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Coxen’s Hole - Waterin' Place

Not Pentecostal, Please...

The sweat was rolling down my forehead and it wasn’t even 10:30 a.m.  We were in a collectivo with 17 other sardines, headed from West End into Coxen Hole.  I wanted to be with a Christian congregation on this Sunday and I was sure we would find a church in the city.  A fellow passenger helped me with ideas.  She danced around with her questions, very deftly exploring what "type" of service might be appropriate.   Listen in.

“Well, being dressed in shorts, you surely wouldn’t be permitted into the Pentecostal Church,” she smiled.  “That’s o.k., I said.  “I really am not up to a Pentecostal service anyways.”  Her smile said, "Gotcha' buster."

Next she suggested a Baptist church and my face must have been as telling.  I didn't even have to say anything before she continued,  “Well, there is a Methodist church in Waterin’ Place - - my daughter was married there before the hurricane.  It's a bit of a walk.”  Bingo.  We have a winner.  She graciously gave us directions on how to find it.  So in Coxen's Hole, Roatan, Honduras.downtown Coxen Hole, we hopped off the collectivo before any more fillings came loose and headed west as she had instructed.  I thought it was west, anyways.  I vaguely remembered her parting cue, “Look for a bridge past the docks.” 

We walked for what seemed like an eternity but we weren’t to the promised land yet.  Up ahead was a simple bridge over what appeared to be a creek.  Great.  Now, what did she say to do when we got to the bridge?  I couldn’t remember but fortunately an elderly man was resting against the bridge. 

Ah, More Directions...Again?
He was an ancient fellow and I noticed his left eye had long ago lost its battle with cataracts.  I stopped and spoke very slowly, aware that the blacks of Roatan without the tourist exposure spoke an island dialect that was very different from North American English.  Not many tourists came walking into this part of Coxen’s Hole, home to descendents of Africans from the Caymans and other Caribbean islands.

“Excuse me ... can you tell me … Where is … the Methodist Church?”  I rolled it out in measured phrases.  He paused for about 15-20 seconds before he ever so slowly pointed and said:

“Hill…” A good 5 seconds elapsed before he said, “Right...” as he motioned with his arm.  I took it that once we crested that hill, we were to turn to the right.  Well, I knew we were in Waterin’ Place.  He surely recognized the church that our fellow passenger had told us about.   I thanked him and looked at the hill that lay before us.  Heavens.

Just about the time we didn’t think we could walk any further, a path to the right appeared.  We turned there and within 2 minutes, we could see Wesley Methodist Church.  It was 11:05 a.m. when we entered the back door of the sanctuary.  The congregation was in the middle of a hymn.  Knew the tune but not the words.  I wasn’t sure how we would be received; each of us dressed in walking shorts and informal shirts.   

Come on In
Well, we entered Wesley Methodist church and were received like royalty.  A woman usher (they call themselves ‘stewards’) strode up to me.  I apologized in English for the way we were dressed.  She said in an accent that you would hear in Jamaica, “We are delighted to have you with us,” and with that, she grasped my hand.  She held my hand in hers aloft - - at her shoulder level and she led us mid-way into the assembled people of faith.  Although the way we had held hand made me feel awkward, I knew I was welcome, at-home, and valued.  In a completely different culture from my own, I felt like I belonged.  The mystery of faith. 

Images still come back from that Sunday.  The youth choir was all dressed in white shirts and often sang acapella.  The music was all in unison, without parts.  When I closed my eyes, I could hear the same tone, rhythm, and resonance that I heard at home from African-American youth choirs.  Underneath the sound was a unifying, underlying cultural sound from Africa.  I knew I was "hearing" Africa and all of a sudden, I felt myself going to a deeper level of racial awareness.  It was sound that had done that for me, not thought.  Needed to remember that. 

There wasn't a bulletin so I couldn’t accurately gauge the pending length of the service.  Having worshipped in Central America with Protestants before, I sensed we were in for a long haul.  I looked over at Dee and the poor girl looked like a beet.  It had to have been 90o  inside the church, despite the overhead fans.  Dee sat down and I reached into my purse, took out the ice cold bottled water I had bought in Coxen’s Hole, and put it to her brow.  Immediately, the same steward that had ushered us in was next to my wife, offering a very-needed hand fan.   

Say What?
The English used during the worship service sounded like some type of Caribbean English (it is called Island English in Honduras) and I only thought I had a handle on it.  During segments of the sermon, the pastor became more animated and his manner of speaking changed into an Island English that I couldn’t get my arms around.  At two times -- during the sharing of the peace and after church -- the congregation broke into the local dialect and I couldn’t catch the sense of it.  It sounds like conjugations get dropped and subject and object needn’t agree.  Some type of ‘chopping’ in phrasing occurs and I knew I wouldn’t be picking up a third language in this brief trip.  “The peace of the Lord be with you as well,” I responded as others warmly greeted us. 

I couldn’t believe the number of kids in church.  Just a few men in attendance and they were elderly.  Guess ‘religion’ is women’s work.  I don’t know.  Church lasted 2 hours and 20 minutes that hot Sunday in Waterin’ Place.  Yet, kids didn’t act out and I didn’t see any parents needing to correct behavior.  Periodically, children would leave for 10 minutes and return as quietly as they left.  Interesting. 

I am not sure why I hadn’t noticed it earlier, but when we went forward to share Communion with the parish, I saw a painting, a picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  There it was, hanging behind the altar.  Robed in a pink, flowing gown, Jesus’ skin tone was darker (and more historically accurate) than all the figures I have seen of him in North American churches.  As for the pink gown, I have no idea what that is about.  I will have to wait for what I hope is many more years before I find out for sure.

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