I’ve been to religion before.I’ve been plenty of times.But before today, I’ve never been to Church.Today was Church.
We walked in to the service in progress. Apparently they’d been singing already for an hour or more when we got there and there was plenty more to go.
And sing they did.They sang a song that sounded like “alleluia”, they sang “Yes, Jesus loves me” in Kirundi.They sang and sang and sang.I realized as soon as I started writing how poor a tool words are to describe the beauty of the singing.Fortunately I got an audio recording of the whole time we were there.
The church is a simple building, probably mud brick covered in stucco/cement. The roof is made of metal sheets, the roof supports are raw timbers. We’re up in front, facing the congregation. We’re sitting with the pastor, the assistant pastor, and Prosper, looking out at the flock.
I wish I could say why or how this struck me so powerfully. I was near tears for most of the first half hour. The music just reached me in a way that was powerful beyond words. The people were all well dressed, as well as they were able, in their Sunday best. So it wasn’t like we were seeing the poverty that’s surrounded us all week up in our faces, but this music just got to me. I saw Wes with tears in his eyes too, and Bob said he’d teared up as well, so it wasn’t just me.
After awhile, there was a break in the singing. The pastor came up to speak – no, to exhort, to praise, to shout. He skipped back and forth across the stage, this little short man with a serious face, he got fired up and roared like a lion. I don’t know what he was saying, but it was inspiring just in the sound of it.
Then they started the SERIOUS music.We had the children’s choir, the youth choir, the men’s choir, the ladies choir, and then the special choir.Each in turn would start singing in their seats, then file up to the front and let loose.Wes spotted one older lady dancing and went down to dance with her for a bit.
The assistant pastor translated the meaning of each song. Each song said: God will support you in your suffering. The path to safety is through god. This is a church that is about providing a very real comfort to a very suffering people. This is a church that knows hunger and pain and insists on joy and on faith. We read Revelations 3:10-13 and it told about how god will protect his people through the end of time.
This was Church. Have you ever been to Church? If not, then you just don’t know. Ahh, listen to the music. I can’t tell you about it. Listen.
Prosper had told us we’d each be expected to speak a bit, and I was first up. I had been worried at first that I wouldn’t be able to speak without choking up in tears, and if I’d been asked to speak right after we’d arrived I would have failed. But a bit of equilibrium had returned, and although I was a tiny bit rocky at the start, I got on a roll, and said some things that seemed ok. I got some good response from the audience. I turned it over to Bob who said some very thoughtful things. We skipped over Wes, because he was supposed to preach, but Prosper spoke up about the 40×40 and the 10×10 and the good work of Wes’s little church, and how Wes had welcomed him into his home and church.
The pastor asked us our blood types, which seemed odd.But he was making the point, Prosper and I are both A+, we have the same blood, we are the same.
Then Wes got up to preach. He did an excellent job, talking about the great feeling of sharing with these wonderful people. He started to tell about his journey with god, through rebellion and reconciliation. …I’d thought Wes would be the warm up act; that the pastor would speak after Wes at some length, but when Wes was done the pastor made some few comments and wrapped us up with another song. We were invited to be in the receiving line, shaking hands with hundreds of people as they filed out.
It was of awesome beauty. But don’t take my word for it – listen to it yourself. Listen.