The San Joaquin Valley is referred to as the Bible Belt of California.
There was a time when Turlock held the record for having the most churches per capita of any city in America. We no longer hold that distinction, but it has to do with the increase in population rather than the decrease of churches.
Churches in our city worship in buildings that range from ornate edifices with long histories to living rooms in private homes. In between are any variety of large and small churches and groups renting facilities from other churches or in other buildings. There are congregations who meet in buildings they bought and turned into sanctuaries. There are churches who have outgrown their buildings and have built new facilities and now use their old buildings for outreach and other purposes.
I have the privilege of belonging to two local ministerial associations: Turlock Evangelical Association of Ministries and the Central San Joaquin Section of the Assemblies of God.
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I love Turlock and its Christian uniqueness.
In Brazil, the Assemblies of God is much larger than here in America. But in the state of Amazonas, there are isolated communities with small congregations not blessed with buildings in which to worship.
Just recently, a group of five men, including Garrett Schlegel from One Church, Bethel Campus, representing the Northern California/Nevada District of the Assemblies of God, met seven men from First Assembly of God of Jay, Okla., at the Miami airport to go to Manaus for the purpose of erecting a church building on the Amazon River.
At the Manaus airport, we were met by second-generation missionary Mark Lemos. That name is recognizable because he came to Turlock in the early 1970s to live with his aunt and uncle, Dave and Alice Fliflet. Being raised in Brazil, it was easy for Mark to set soccer-scoring records at Turlock High School.
The first day on the job, the pastor told Mark they had been praying for 14 years for a church building. That emotional high would make the few days well worth the effort. I am sure the group from New Life Christian Center who made a similar trip a year ago could echo my sentiments.
The welding of the trusses, standing them and screwing roof panels on was accomplished in one and half days, ahead of schedule.
The highlight of the construction was the service Thursday night. In the afternoon, a young man pulled up to the shore near the church with a drum set in his boat. In the community of about 80 people there is a congregation of 20 people, but on that Thursday night there were more than 20 locals there. The excitement was rampant. They are looking at an accelerated completion of the building with final dedication in a year.
I love being part of the Christian community here in Turlock, but experiencing the excitement of other Christians and working alongside them is well worth the time and effort.
I brought home a kilo of Brazilian coffee beans and a stuffed piranha.
Belarmino is a community columnist for The Bee’s Opinions section.