I hated the old wooden pews in my family’s uber traditional Mexican church growing up. If I think about them too long, I can still feel the haunting pain in my tush incurred by sitting on those benches for hours during Sunday service.
By the time we sat in those pews, my family had broken away from their formal Catholic upbringing and had somehow made their way to what I can only describe as a small, “free-form” congregation of believers in our hometown. The pastor’s teaching was remarkable—I knew that even as a child—but the Sunday sermon was only a small part of the three-hour service.
There was worship and “specials”, communion and flag twirling, praise dancing and scripture reading, and after all that was said and done, and the message had been delivered, anyone and their mom was given the opportunity to take the mic and share their testimony.
“What is the Lord doing in your life right now?” A deacon would ask as hand after hand would wave in the air, motioning for the microphone. By this point, I was usually slumped down in my pew, sitting on my hands, praying that the feeling would come back to my rear end. Testimony time seemed like torture because ohhhh can sweet old abuelitas and tias talk and tell stories for days…
In all honesty, I don’t remember any of those stories about God’s goodness. I was young and ignorantly uninterested, solely focused on trying to escape the wooden torture devices we sat on. As my cousins and cousin’s cousins stood to speak, my mind wandered to the green chili smothered feast we would eat if we ever made it out of that sanctuary.
If you were to fast forward roughly fifteen years, you would’ve found me in a similar setting this weekend at Tanalian’s Spring Family Conference. (But praise the Lord our little village church has chairs instead of those horrific wooden benches…)
A friend of mine stood at the podium the first night of the conference and read Revelation 12 to a room of two hundred-some Alaskans–
“Now a war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for their loved their lives not even unto death.’” (Revelation 12:7-12)
When he was done reading, he looked up and said, “We have conference speakers this weekend, but our hope is that the majority of the speaking will be done by you. No one here will negate that Southwestern Alaska is dark. Some of you came here from villages where you’re the only Christians or where there are other believers but no pastor or church… This weekend as we gather, we long for you to be fed, but also hope you’ll beat back the darkness by sharing your testimony. We want to hear what the Lord is doing throughout Alaska; for the darkness has been conquered by the blood of the Lamb and and will continue to be by the word our testimony.”
Just like that, there was a steady stream of believers from all different ages and backgrounds who took the podium and shared some of the most powerful testimonies I’ve ever heard.
Some spoke in English and some in Yup’ik (the predominate Native language of our region). When simple words couldn’t express what needed to be said, songs sung with an acoustic guitar said what individuals couldn’t manage to. It was so powerful that every ounce of emotion in my body caught in the back of my throat and for once in my life I couldn’t even cry.
One man, a doctor in the village of Dillingham, stood before us and softly said, “I have pictures of my nephew being baptized in that bay, just out that window… He went home from here and later died a violent death. It was horrible. It was hard. But because of Jesus, we have hope. Hope changes things. Prayer changes things. Let us not be afraid to pray for people. Our family has confidence and hope that my nephew is with God because someone, somewhere wasn’t afraid to pray with him, just once, and that turned into so much more. Let us be a people who pray. Let us pray for revival in our villages.”
The mother of one of my students followed him at the microphone, speaking between heavy sobs. “Our people are wounded. Deep. Deep down. So deep. There wounds we have caused ourselves and generational wounds on top of those. But I’m here at this conference and I’m standing here now because I want our people to get better. I want so badly for them to know Jesus and be free from the anger, shame, scorn, devastation, lies, alcoholism, denial, fear, and drug abuse that has kept them captive for too long. Pray for revival in the ‘up-river’ people; pray for our people.”
I sat and watched, my momma-heart bubbling with pride, as my TLC students took the mic, reading scripture and rejoicing in the freedom and new lives they have found in Christ this year.
I listened with my jaw dropped as a woman, who I knew to be a recently active persecutor of the church several villages down, stood and publicly apologized for the way she had treated the believers in her village. “I was wrong, I see that now. I just want to follow Jesus. I just want my kids to read the Bible and know God’s Word…”
The testimonies and pleas for prayer went on for hours each day and it was glorious.
As if she could read my mind, my neighbor learned over and poked me in the ribs Sunday morning, smiled, and said, “It’s just like being in Mexican church, huh?”
“It’s just like home.” I laughed out in a whisper. “These people, they’re family… But thank God we don’t have those old school pews that makes your tush fall asleep. These chairs make testimony time so much more enjoyable.”
Would you join our family here in Alaska and pray for revival?
Pray that people would be awakened to the beauty of the Lord in our villages.
Pray for strength and grace for our isolated and persecuted brothers and sisters.
Pray that the church would be burning to tell the world of the hope that we have because of who Christ is and what He has done for us.
Pray we would live out of the truth of Revelation 12—that we can beat back the darkness by the power of our testimony. And that the testimonies we hear would stir us to a deeper love for Jesus, moving us to action to pursue those living in the darkness that settles in where there is a void of His light.