is Arbol de Vida’s driving mission, says Paul Moshesh.
Paul, one of the co-pastors of Arbol de Vida (Tree of Life), the Hispanic Congregation which has been sharing space with us at Blanchard Warrenville since last February, met with me this week here at the church office.
He’s an inspiring Christian: a gifted culture-blending leader who listens carefully to God’s voice and believes He is on the move in our community with the power to radically transform people lost in darkness without the hope of Christ. Recently laid off from his job of six years, he believes God is using this to move him toward full-time ministry as Arbol de Vida’s pastor.
Paul’s had a lifetime’s worth of sorrow, too. He lost his dear wife, Irma, after a protracted five-year battle with colon cancer a little over a year ago. So when I explain my anxieties over my recent brain surgery with him, we share an instant affinity. Although he’s not experienced significant illness himself (though it’s been an all-too-close companion in his life’s journey); I treasure his understanding counsel and his prayer.
Paul is what I would call a prototypical leader for the contemporary American Church in the 21st century.
As a South African immigrant, fluent in both English and Spanish, his own story enables him to nimbly maneuver between cultures, with an intuitive (and beautifully humble!) understanding of what it feels like to be an “alien and a stranger” in this world–a world reflective of the ongoing demographic changes in our society right here in these Western suburbs of Chicago.
Both the Church and I desperately need Spirit-led partners in ministry like Paul and his co-pastor Fernando at Arbol de Vida.
As an Anglo-American pastor, I am prone to propagate my own culture’s assumptions of what the Church should look like–though I have been a missionary to Cambodia, I still tend to make unintentional and, sometimes, harmful and inhibiting assumptions about what the Church should look like. It’s a subtle, slippery slope–assuming that one’s own upbringing within the Church is the most natural depiction of what God’s Church looks like. But what makes my white, Anglo perspective more genuine than Paul’s Afro-Latino tapestry? It doesn’t take but a moment to recognize that all three are equally an articulation of God’s unfathomable creating personality. In a very real and important sense, I can deceive myself into believing that, as an Anglo-American, my own cultural glasses capture a richer sense of God’s implicit character rather than seeing God through the intertwining prism of multiple Christian cultures in worship of their Creator coming together as one–much like that penultimate worship service depicted in Revelation Chapter 7:9 (NIV)
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe , people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice [notice it’s only one voice despite the rainbow of cultures represented] “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Paul and I spent some time this week syncing our church calendars for 2011. I already know that one of next year’s highlights will be our second joint Good Friday Service. It’s hard work to be real partners but it keeps us on our toes. Here’s another example: while Arbol de Vida holds an important Easter Vigil on Saturday, April 23rd, which requires the full use of our sanctuary stage, they’ve already offered to help us at Blanchard by setting up our hot tub/baptistry late that Saturday evening for our morning baptism service the following Easter morning. We’ll serve each other and be better for it in the end– presenting a more well-rounded, future-minded vision of the Church for the people of Warrenville, I believe: and better understand the colorful complexity of our awesome God, too. The need is the call, indeed.