Smirna Pentecostal Church by Maria de Barre


Smirna Pentecostal Church in the tiny town of Elsa, Texas, has been front and center of my life. Who I am, and hopefully who I continue to be was learned there. My parents, like most Mexicans in our town, were Catholics when they met. After I was born, they tried to have me baptized. Because of my father’s, non catholic name, Saul, the priest refused to baptize me unless he changed his name. Lucky for me, my dad did not change his name, and my mom found Smirna Pentecostal Church.

From early childhood, my family and I worked in the fields, in strange towns, isolated in the middle of immense white cotton fields.  If any one of us got bit by a rattle snake or got sick, there was no thought of going to a doctor. My dad always carried a knife with a sharp blade in case of a rattlesnake bite.  God was our friend, our protector and our Physician. We prayed for the things we needed, mostly to find work to be able to eat. The days, months, and years were long. I comforted my self by singing the hymn, Jesus Loves Me, and soon mom, dad, brothers, and sisters happily joined in. Besides our family, and the patrons who drove up in their pick-ups to check our work, we had little social contact with any one else, until we returned to Elsa from working in the fields.

Church was the place where we could meet like minded families and develop friendships. Sunday morning services was where mom learned to read, by following the minister as he read the bible. On the rare times when it was cold, Mom hurried us inside where it was warm. Most often when we went to evening services it was so hot, the windows had to be opened wide.  Some of the more well to do Catholics, who lived within hearing distance of the church, looked down on us, saying that because we were so poor we had no other choice but to be Pentecost. I attended Catholic church several times, but was uncomfortable because I did not know the rituals. It was comforting to go back and be with people who shared my love of God and a simple unwavering faith. It did not matter what others said, I was happy to be back.

I was proud to see my mom, dressed in starched white, to attend the ladies’ meetings. Her sunburned face and hands contrasted against the white of her teeth and her dress. Most days she wore heavy work clothes, or a big apron over a print dress when the pastor and his wife came to visit. I loved to accompany her to evening services because Mirtala a girl my age played the piano, so I quickly made friends with her.  I learned the hymns, The Old Rugged Cross, and Wonderful Words of Life. We sang these hymns while the congregation, including my great-grandmother, grandmother and mother, filled with the Holy Spirit, hands held high, sang in the aisle, worshiped and praised God.

Several times a year, revival meetings were scheduled in different towns nearby. To prepare for them everyone in the church helped to cook barbeques to raise money to help the guest preachers, some who were too poor, to travel from Mexico. The men in our church would take care of the butchering and gathering of the mesquite wood, and set up the big metal containers for cooking outside.  My mom, in her apron made out of pretty flour sacks, helped the ladies in the congregation, to cook arroz, frijoles, roasted nopalitos, and fresh tortillas. I joined the younger folks, filling the plates and sealing them with foil, to be ready for people who came to buy the food.

  The evening of the revival, people from churches all over the Rio Grande Valley, and Mexico gathered with our family and the hosting church members in a huge tent. I remember sitting under the tent. Cool summer breeze carried the essence of orange blossoms from the orchards nearby. The intoxicating essence, mingled with the preacher’s mellifluous voice. “Be still for I am God,” Psalm 46:10. These words were imprinted in my heart. They are my compass, and the path I have followed unquestionably and assuredly throughout my life. I have known grief, I have known pain, hunger and thirst, but I have never felt alone or confused about who I am. I feel my life has been blessed, because as a child, my mother gave me the greatest gift: Faith, learned at Smirna Pentecostal Church.


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