The evangelical church Manantial de Vida (Spring of Life) is a community made up of individuals from all over the world. Within the walls of this church, the level of studies, status of residency, or financial means of its members doesn’t matter. The community comes together through its love of God, as much as through the members’ shared culture and habits within this family of 400.
The Colombian woman dances with her tanned arms extended to form the infinity sign around her body. On her right hand, she wears her engagement and wedding rings. She also holds transparent and shiny flags, the one on the left is of a pinkish tone; the one on the right is white. Four meters to her left, with flags identical to hers, a man born in Peru dances as well. Between the two, a four-year-old Guarani boy, whose parents come from Uruguay, imitates them with his own smaller, purple flags. The rhythm of the rock praise song confuses her and makes her speak nonsense, babbling words she doesn’t understand. And she asks herself, “Why has God asked me to dance in church?” The only explanation that can be given is: “The Holy Spirit came down on me.”
Ana Chavarro never imagined herself like this, in the middle of an evangelical church in Seville, much less dancing with flags in her hands, but she received God’s message: “I want you to dance for me.”
Within the walls of the Manantial de Vida Church, Ana, along with people from 23 different countries, found a new family six years after moving 8,135 kilometers from Pitalito, in her native Colombia. For the community’s pastor, Manuel Lauriño Villazán, this fact is a reflection of the diversity of the kingdom of God: “I don’t even count the people or the countries they come from. But I say, ‘good,’ because my vision of the church is that it should be as close to heaven as possible. Because in heaven there are going to be people from all over the world, the more nationalities there are, the more this church will look like heaven.”
“The church is not something physical, it is us,” says Angel, 40, from the other end of the room, which is filled with informational brochures, where he’s trying to connect people in the community with Bible study groups by inviting them with a smile into a conversation about his passion, the word of God in the Bible.
It all began in 1994, when Manuel, a 61-year-old Sevillian whose face proves how joyful it is to live life within God’s will, found that the pastor of the evangelical church he attended had to leave Spain against his wishes. Manuel felt lost. There was a moment when he had to rethink things and thought, “What am I going to do with my life?” Then he understood that he had to create his own church. For nine months, Manuel opened the doors of his own home so that a group of believers could share the word of God in his own living room. After months of waiting, the community moved to a 60-square-meter facility in the Alameda de Hércules. That is where the pastor’s three children, Sarai, 32, David, 30, and Joshua, 27, grew up, before the community moved a little further north to number 3 Astronomy Street in the neighborhood of Pino Montano, one of the most populated and popularin Seville.
It took four years, a long list of volunteers, and everyone’s talents for the church to arrive at its current form in Pino Montano. No loans or money from outside were needed “…God is a provider,” says the pastor, to explain how even the tiles that cover the whole church floor, made of granite that would have normally cost 50 euros per square meter, came to be. We got them for only 10 euros per meter, from Galicia, at no additional cost.
All the effort they put in and the blessings they received to build the church are now put to use every week to welcome Sevillians, people just passing through, immigrants from many countries, the curious, and even journalists. Guests, whether they were welcomed years ago or just three weeks ago, feel like a part of the family within seconds of entering the front door. A couple from Ukraine, sitting on both sides of the door, greets everyone who enters with a smile. The woman is named Ana, and she is finishing her degree in Human Resources at the University of Seville; so, she asks for help checking her Spanish in her thesis project. She has only been in Spain for a year and still has difficulties with her grammar. She studies at a McDonald’s after her classes to avoid being distracted by her nine-year-old daughter. Ana works two jobs and studies to give her daughter a secure future.
The smiles at the door invite one to explore further inside. Worship music guides visitors toward the auditorium, where attendees, standing in front of their chairs in rows, sway to the music. When a new face enters the doors of the worship hall, a tall, dark man opens the door to the stranger. Those seated at the back of the church look at the newcomer with amicable and interested eyes, as if to tell him that he too is now part of the family, and that they are there for him. The songs that fill the room vary from slow to upbeat. Worship time is a party for everyone. The low, soulful voice of the Pastor’s youngest son, David, is strong and carries the powerful lyrics perfectly.
David, and his wife, Isabel, are part of the church’s worship band, whose mission is to unite and accompany the community in their praise of God through the power of music. The great hall of Manantial de Vida is filled with David’s voice and is reflected, through his movements and his looks, in the faces of his three children, the pastor’s grandchildren. Samara, the youngest of the three, bounces to the rhythm of her aunt Sarai’s leg, on which she is sitting. Samara’s laughter shines, as if she knew that her first birthday was only five days away.
Six months before Samara came into the world, her mother, Cynthia, called David with doubts. On the other end of the phone, Cynthia was crying after an ultrasound. David, alone in France for work and very worried, asked her for more details. “They have detected that the baby is going to be stillborn, and if the baby is not stillborn, then it will have Down syndrome,” Cynthia relayed what she had been explained. The doctors suggested an abortion, but David and Cynthia trusted that everything would go according to God’s plan. Once David returned to Seville, theywent to the community of Manantial de Vida and asked everyone to pray for them and for the health of their unborn daughter. The couple went back for gynecological appointments every two months to see if their daughter’s health had improved. At the end of each appointment, the doctors always suggested that Cynthia have an abortion, and at the end of each appointment, when asked, they both said no. If God had sent them a baby, they would receive it however she arrived. At the end of November 2018, a little girl with black hair and big, fascinating eyes came into the world. Samara Lauriño was full of life and perfectly healthy. “I believe in miracles, and now I have my own little miracle,” says David, describing Samara.
Cynthia and David felt closer to their two families, biological and church, at this difficult time. Their prayers were answered. Everyone heard and understood them. “Samara is a blessed child,” people in the church say. Even her grandfather, Pastor Manuel, speaks proudly of her being an example of God’s will.
Manuel travels to many churches around the world to preach. He has been offered multiple jobs as a pastor in churches in other countries, but his heart and family are in Seville. He preaches the Word passionately, but also uses jokes that make the whole room really laugh. A perfect mix so that the message remains in the minds of the faithful and so that even children are not bored. After an hour and a half of preaching a sermon full of personal anecdotes and Bible verses, there are whole families with eyes full of tears. They all get up, hugging and greeting those around them with kisses and blessings.
Before the congregation walks out the door, Sandra, the church’s singer, grabs the microphone and reminds them to donate to the Christmas boxes for the orphaned children and poor families.
– We want to have all the little boxes filled for the families to receive them before Christmas. Please don’t forget!
She is Sandra Woo, 27, who not only organizes the Christmas boxes, but is also the regular worship singer. Sandra has a charming smile, similar to those of film stars, and long curly hair, dyed red, which frames her tanned and freckled skin well. Sandra’s passion for music arose during her childhood, thanks to her father. Her talent led her to be accepted into a music production school when she was 17. But, school was not what she expected. “You are not a talented person who has an aptitude for music, capable of doing something good; you are a product. They make you the way they want to sell you,” Sandra says. One day, her voice started to crack. She was probably going to be hoarse for three or four days. But, after five days, Sandra’s normally soft and sweet voice was remained hoarse, and worsened until she could no longer speak and she had to start writing on paper to communicate. Her mother took her to a throat specialist, who discovered that Sandra had a paralyzed vocal cord. There are two vocal cords, one next to the other, at the entrance of the trachea. When a person speaks, or sings, the cords vibrate. Sandra’s paralyzed vocal cord prevented her from speaking, let alone singing. Doctors explained that the symptoms were caused by a strain on the voice. “The strain I had put on my voice didn’t really correspond to what it would take for that vocal cord to become paralyzed,” Sandra says. The diagnosis was that she wouldn’t be able to sing anymore, and, if she continued, her voice would get worse and turn into a whisper. She would have to go to voice therapy to learn to speak and breathe again, like a child. Sandra left the office crying. It seemed as if her dreams were slipping away from her. All the effort she had put in was for nothing. She was frustrated that she could no longer sing, or even speak loudly. So, faced with her disability, Sandra tried prayer:
– “God, I don’t understand what’s going on, and I want to know what your will is. Why am I like this now?”
– “If you want, you can have that and everything else. I’ve given you the talent, and if you try hard, you’ll succeed. You’re going to be well-known, and you’re going to travel around the world, but I want you to sing just for me,” Sandra says God told her.
Sandra had to choose. The love she felt made it easy. She recovered her voice after a few months without surgery, although she must take extra precaution with her voice. If she drinks cold water, she gets hoarse. Who knows, had she stayed in that school, if today she would be completely lost within the plan they had for her. Her passion for music has become stronger by worshipping God, in front of a room with about 350 people, getting closer to that superior being that she adores so much to the point of trusting Him despite her fears, simply by believing. At church, she is appreciated for her talent and for the support she gives to all those around her.
Ana Chavarro, who has spent in Seville the last 11 of her 45 years alive, is among those who appreciate Sandra’s voice, dancing to her songs with a strength enhanced by the Holy Spirit. For Ana, that first dance at Manantial de Vida was a powerful symbol through which God told her that He was with her, through all her doubts, fears, and joys. Ana, who together with her husband Dúber, is in charge of maintenance and janitorial services at the CIEE building in Seville, also knows what miracles are. In 2014, her mother, who was still in Colombia, got a hemorrhagic fever caused by the dengue virus and went into a coma. For 22 days, Ana felt that she would never see her mother alive again. She was lost until her daughter Constanza told her: “Believe in God that mommy will be saved.” On the twenty-second day, her mother was healed, and Ana was able to say to her mother, “I have been here all along, and I heard when you cried and prayed to God.” Ana gently wipes away the tears that slide down her face, so as not to ruin her carefully painted eyeliner.
Since Ana moved to Spain, she has helped other members of her family move here as well. Her husband, Dúber, did so in 2010. Since he arrived, Ana has been inviting him to church. Sometimes he goes and sometimes he doesn’t. She would ask, “Lord, I want to be right with you, but if my husband doesn’t want to surrender to you, then what can I do?” Ana was praying and praying, until one day Dúber arrived at the church and came to know God’s love. Likewise, since her nieces, Angela and Lorena, arrived to Seville in 2019 (Lorena less than a month ago, hoping to bring her husband and daughter soon), Ana has been inviting them too every Sunday to celebrate together their love for God. Every day, they enjoy being a part of this great family more and ore. “Perhaps, they feel what I feel, that peace and welcome that I have here with my brothers,” says Ana without hiding her excitement. •