Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Cell Groups and Altered Reality

One thing I have been involved with almost from the beginning of my Christian life is cell groups. A cell group is a small group that meets outside of church, usually at someone’s house, once a week. It is lead by a cell group leader, who is responsible for running things. Depending on what the cell group leader decides, there is usually a meal or some food, served at the beginning or end of things. There is also usually a time for worship, a time for teaching, a time for sharing, a time for prayer, a time for praying and ministering to each other, and a time to fellowship. The order and length of things is decided by the cell group leader, who is a de facto lay pastor.

The idea behind a cell group is that everyone participates, relationships are formed, and people get to exercise their gifts and grow spiritually. That way people don’t just come to church on Sunday, and figure that’s it, but people become involved with things. It is a great way for people to find their spiritual path, and start living a real Christian life. I believe wholeheartedly in cell groups. I have seen great things take place- people change and grow, relationships are restored, healings of body, mind, and spirit, and all sorts of other wonderful things happen. You don’t normally see these things happen among people who just sit in church on Sundays. Because of this, and the changes they have helped make in my life, I like to get involved in cell groups wherever I go.

The first cell group I ever attended was in my spiritual home, Joy Fellowship Church in the Highbridge area of the Bronx. At the time it was one of the most dangerous areas in America. After awhile, I lead a cell group of my own there. I have also lead or been involved in cell groups in Colombia, The Philippines, Spain, Korea, China, and Malaysia.

After I moved away from the Bronx, I lead a cell group for my new church, Jesus is Lord Fellowship, in Toms River, NJ. It was quite a change from the South Bronx. The worst case of culture shock I ever got was moving from the South Bronx to South Jersey. It was a suburban, much more affluent area than what I had become used to. There were mostly white people there, and it took me time to get used to dealing with them again. The church itself was half Filipino, which did ease the transition somewhat.

After I was there for a while, Pastor Nestor Arellano asked me to lead a cell group, which would meet in a motel in Lakehurst. That's right, where the Hindenburg exploded. The motel was basically a dumping ground for welfare cases the authorities wanted to hide away from the general population. My members were alcoholics, drug addicts, and people with various mental illnesses, homosexuals, ex-cons, or different physical illnesses. Usually, people had more than one of these problems, in various combinations.

One day Pastor Nestor called me into his office, and asked me to keep a close watch on the people I brought to church. Not because they were acting up or causing problems, but because the ushers were afraid of them!

One of my cell group members was Greg. He had a whole list of problems: paranoid schizophrenic, alcoholic, drug addicted, bisexual, and I can’t remember what else. He was a really nice, caring guy, despite all that. He had been in rehab 13 times. Each time he was in rehab, he was elected captain or whatever it is, of his rehab group. Then two weeks after he was released, he would relapse, and the cycle would start over again.

One time he related during our sharing time how he used to think he was Jesus. He thought he had the ability to control time and natural events. He wondered why people didn’t recognize his divine nature, and worship him. Eventually someone did recognize it, and sent him to Ancora, which is the New Jersey state maximum security mental hospital.

While he was there, he found out he was locked up with six other Jesus’, three John the Baptists, two Elijahs, the Angel Gabriel, and a dozen Napoleons. That really must have made for an interesting dynamic in that ward.

He figured that if there were seven Jesus’, then six of them had to be wrong. When Greg tried to use his powers to escape and failed, he realized he must not be the Son of God after all. That cold harsh slap of reality was a major disappointment for him. It took him a while to come to terms with not being the creator of the universe, but at least he did.

There's a lot of people so called "sane" people out there I wish would have the same epiphany.