Last Saturday night, after the leadership training session at the Lucero Church, instead of making a beeline for home, we all headed to a nearby rented hall. One of the girls in the church was having her fifteenth birthday. Here in Latin America that is a major event as it is seen as the girlâ€™s coming of age. A very elaborate ceremony is held, recognizing her as having left childhood behind and becoming a woman.
For non-Christians, the event is usually an excuse for a major drunken brawl. But when families become Christians, the church organizes the event to eliminate the drinking and to focus on encouraging the young lady to become a responsible Christian young woman.
As part of this ceremony, the girl is seated in front of the auditorium and someone delivers a charge to her, indicating her new status as a young woman. When it is done in the church, selected Bible verses are used to encourage her to live up to the standards of Christ. The ceremony ends where her father kneels before her and removes her shoes and replaces them with high heels, in recognition of her new status as a young woman.
Since this girlâ€™s father had abandoned the family many years ago, he was not there to do that honor. In the churches, for girls without fathers, an elder of the church is usually asked to fill this role as the church becomes her extended family. That was the case at Lucero as I was asked to perform this ceremony for her. So I charged her to â€œnot conform to the model of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of her thought-processâ€ basing my short teaching on Romans 12:1-2. Then I slipped off her old shoes and replaced them with her first pair of high heels.
Afterwards we had punch and cake. It was a time for chatting and fellowship as almost all present were members of the church. Since the ceremony had already gone on till eleven, the brethren encouraged me to leave quickly as the streets were becoming increasingly dangerous. I had already stayed beyond what was prudent and so took their advice. I left the area as the streets were eerily abandoned. I quickly descended the mountain and caught the main avenue.
Due to the risk at that time of night, cars were few and far between so I did as all other drivers tend to do at that hour: I drove fast and treated the traffic lights as yield signs. Since gangs often loiter at the traffic lights waiting for some unsuspecting driver to stop so they can attack and rob him, most drivers simply blow through the lights with only a quick glance to make sure no one is coming. There is no worry of getting a traffic ticket for running the red lights. The streets are too dangerous for the cops and so no policeman was anywhere to be seen. That is what I did as I made my high-speed run back to a safer section of town.
I made it back to our apartment after eleven; a rare occurrence for me to be out that late. But I am here to serve God and so ministry is the most important consideration. As Revelation 12:11 points out, those who serve God and struggle against Satan â€œovercame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.â€ While I do not shrink from death, I do ask for your prayers as I live and work in this very dangerous area of the world.