On a quiet, sunny Sunday at Gran Pacifica Resort, our first morning there since arriving the day before, my wife and I finished breakfast and took a long walk along the beach. We headed south along the unspoiled stretch of Pacific Coast beach, toward the freshwater San Diego River tributary marking the southern border of the resort property. As we walked through the shallows of the river, we saw ahead a crowd and heard vibrant singing coming from shade trees at the edge of the beach. Intrigued, we decided to walk over to get a closer look, but hopefully without disturbing the crowd of 30 to 40 people, seemingly villagers from the local Villa El Carmen region.
Worship at the River
To our great surprise, we had encountered an outdoor Christian worship service, evangelical in nature. The group was singing hymns of praise accompanied by live keyboard and guitar players, who were not in perfect tune but jammed enthusiastically nonetheless. Many eyeballs glanced our way, and I feared our presence was becoming disruptive. And then a young woman walked to us, greeted us in broken English, and said this was a worship service. She asked if we were Christian, and when we smiled and affirmed Âyes,Â she broke into a happy grin, spoke a few words to her colleagues, and returned to her singing. Soon after a preacher, wearing a long-sleeved white shirt and necktie, started his sermon, holding his Holy Bible, and speaking entirely in Spanish.
As we understood not a word, we decided to resume our walking, and departed the amazing gathering. Eventually we turned around to loop back to the resort. To our amazement, as we approached the group again, from the other direction, we saw that the worship service had ended, and that the congregation en masse was walking toward the river for baptisms. A procession of villagers walked into the cool river one at a time, escorted by family and friends. The preacher met each one in waist-deep water, spoke earnestly, point by point.
When each person agreed, it after pinching the nose, she or he was dipped into the river and drawn right back up again, newly reborn in their Lord. Many villagers with cell phones and cameras recorded the scene, with smiles and applause and singing. It was a refreshing, fulfilling time of spirituality for us. We were amazed at the desire of these locals to draw closer to God.