So, my last post was about the big Nicaraguan celebration of the Catholic feast day on December 8 celebrating the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Since it's (a) a Catholic celebration of (b) a doctrinal point in which most (all?) Protestants differ from Catholics, the Protestant churches here eschew the holiday. La Misión Cristiana celebrates Día del Pastor (I think that is best translated Pastor Appreciation Day) on December 8th. We heard from the pastors at the regional lunch on Monday that different congregations celebrate according to whatever they have on their schedule.
This evening we were invited to the Seventh Church to share in their celebration of their five pastors. As always in this church, the music was phenomenal. It's encouraging to have been to enough services by now to recognize tunes and at least some of the words. I also seemed to have improved in my Spanish enough to get more words (still not all...) in the praying and preaching. The service was much like any other, with praise music, an offering, and a sermon. The extra bits were: a time where all five pastors stood up front and were greeted (mostly with hugs and words of gratitude) by everyone present, presentation of gifts (they looked like a nice supply of basic food, wrapped with cellophane and pretty bows, in a large sturdy plastic container of a very useful size), and having the pastors stand at the front holding hands in a circle while the congregation held hands in rows and prayed for them. A layperson preached, which is very common in the churches of La Misión Cristiana (the senior pastor of this church estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the members preach). She had the pastors come up and sit in the front row, and had a wide variety of reflections from various Biblical passages and words of encouragement about the role of pastors, as well as the ministry of all believers.
Another really cool thing about this evening was that we had visited this church before, shortly after arriving in Nicaragua. It was our first church visit, about 3 and a half months ago. They recently put in a new tile floor and expanded the sanctuary. It was just lovely to see such a tangible sign of their growth. They have also been through many stages of planning and then building more space ever since they started their after-school program for neighborhood kids years ago. They just can't keep their expansion up with the demand -- I think they have close to 300 kids (divided into two groups on opposite schedules), and would have more if they had room for them.