I’ve been thinking the past few days about Easter, and something that happened back in 2010. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but when I think about it now it’s pretty amazing. God really can transcend all boundaries, including language.
I was in Colon, Panama for a month of testing, and by the middle of the month I was missing Jenny and David something terrible. She was several months pregnant with John, and I just wanted to be there for everything. Every Dr appt and every ultrasound.
I missed church, too, and had been struggling to maintain my spiritual disciplines away from my wife and pretty much all accountability. I was the only believer on the test (that I knew of), and though there were several churches nearby, we could not leave the grounds of the hotel unescorted because they told us it wasn’t safe for Americans.
I badly wanted to just be around other believers, and to feel like I could worship freely, especially with Easter coming. Well, the Saturday before Easter ended up being pretty amazing.
We got back to the hotel from Ft Sherman a little late–there had been a long wait at the canal. When we walked into the lobby (which was huge), I could see something was going on. Workers were setting up risers, and there were several people milling around in full middle eastern costume. It seemed clear there would be some sort of Easter presentation.
I went up my hotel room to shower and change out of my work clothes (I’ve never sweat as much before or since as I did in those 4 weeks), and then stood for a moment in front of my room’s mini fridge: nothing but lunch fixings and a six pack of Balboa, one of the local cervezas. My instinct was to turn on the TV, order room service, and get started on the Balboa. I decided to go back downstairs instead. I put the 6 pack in a plastic grocery bag and headed down to the lobby to look for my coworkers and maybe check out whatever was going on.
I stepped off the elevator and just stood there, slackjawed. The lobby had been transformed into what looked like first century Jerusalem, and what had to be a choir was standing on the risers.
They performed a fully sung through version of the last supper, the passion of Christ, and the celebration at his return. These may have been Panamanian church locals, but they could sing their faces off.
About 2 songs in, one of my coworkers stepped off the elevator behind me, and I handed him my sack of Balboa. He looked at me for a second and said something like “I’m gonna go eat.”
I told him I’d be there in a little bit, and he wandered off to the restaurant. After a half hour or so, the passion play ended, and everyone in the lobby watching was still standing there.
Ok, I thought. What’s next?
Just then a slender man in a black suit who looked very much like the singer Marc Anthony walked between two risers holding a microphone and began to speak in Spanish. Clearly, he was a pastor, and though his delivery was too rapid for me to translate every word, I picked up enough. Certainly, the word Jesus is universal. He also used the word milagroso several times, and I understood enough to agree with him.
It was a miracle. Easter was, and Jesus himself was the largest miracle of all. Yet also available to all. He turned to look in my direction, and his eyes were so kind. He closed his eyes and began to offer an empassioned prayer. Just as he began, I felt a gentle hand touch my shoulder. I turned to see an older Panamanian man in a nice, but slightly threadbare suit.
He said something in Spanish, and followed it up with “pray for you?” in heavily accented English.
“Ok,” I said, and while I could see the pastor doing his thing, all I could hear were the gentle words of the man behind me. They flowed around me, and I felt myself come undone, just a little. I felt the touch and the comfort of my Savior through an old man praying for me in a language I didn’t really know.
He finished up, patted me on the shoulder, and went on his way. I eventually found my way to one of the lobby chairs and spent about a half hour just thinking about things, and praying on my own.
I don’t think God arranged that passion play just for me, but I also don’t think it was an accident. For about an hour, in a hotel lobby in Colon, Panama, Jesus was represented fearlessly, and pretty accurately given the place and amount of time the cast and crew had to work.
And as I sit on my couch in Arizona this morning, I think of the old man who laid his hand on someone he didn’t know and did the only thing that could have helped: he prayed for me.