people and they learn this early.
Then a matronly woman blessed us with a brief history of the Christian flag. The children in the front row added their commentary. Afterwards, they each recited a Bible verse. Kids here learn Bible verses in church but in school as well. Another blessing to us as parents knowing that our Christian values are not just tolerated in public schools, but supported and augmented under the Constitution. No one is offended.
Three pastors gave the sermon, each giving the Biblical source of “God, Union, and Liberty”. For me as an immigrant from the United States of North America, it was part of my civics lesson as well as my Christian growth. This country is named for The Savior of the World. How many countries have such a Christian name and history. Oh, we’re not any more Christian in our daily lives than Americans or Spaniards, but it helps to have such a cultural background when evangelizing.
When the service was over, we were blessed with refreshments. Chicken tamale and coco-piña soda. If you’ve not had the pleasure of carbonated pineapple and coconut, you’re missing something special. The snack tided us over until our next blessing…lunch.
Two buses and a lot of rain later we were at Las Cascadas, a mall along the Pan-American Highway on the way back to El Refugio. It has THE Wal-Mart, an Office Depot, all the fast food restaurants you’d find in the States, and three floors of shopping. We chose KFC for our first stop.
Thoughts of KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway may not excite your taste buds, but to us these are rare treats. Not exactly haute cuisine but a lot more and better than most of our regular meals at home. Margarita doesn’t yet have the sense of an American plate of meat, potatoes or rice, and a green vegetable or corn. She serves small quantities that often leave me hungry but silent. So to eat three chicken legs (original), a bowl of macaroni and cheese, a side of cole slaw (salad to the locals), and an honest-to-goodness biscuit with all the Pepsi I could drink was a banquet. Margarita couldn’t finish her three breasts and ended up taking one breast and the cole slaw home. Just to enjoy a satisfying and tasty meal was a blessing.
Walking to the Wal-Mart had my country girl wife’s eyes agog. The clothes, shoes, furniture, appliances, jewelry, toys and games for kids, all of these things are rare or non-existent in our little corner of the world. San Salvador is so far from El Refugio, not only in miles and hours, but in our ability to purchase what we see. We’re none the worse for having what we have and don’t envy those who do. Still, one can’t help thinking how nice it would be if…
Wal-Mart is a super store. The food section contains more selection than our Selectos super market. Still, there were none of the foods I crave at times. There’s no kosher section, no sweet pickles, no liverwurst or salami. And other than corn flakes and Cheerios, all the cereals are sugar or chocolate. The clothes are cheap and cheaply made. No familiar brands of jeans or men’s shirts. It does have Fruit of the Loom and Hanes underwear and socks. We did by bubble liquid for the kids, a metal box of real dominoes for all of us, and another metal box with metal jacks and rubber ball and pick up sticks for Adriana. They don’t seem to exist west of San Salvador. So it was another blessing to be able to bring some goodies home for the kids.
It had stopped raining before we had to find the bus stop and head home. We found seats next to a woman with whom Margarita immediately had something to talk about while I sat one cheek in the aisle trying not to slip off the seat for an hour or so. The bus had no springs and that didn’t help. Still, we got to our stop quickly enough and it felt good to have our feet on familiar streets as we walked the several blocks to the house. Another blessing…even though most of the plastic on our roof has torn and blown off or down so that we’re back to leak watch when it rains.
It felt good to relax in my recliner surrounded by family while we watched a bit of TV. I was aware that all through the day I had been counting my blessings as they occurred. I felt good about that. With each new blessing I had given thanks to the One who bestowed them upon me. It wasn’t just words offered as a feelingless habit. I was truly grateful. The final blessing of the day came into our bed and curled up safe and secure in my welcoming arms. There, Margarita fell asleep. It had been a long day.