“Hello John, how are you? I was hoping to visit your church down in the IDP Camp tomorrow. Would tomorrow be a good day to come?”
“Oh yes, Daniel. That would be very good. And you can preach too.”
That is pretty much how the conversation went. Much of this December break for our family has focused on getting outside the fences of RVA, experiencing a little more of Africa in it’s non-Westernized context. I had yet to visit the IDP camp despite John’s numerous invitations.
After some last minute prep on a sermon about the HOPE we have in Christ, I picked up John and made the drive down into the valley – about a 30 minute trip depending on how much damage you want to do to the undercarriage of your vehicle.
Attending worship there was truly a blessing. I am continually amazed at how little the language a service is performed in matters – the Spirit was there and God’s children were praising Him from their hearts. That much was obvious.
The first thing that stood out to me was that everyone in this community is involved in the worship experience. Forget the American ideal of hiding in the crowd of faces and following along in your Bible if you happened to bring one. Here you will be part of the ceremony – everyone performed, everyone got up front, everyone played a role in lifting His name together.
This unique aspect is achieved in the “presentations” portion of the order of worship. Common in many African settings, I’ve been in congregations where this consists of one, two or possibly three groups, offering a song, dance, or performance of some kind. Not here. I think I counted eleven.
First it was the children’s group. The kids stood up front, 4 or 5 rows deep, belting their song of praise. Then a soloist shared. Next, all the women in attendance got up front to offer a song and dance combo. The men followed, and guests weren’t exempt. We picked up a first-time visitor on our way down the hill; he was up front singing with the rest! Aren’t new-comers supposed to slip in and out of the back row unnoticed?
Following the men, the teens had a song to share, then a solo piece was delivered by Pastor John. The presentations continued; a short drama of the Christmas story from the youth, a few kids performed a rap, the Battalion presented (kind of like a Boy Scouts group), a quartet sang, and finally the mixed choir.
At the tail end, they called the other first-time visitor to the front, this time to deliver the sermon. Clearly the only white person in the building, I stood with John as my Kikuyu translator and I looked out at the 70 or so smiling faces. Every one of them had already presented; now it was my turn. They all seemed genuinely interested to hear what the mzungu had to say on the Sunday before Christmas.
Knowing only bits and pieces of the story of this place, I thought hope might be a good topic to share. Simeon, from Luke chapter 2 – he knew how to hope. His faith rested in the promises of God, and his confidence in the coming Messiah was rewarded as he held the Christ-child in his arms.
My goal was to connect the hope Simeon had in the promise of a Messiah to the hope we should have in light of His imminent return.
Funny how I could presume to have something to share with these people whose lives I know almost nothing about.
Funny how I assumed they would benefit from hearing about hope, how they must be depressed in their present circumstances, feeling privileged to hear from someone on the outside who could give them some good word, some piece of advice, some wisdom… some hope.
Quite the opposite took place.
Witnessing group after group come to the front, presenting their testimony of Christ’s faithfulness, His love, His unmerited blessings to undeserving sinners, I realized they were the teachers and I the humble student. I need the hope they have. I wasn’t going to open any of their eyes to some new and profound glimpse of the assurance we can experience in Jesus – they are already there. They live it out every day, more aware and well-versed in the hope of Christ than I may ever be this side of heaven.
I should’ve seen this coming. God has pulled the this-is-something-you-should-share-with-others-but-you-need-to-hear-it-more bit with me many times before.
We were preparing to leave when a few of the teens asked us to stay for juice. Although we were about an hour past when we said we’d be back, we decided to stay for a quick refreshment. It turns out the youth of the church had gathered a few hundred shillings to buy some loaves of bread and some juice concentrate.
They wanted to celebrate Christmas with us.
These are some of the same kids that John prays for every week, hoping he’ll have food to share with them each Sunday morning. And here they were, out of the generosity of their hearts, providing a Christmas dinner for us.
Considering their meager circumstances, this was an enormous gift – certainly one I won’t soon forget.
“For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” 2 Corinthians 8:3-4
Truly, I have much more to learn from them than they do from me.