Frederico Morales never had any intention of ever becoming a man-of-the-cloth.
He went to work. He gave most of his paycheck to his wife to run the household and kept back a little bit of “fun money”.
Morales came from Belén Gualcho, Honduras and his ability to speak English was limited. His literacy level was probably close to that of a third grader. He worked in concrete flat-work and general masonry repair. He simply did not need to know how to read to make a living.
A co-worker’s father had died and Morales went to the funeral. He remembers as clear as day that one of the readings was from Galatian’s Chapter Five: “Brothers and sisters, live by the spirit...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”
He put the “Celebration of Life” flier in the pocket of his one, good suit-jacket and left the church assuming he was done.
He woke up in the middle of the night. Restless, he removed the Celebration of Life flier from the pocket of the suit-coat. Not satisfied with his understanding of the words (in English) he found a Bible in the Spanish language in the living room.
That is where his wife found him at eight in the morning, still reading.
Frederico’s reading level had increased three grade levels in the intervening six hours. Frederico did not read at the level of a third-grader because he was dumb. He read at that level because he didn't practice.
On Sunday, Frederico dusted off his suit-coat, combed his hair and went to church on a Sunday. It was the first time in fifteen years that he had been to church on the Sabbath.
The preacher was a young man, fresh out of a very highly thought-of seminary in California. The readings he chose were the Old Testament account of Samuel’s finding of David and the New Testament account of Jesus the Good Shepherd. His homily was so cliché, Hallmark-Card sugar-sweet as to turn a fruit-bat into a diabetic.
The congregation was used to such homilies. As a church with 120 registered families in “where the heck is Fabulous Acres?” they were used to getting the bottom 10% of any graduating seminary class. And, as soon as those preachers had a year or two under their belt, well, they moved on to larger and more affluent congregations.
Frederico did not understand how that worked.
Two-thirds the way through the pastor’s homily, Fred stood up and announced “Eso no es correcto.” (This is not right)
The weedy, inexperienced youth behind the pulpit was flabbergasted. Never had any of the twenty-or-so congregants, nearly all ancient women, stood up and challenged him.
“What?” he stammered.
“Shepherds are bad-asses” Fred announced baldly. Belatedly realizing that was not the best language for church, Fred said “Shepherds and people who watch animals are fierce, like the wolves and bears and lions. They are not push-overs.”
The pastor, a young man who hailed from an affluent suburb near San Francisco, California looked down at the squat, sun-blackened man with the cheap haircut and huge (like pitchforks!) calloused hands and dismissed him.
“Jesus is love. Love doesn’t fight”
“I watched my mama’s chickens in Honduras. When the dogs came, I didn’t ask them to leave the chickens alone. I picked up rocks and protected my mama’s flock” Fred said.
The preacher doubled down. He flung theory and pop-culture-christianity at Fred. The preacher was offended that Fred dared to debate him. He was at a loss over Fred's simple, declarative sentences delivered in the uncomplicated grammar and vocabulary of an uneducated, rural person.
Fred spoke from his heart. He spoke from his experience. He quoted from the Bible he had been reading. Like many who do not read well, he had a very highly developed sense of recall.
After the service the preacher contacted the Elders and told them that Fred had to be prevented from attending future services.
The Elders were surprised that Fred had attended a service. They knew everybody in the neighborhood and could not recall any time Fred had been to church.
They interviewed some of the others they knew habitually attended that service and got their opinion. It is telling that this preacher was so weak than few of the Elders regularly attended his services.
Then they struck pay-dirt. One of the younger grandchildren had videoed the majority of the interaction.
Victor Aiello was the first to see the tunnel through the mountain.
A delegation of Elders visited Fred. They apologized for the “kid”. Fred said “Da nada”.
Then Victor asked "Frederico, would you be willing to work for the church on, say, Wednesday and Sunday as long as we paid you what you would normally make on those days, plus 10%?"
Fred observed "It would be hard to say “Si” if you asked for a Monday or a Friday because that is when my boss has the hardest time putting a full crew together."
"Oh, and by the way...I get paid time-and-a-half on Sundays. If you can swing the extra pay, I will give it a try."
Fred assumed he would be doing cement work on the church foundation and Wednesday and Sunday were the days when they could get him some help.
Victor thanked Fred for his time and said “We will get back to you.”
The Elders held a vote and unanimously terminated the pastor’s contract.
Fred became the new pastor. He preached with the passion of a man discovering God for the first time. He spoke in a sincere language that everybody could relate to. Pastor Fred's simple, muscular religion connected with people who did hard, physical labor and who had personally experienced the evils that roam in the dark waiting for a moment of inattention to devour them.
Payroll went down by 40% and attendance started creeping upward.
Notably, people who would not have been caught dead going into a church went to Iglesia Pentecostés Puerta de Refugio three or four times a year.
Unlike the former pastors, Fred had no problem with sporadic attendance. “Nobody goes to the doctor every week” he declared.
Sunday service attendance went from the twenties to the thirties and then higher. It topped out in the high fifties but if you looked at who showed up, the number of unique shadows that darkened the threshold were easily ten times greater than when seminary-graduated pastors ran the church.
Fred was happy. He had easy duty on Wednesdays and Sundays and it did not hurt him in the pocketbook.
The congregation was happy. They understood his homilies and they meshed with their view of the universe.
The Elders were happy. God willing, they would not have to hire another pastor for the next twenty years.
And then Gaia Liberation Front plunged a harpoon into the heart of America’s economy.
We get better at what we practice. Fred, who had never been much of a reader, had his reading ability grow to beyond that of a typical University Junior. That ability was bilingual. Hand him a Bible printed in English or Spanish and he could knock that sucker out of the park. Few people appreciate the intricate construction of sentences in the letters written by Paul. To understand them, you need to be able to hold many counter-balancing thoughts in your head at the same time.
Fred, whether by developed intellect or by Divine providence, saw the coming train-wreck. He saw that metropolitan regions of 400k people could not work without trucks running and with a hostile countryside. He needed to get his flock out of Fabulous Acres.
How do you drain the families out of Fabulous Acres before it catastrophically collapses? How do you keep that last few families safe as they wait to be evacuated?