When my host family told us that we’d be going to church, I thought I knew broadly what to expect. To an extent, I was right– a few worship songs, a sermon, and a closing song, just like church back home. What I didn’t expect, however, was to sit in the pew dumbfounded as the service seemed custom-tailored to convict me. Every minute, as I read the words of my translation, I felt more and more like God wanted me here, hundreds of miles and an ocean away from home, to hear his words in a language I didn’t know.

Worship opened with a few hymns and led into more contemporary music. One of the latter songs was entitled Bondade de Deus. The piano intro was eerily familiar to me, though I couldn’t put my finger on why. The lyrics solved my confusion, a Portuguese translation of Goodness of God

Because of my personal history with it, I don’t normally like that song when it comes up in worship. The first time I heard it was shortly after losing my dad, and the words left a bad taste in my mouth normally. Here, though, it was different. Somehow, stumbling my way through singing along in my poor imitation of Portuguese felt right.

After worship, the pastor gave a sermon about putting your life, community, and relationships in order, cutting out what stands in the way of our path to holiness. I figured it would be like my home church, where I could half-listen and mostly just daydream. Very devout of me, I know. Instead, I was awestruck by the pastor’s words and passion, hanging on every word. He preached about King Jehoshaphat and the work he did to reorient Israel and himself toward God. My own relationship has been more performance than reality recently, going through the motions without any heart behind them. The pastor spoke with fervor like he was desperate to inform us that without God, we had nothing at all. We needed to put ourselves back in order.

I know it doesn’t sound like the most groundbreaking message to many, but it changed everything for me. Sometimes, you need to hear it from someone who doesn’t know you for the message to sink in.

Outside of the message, the service was much like church in America. The structure was practically identical to services I attended in the U.S., even down to the songs we sang for worship. The largest difference was what happened after the service. Passing the peace is a known tradition in the States, but Brazilians demonstrate passing it much more intimately. I was ready for a string of firm handshakes, but I wasn’t exactly expecting to hug literally every single member of the congregation.

Even still, that level of intimacy (and obviously the language) was practically the only difference I felt. Even across the ocean, church still could feel like home.

Igreja Presbiteriana Do Brasil, my host family’s home church


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