The term couldn’t more aptly describe the monolithic structure taking up nearly a full block of Downey’s wide but quiet-on-a-Sunday-morning Woodruff Ave.
“Megachurch” usually implies a steadfast congregation of roughly 2,000, and if what the Llamada Final pastor’s wife says is true and about 1,600 folks attended this morning’s service, 1,700 darkened the doors of the Inglewood branch of the church in the afternoon, and 900 more made it to the evening prayers, this church certainly fits the bill.
Having seen room after room of the building stuffed with rapt faces, and having noted each hallway lined with filled seats set up for those spilling out of the main sanctuary and those rooms, I’m inclined to believe her calculations.
Those not fortunate enough to sit in the church’s main room follow the service and the pastor’s words from a television propped from the ceiling. Speakers flanking each side of the screen blare the Guatemalan-born Otto Azurdia’s fervent voice from out of their depths, powerfully conveying his message to even those seemingly hidden from the sanctuary, tucked into a remote place and watching his back-and-forth pacing as well as listening to his professionally inflected voice from afar.
He instructs the crowds to be ever willing to give God everything He desires. “God does not want more than what you have,” he booms in Spanish. “If you have two things, he will not ask for three. But you must be willing to give him those two you do have.”
Azurdia remonstrates what he deems the American tendency to be greedy and ungrateful. “They are accustomed to having too much,” he begins. “They go eat, and they leave with toy cars!” he snickers, noting what he feels is the embarrassment of riches surrounding but unnoticed by the multitudes within his adopted home. “But we from the old country know better. We know what it is like to go without, and we must not become like them! I scoff at the women who come to complain to me, ‘I did not get a chance to buy a dress this week!’” He continues disparagingly. “Oh, boo hoo!”
“You must not be like them,” he snarls.
Each statement draws impassioned responses from the seated. Some brandish their fists at the screen, howling at the American indulgence along with their pastor, crying “amen” after his words. Others croon to their babies, one eye to their leader, another to their souls. My neighbors methodically underline their bibles in red, adding in margin notes as a counterpoint to Azurdia’s doctrines.
Why they’ve chosen Pentecostalism is still a mystery. Why they chose this church is another. But these thousands have done both, and I look forward to uncovering the possible reasons this fervor may be so widespread among Central Americans, those most would likely expect to be Catholic.