Sunday, June 12, 2016

We arrive at church while it’s still mostly empty, as usual, and take our seats on the appropriate side of the sanctuary. The canned music that precedes the service extends into the village through the external speakers and serves as a call to worship. People arrive as the music plays “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” with Swahili words, of course.

Within a few minutes of 8, Ferdinand, who again is the moderator, begins the service. We now know what to expect as the service proceeds: singing, testimonies—which seem a little sparse today–more singing, and then the choir.

I’ve been anticipating this more than usual. The Tumaini children who are in the choir have urged 3 of our group—Jonathan, Lora, and Jojo—to participate in the choir. That means dancing along as 3 or 4 vocalists sing. Our kids really want to do it, so we’ve talked about it this week. My main concern is that whatever we do in the service be about the community’s worship and not about the wazungu’s performance. I’ve discussed it with Beth and Rachelle—will this be a sideshow, a distraction? Or will the locals see it as a respectful participation in their genuine worship? Beth says that she believes it will bring rejoicing to the hearts of the church members. So we’ll give it a try. The 3 have been attending choir rehearsals all week; I’ve told them that they need to decide whether they’re ready enough to not be a distraction in the service. They say they’re ready. So here goes.

As normal, the vocalists stand at the front on stage right, and the choir assembles on stage left. Our three take their place among the others. The music starts, and with it the simple dance, with some swaying, waving, clapping, shuffling. I’m watching everybody in the room—Pastor Samson, the adult church members from the village, Leonard (the choir director), the missionaries (Beth and Rachelle). Are they worshiping, or are they giggling?

It’s pretty obvious that they’re not being entertained; they’re continuing in worship just as they do when the wazungu aren’t up there. The choir does two numbers, both well received. Several ladies ululate, as they do when they’re pleased.

After the music comes the sermon. Pastor Samson steps into the pulpit, all smiles. He address the 3 of our group, clearly pleased with what he’s seen, though of course we can’t understand what he’s saying. The church reinforces his words with “Ameni”s.

Cultural respect. It communicates when words cannot; it breaks down barriers; it unites people who have little obvious to connect them otherwise. It’s 1 Corinthians 12 in action, parts of the body differing greatly from one another but being united in one body anyway—and working together in ways that only God could empower. That’s an answer to prayer.

After the sermon there’s the offering and then a fairly lengthy discussion involving several men and women in the church who stand and express their opinions. I find out later that they’ve announced the final offering toward evangelism that they’ve been conducting for several weeks. A lot has come in—some 600,000 shillings ($300). The discussion is about what to do with it. And when to meet to talk about it. Some want to talk about it now, since we’re all here. Others want to wait for the regular business meeting on Wednesday. Finally they decide to talk about it Wednesday, and we’re all dismissed.

Done around 11—an hour earlier than last week. We walk with the children across the compound in the bright sun, enjoying the beauty of this day of rest. Chai is uji and the usual Sunday boiled egg. We sit and chat until lunch (rice and beans) is served around 1.

There are things to do for the rest of the day, though it’s generally light. There’s choir practice this afternoon at 3, and of course our contingent will be back with them. Jana is going to a ladies’ Bible study this afternoon and has asked our girls for help with the kids, also about 3. Supper’s at Beth’s at 6, then wazungu devotions at Dan and Jana’s house after house devotions with the children. So pretty light, as I said.

Supper is chicken wraps and fresh vegetables—fresh-picked cilantro with the wraps—and then house devotions with the children. In the boys’ house, Jonathan has the devotionals for the week; he’s doing a series on people in the Bible who disobeyed, and what happened to them. He starts with Jonah. I don’t see any of the boys glancing nervously in the direction of Lake Victoria, so we’ll see what happens.

After sending the children off to bed, we walk down the hill to Dan’s house, where we’ve been invited to have a group sing with the electronic keyboard. Rachelle brings her violin, and we sing for an hour or so. It’s encouraging, uplifting, unifying.

Tomorrow begins what will probably be the most challenging week of the trip: 5 straight days of teaching, with group sessions, reading time, and random social interaction with the children. And the Crew is tired, with this being week 5 of the 8 weeks. Here is where they come to the end of themselves and learn to depend on divine enablement for their strength. Prayers much appreciated.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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