t 22 years old, I encountered God as “the great mystery and fascination” in the poorest place I have ever been. I was halfway through my seminary degree and less than a year into my first job in ministry, serving as a part-time youth minister. Our church had made some connections with a missionary family in Nicaragua—one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the Western hemisphere—and I was able to lead my first mission trip that summer with a dozen high school students.
On the last day of the trip, the missionary told us he wanted us to meet someone: an elderly lady named Miss Ruby. He didn’t say much about Miss Ruby, just that she stayed at home most of the time, but from her house she held Pentecostal prayer meetings and worship services, preaching to whomever might show up.
As our group drove toward her neighborhood, I was getting legitimately nervous for our safety. Unemployment in Nicaragua is so high that the neighborhoods are filled with men, especially young men, who often resort to crime and street warfare in order to survive. People were walking up to our van and checking us out. When I think about that van ride, images of Somalia come to mind. It seemed like we were driving further and further into pure, ungovernable chaos. I was scared.
Finally we made it to the home, the shack that we were looking for; Miss Ruby was standing outside. She was one of the shortest people I have encountered. She had lost many of her teeth and wore an old dress with her dark hair pulled back. She looked both ancient and full of life, like a sensei. She spoke pretty good English, which was itself mysterious. Why would anyone living in that neighborhood need to speak English? She invited us in.
The house did have a roof and electricity, and the front room was big enough for our group to uncomfortably pile into. She was very welcoming, even as none of us really knew what we would be doing there. As if the scene couldn’t get any stranger, Miss Ruby pulled out a guitar, sat on a chair, and started singing Pentecostal worship songs that we knew in English. We all sang along. Then she opened the Bible and shared something. I cannot remember what it was. But what happened next I would not believe if I had not been there.
Miss Ruby began to go around our circle and pray for each one of us, one by one. These prayers were not general; they were so specific that I was trembling. Before she prayed for each one in our circle, she would ask questions about them.
“Young man, how long have you been adopted?”
“Young lady, why do you question your husband’s love for you? He has special love for you.”
“Young man, why do you fear all the day long?”
She went person to person that way, revealing an awareness of their situation back home that was absolutely hair-raising. I was the last one to be prayed for, so I had plenty of time to stress over whether or not I had any secrets that were about to be outed to the whole gathering in her living room. And when she came to me, she told me things buried deep within my heart. She told me exactly what I was there in that slum to hear.
“Where can I go from Your Spirit?” the psalmist asks (Ps. 139:7 NASB).
Who is this Pentecostal God, sneaking around, putting words into people’s mouths, into their ears, wooing them to places they may or may not want to go?
Joshua Rice, Ph.D., is pastor of leadership and community development for the North Mount Paran Church of God in Marietta, Georgia. This article is excerpted from his book, The Jewish Centaur: Adventures in Pentecostal Spirituality. [email protected]