The City of Ponce, once the capital of the beautiful Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, has almost no signs with street names on it. This makes the use of a city map an arduous task. In the course of it, a lost driver might feel tempted to spend a good deal of words about it, while frantically turning the map this or that way.
However, should you ever set foot on the distinguished Plaza Las Delicias, the main square in town, when a cruise ship, letâ€™s say from Canada, has unloaded its passengers and doubled the population of the center of town within minutes, you will quickly understand: The swamping of the center square may be desirable from an economic standpoint; beyond its bounds only locals will find their way. The lack of street signs guaranties the stability of this arrangement.
Susan and I had the marvelous opportunity of spending a week with our daughters and their grandmother on Puerto Rico, which is the home of our next-door neighbor, of the prom partner of our oldest daughter, and of two of our fellow pastors in the Classis of New Brunswick. It was a most wonderful and also very educating time, and we thank First Reformed Church for making possible this great experience.
Puerto Rico is a world so different and yet so similar to ours here in New Jersey, and even this lush tropical society is dealing with rifts we know only too well. Just prior to departure, a fellow passenger introduced us to the island by stating that there are no African-Americans in Puerto Rico. Already a glance at the people waiting with us at the gate proved this statement wrong, and I wondered: What is the intent of talk like this? (And my back began to itch.) Yet, soon we learned that this troublesome position was by no means typical – we met a host of very divers and open people throughout our trip.
One day, however, we passed by a branch of the US Department of Commerce in Guanica and I spotted a huge signboard outside the building. It read, “American Jobs! American Values!” I wondered how the indigenous people might read these proclamations. Do these words entail a promise in their eyes, or do people shrug them off the way I did it with the banners of my childhood when they praised the “Soviet-German Friendship”?
And where was Mother Church in all of this? One might be misled by the fact that current issue of the 128-pages-strong travel magazine Puerto Rico: Travel & Tourism first lists a few houses of worship on page 127: three Catholic churches, one Episcopal church, three synagogues, and one Lutheran church.
Whatever town we entered, RincÃ³n, San GermÃ¡n, Ponce or San Juan, a Roman Catholic cathedral-style church invited passers by with open doors into the pleasant shade of a different form of faith and piety. These churches were never empty – and the people we saw were certainly not only tourists.
And here I wondered again: If we ever came together with people of a Puerto Rican church and talked about our faith, what would we learn about ourselves, about the way we understand the eternal truth? And how close would either one of us be to the vision of the one who started it all when he preached from a mountain in Galilee, “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are those who mourn; blessed are the meek; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”?
In the coming weeks, God has provided opportunities for all of us for such encounters and for growth and world-openness. There is no need to travel far; just pay your church a visit.
On February 5th, we will have a first session of a Moslem-Christian dialogue with members of the Raritan Turkish-American Foundation from Piscataway. We will start at 7:30 p.m. in Fellowship Hall and Randolph Room, and everybody interested is welcome. The evening will serve general introductions to our respective traditions; five more sessions with more specific topics are in the planning.
On February 18th, Rev. George Bitar from Lebanon will arrive in New Brunswick on invitation from the collegiate Reformed churches. Our church will host him from February 26th until March 4th. Â That Sunday, he will preach in our pulpit.Â If you are interested in learning about a Christian perspective in the Middle East, here is your first-hand chance. Our Invitation & Outreach Committee is asking for dinner invitations from us all for Rev. Bitar for each day of that week.
Best wishes to you, wherever you are.