Spanglish Worship celebrates ‘God of all languages’
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Illuminated by the soft amber light of a dozen candles, Edwin Lopez commands the stage during an acoustic performance at Grand Canyon University’s Sunset Auditorium, painting every word he sings with emotion:
“Glorioso, te cantamos/Glorioso, lo gritamos/Cristo, te alabaré/Tú nombre exaltaré,” he belts out, singing the Spanish translation of B.J. Putnam’s “Glorious” during the campus’ first Spanglish Worship Night: “Glorious, shout it out, and/Glorious, make it louder/Jesus we shout Your name/Jesus, we make Your praise.”
The music feels much like the University’s weekly Chapel service, which rings out inspirationally every Monday morning from GCU Arena. And much like Chapel, the music Lopez emotes also feels very intuitive to those attending.
It feels close to the heart.
It feels like family.
It feels like home.
But what is different about the service: Its music and messages embrace two languages — Spanish and English — and two cultures.
There also was talk of serving champurrado — a Mexican beverage similar to hot chocolate. Alas, organizers broke the news that champurrado wasn’t to be this time around.
“As it said in your flyer, come worship our God of all languages, because He truly is the God of all languages,” Lopez told the 60 or so students and staff attending the service.
Spanglish Worship Night, which debuted in December, was organized by three GCU students who wanted to feel the embrace of the types of services they experienced while growing up — services they knew other students might be craving, too.
“I wanted to do it because I felt like there wasn’t anything like it, really,” said Briseyda Payan, a sophomore Worship Arts major. “We have Chapel, and it’s all directed in English. But I know that there’s a Hispanic community here, and I know that this was something that is necessary.
“As you can see, people came, and it was good.”
Payan once served at a Hispanic church before she started to attend GCU Chapel, but “I was missing the Hispanic community — the vibe. So this was nice to get involved and get to do this.”
Payan reached out to Lopez, who told her the same thing — that he wanted to bring a Hispanic worship service to campus.
“For me, specifically, I come from a Spanish traditional Pentecostal church. That’s my home church, and so I always have a hunger when I don’t see Spanish worship involved in some way, or at least bilingual,” said Lopez, a senior Worship Arts major, GCU Recording Studio assistant and worship/youth leader at Iglesia Pentecostal La Senda Antigua in Phoenix. He also is a lead vocalist at Monday morning Chapel and performed a few weeks ago at the Songwriters Showcase at Canyon 49 Grill. “That’s what I do at my church as a worship leader is custom arrangements, including as much as we can that happens within the mainstream Christian world and bringing it to our communities.”
There’s a yearning to be included, he said, and knew there was a need on campus for this type of service.
Just after Halloween, Payan and Lopez met at Roadrunner GCBC with Chloe Childerston, who is majoring in Christian Studies with an Emphasis in Global Ministry and Spanish.
“We just talked about our heart for what we wanted tonight to be,” Payan said, “and then the Lord just started putting everything together for us.”
Lopez added, “We all just had the same heart for wanting to see something different, something that brought unity and something that brought God in a more transcendent way than what we’re used to. … We cooked this up and as soon as we got together, people started texting us, and random people were excited and interested.”
The event came together quickly, in just three or four weeks. It brought hope, positivity and a sense of community to students at a time when they needed to be uplifted – during finals.
Besides the acoustic praise music, the service included a talk in Spanish by Rubén Hernández of the Family Worship Center. GCU Student Conduct Coordinator Kayla Fonseca translated his words into English.
And the service, which the students arranged in partnership with GCU Global Outreach, included viewers from South America via Zoom who participated in a Spanglish Zoom class for the campus’ English as a Second Language ministry this academic year. It included participants from Peru, Ecuador and Guatemala who wanted to learn English and partnered with a GCU student who wanted to learn Spanish.
Spanglish Worship Night was part of their graduation from their Spanglish ESL group.
“So truly, this is something that goes beyond you and this room,” Lopez told attendees.
Childerston, who learned Spanish while doing mission work in Ecuador, said she was pleasantly surprised by the turnout for Spanglish Worship Night, since it was such a last-minute event.
“It was so cool that there were people who don’t even speak Spanish who wanted to come. I love that. It felt like a little piece of heaven to have two languages,” she said.
The students already are planning future Spanglish Worship Nights. The hope is that the December service is the first of many.
And champurrado? It’s always a possibility.
Said Lopez, “This was a dream we had. We just obeyed God.”
Senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.