It was during my travels in Brazil, that I took notice of the Evangelicos(Protestant Christians are known so in South America) and their church. A friend mentioned that there was a rise of Evangelicals, that challenged Brazil’s relatively liberal attitude towards an individual’s sexual preferences. Homosexuality is a no-no with most Evangelicals. A Brazilian gay friend’s Evangelical family hadn’t accepted him for years, precisely for this reason.
As if that wasn’t enough, there was an Evangelical church at every corner of the favela where I was learning to play drums. Their prayers were intense and the pastors were no less than motivational speakers. Only that they are a lot more animated and commanded greater control over their audience. People would raise and sway their hands up in the air, many with tears in their eyes during these services. It seemed bizzare, even to someone who was born into Hinduism, a religion with 30 million gods and roughly the same number of rituals.
The Church opportunity in Colombia
Good advise that I have never followed, on the walls of Church of God.
But it wasn’t until I reached Colombia that I had the opportunity to understand Evangelicalism a little better. A friend of mine had invited me to an Evangelical church which his mother was a part of. Equipped with some difficult questions, I rode my cycle to interestingly named ‘Church of God’ in Southern part of Cali, Colombia’s third largest city. The service started with a smartly dressed pastor talking people about the power of being good; etc. Regular stuff, isn’t it? I was almost thinking the afternoon was going to be a mighty boring one.
Plus, a shot too many of aguardiente the previous night meant my eyes had the propensity to shut at the hint of anything boring. But things did get interesting after a while, the famous hands in the air sequence soon came into play. Most people at the service went into deep introspection mode while doing this. Then, live music followed and a girl with a soulful voice sang songs of Jesus(though that is purely a guess, she was singing in Spanish).
The church prayer circle
When the service dispersed it was time for the prayer circle. These circles can be quite intense too, it is common to spot people crying. It was then, that I was put into a spot. One of the pastors invited me to join the circle and wanted to pray for me. And since I accept all invitations except the ones that involve hara-kiri, I obliged. There I was in the circle with the pastor and others asking the Lord to bless me and keep me safe in my travels. Though I wasn’t sensitive enough to cry or even feel the ‘high’ that believers do, I did not mind the prayer and the positive energy. I also wanted them to pray that thousands of cute Colombian girls should fall for me, but good sense prevailed and I kept that to myself.
The experience was near complete, except one thing – a chat with the pastor. My friend led the way and helped me translate since my Spanish was pretty poor back then(and continues to stay the same). The pastor seemed quite forthcoming, probably he hadn’t anticipated my unpleasant questions. As expected, the pastor told me that the only real god was the one they believed in and the real knowledge was in the Bible(old testament). ‘You may believe in some other god, that does not make you bad. I can only pray to our god so that you start believing in him. And may be that is the reason why you are here. But whether you believe in him or not, you will always be welcome here’, I was told when I asked if it was true that Evangelicals do not accept other faiths.
On homosexuality, he said, ‘We do not hate homosexuals, even they are welcome here. But yes, we will make the effort to cure them of the disease. Because the Bible says, not I, that there are some rules in life.’
That was that, their position on homosexuality and other religions. My questions meant that an invitation to a long chat was unceremoniously withdrawn. It is true that Evangelicalism is not as inclusive as other faiths in Latin America. But it definitely is a force to be reckoned with. So much so that the Catholics are worried. The National Catholic Reporter reported a decade ago about the threat from Evangelicalism in Latin America. Since then, the evangelical movement has only strengthened. So clearly, a fringe religion it is not.
The best part
Food, glorious food.
Just when I thought that the day at the church was over, something I love more than my faith was on offer. That was some lip-smacking food. And let me put it this way, I came for the faith but stayed for the food. At least in that sense I was a convert.