Above photo by Johanna Heidorn
Story by Missionary Pastor James Neuendorf, who serves in Ponce, Puerto Rico with his wife, Deaconess Christel.
We had our first in-person worship service in the reopening on Pentecost Sunday. We met in the outdoor patio of our earthquake damaged buildings rather than the much smaller rented location where we could barely seat 10 people under the strict social distancing requirements. Because of our position on the globe, Puerto Rican summers are hot, and Ponce is the hottest part of the island; but fortunately, our usual 3 pm service time just happens to perfectly coincide with the ideal angle of the sun for casting shade over our patio. Like clockwork, we set up the altar and sound system under a blazing sun, and the cool shade swept over the impromptu sanctuary right at 3:00. Having recently spent a lot of my free time being fascinated by precise orbital mechanics because of the recent SpaceX launch, the timing of it all really struck me. So much of what we are doing lately seems like we are making it up as we go, yet God was always a step ahead.
Church member, Luis, provided temperature checks and hand sanitizer for attendees. Photos by Deaconess Christel Neuendorf
The shade came from a quenepa tree that was probably planted when the historic house that is now our mercy center was built, perhaps 100 years ago. A church member reminded me that they were dealing with their own pandemic in Ponce back then. This type of tree is a symbol of the city, and every year there is a festival to celebrate the harvest of the delicious quenepa fruit, (you may know it as the Spanish lime.) The seedling of that tree made many trips around our sun before it was ready to provide that perfectly timed shade, patiently marching towards its purpose for 2020.
It was not only the position of the sun on the horizon, however, but of the earth around the sun. Pentecost Sunday is the day we celebrate the church emerging from its enclosure in the upper room and spreading into the whole world. We celebrate the beginning of a new era, the harvest that comes with God’s perfect timing. God had waited patiently since the time of creation for the right moment to pour out His Spirit on mankind again, to begin the harvest season of the righteousness of His Son. The seed planted at the dawn of the world had grown and put out its leaves to bear fruit, patiently marching its way to the day of the Lord.
In my sermon, to those gathered under the shade of that tree, I pointed out the implication in Joel’s prophecy which is cited in Acts, that the “Last Days” begin at Pentecost. I directed their attention to the crumbling towers and rubble all around us and asked, “Is this what the end of days looks like?” Perhaps we are all so concerned with determining the times and knowing if this is the end of the world, that we have forgotten what the “end” means to our Lord. It means that the long-awaited fruits of the tree planted long ago are ripe. It means it is time for the harvest! I directed their attention to the quenepa tree above them, filled with the tiny beginnings of thousands of fruits, (they will be ready to pick in August).
This is what Pentecost means, this is what God’s timing brings, and this is where we are at in our long trip around the sun. Our little congregation has re-emerged after months of lockdown. In the midst of the ruins of our city, you can see the little buds and shoots of new relationships, of interest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ for sinners, everywhere. We don’t know what is next, it’s hurricane season now, but all time is God’s time, and He has declared it harvest time.