Monday, June 23, 2008
Some mornings, I’m not particularly in the mood for church African style. I know that sounds horribly unspiritual of me and would get me kicked out of many missionary circles, but its true.
In some ways, as wonderfully vibrant as the worship is and as profound as the preaching can be, sometimes church in
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not making a comparison of African church and American church and saying one is better than the other. The are both wonderful. But they are very different and I’m simply saying that I am at times very aware that I haven’t been in Africa long enough to always feel at home during services here.
So, it was with these thoughts chiseling away at my peace of mind that I dutifully made my way to a church in one of the shanty compounds in Livingstone on Sunday morning. The service started at 8 a.m. and we arrived just as the first chorus was getting underway. We entered and were escorted to the front, as we always are because Africans are so gracious and honoring of their guests. As much as I admire them in this, again, there are times I long to enter a service anonymously and take a seat and worship the Lord, just as another member of the congregation.
As the service began and the first few songs finished, a man began to make his way to the exit that was near where we were seated on the side of the church. He was weeping, and was having difficulty walking and I wasn’t sure what was going on. The pastor, seated next to me, got up and helped the man out and quickly returned without saying a word.
Then as the next song started what had happened to the man that walked by, began to spread. First the worship leader, a sort of big lady, just fell to the platform floor right in the middle of a song. Other members of the worship team started toward her, as if to help her, and then backed away realizing that she had collapsed because the power of God had come over her, and not due to illness. They draped a cloth over her legs to preserve her modesty and continued with worship.
Then, within seconds, a second person on the worship team went down, and then a third. Soon, people in the front two rows of seats began to be overcome by the power of God and fell to the floor, some weeping, some convulsing violently as though a struggle between light and darkness was being fought within them. All over the sanctuary member of the congregation became overwhelmed by the power of God and for two hours this whole scene repeated itself to varying degrees.
I have seen some real abuses of what some have called “being slain in the Spirit,” a term that refers to a person collapsing under the power and presence of God. Some say it is all a show and would say that the practice is not found in the Bible. Others would go so far as to say it is of the devil. I have seen ministers who in their zeal to see a move of God have resorted to practically pushing people over so that the person being prayed for would “go down,” as though God wanted them to go down, but needed a little help to make it happen.
But this was different. No one was laying hands on any of these people (though laying on of hands is certainly biblical). One by one, they were falling to the floor, many weeping hysterically, some convulsing violently and there was no doubt that the Living God was among us. There was no one to point to and say “ahh, this person is stirring up this hysteria by getting everyone all excited.” No. It was a sovereign move of God and no one could take the credit for it because it happened all on its own. At one point I looked over at Paula and she too was crying and when I sat down to see if she was ok, she said “Yes. I’m just getting blessed.”
The church we were at that morning normally has two Sunday services. One at 8, and the other I think at 10 or 10:30. What was beautiful about what was taking place though was that the pastor didn’t stop what was happening because there was another service. By the time the second service was supposed to start, we still hadn’t concluded the worship and prayer time, because obviously God hadn’t concluded the worship and prayer time. Instead of shutting everything down though, the pastor at about 10:30 invited those who were waiting for the second service to come in and he just rolled the two services into one.
As the worship time began to wrap up the pastor had called another person from the congregation to come up and lead in worship and he began to lead us in the most joyous praise I have ever been a part of. People knew that they were in the presence of God. That reality was inescapable, undeniable. We all knew that something truly Holy had happened that morning and the whole church erupted with dancing and singing and one couldn’t help but join in. I tend to be pretty conservative in my worship, at least by Pentecostal standards, but I found myself dancing and singing as I never had before. Rarely do my feet leave the ground in church. I tend to do most of my dancing on the inside, but that day, it was impossible to keep my feet still.
As I reflected on the thoughts I had left home with that morning, and my longings for the familiarity of the church back home, I thought about what a privilege it was to have been in an African church on this particular Sunday. I realized that sometimes that longing for the safety of the familiar can keep us from the discovery and experience of the wonderful. And I realized, or maybe just remembered, that church isn’t about style. It’s about being in the presence of God. It’s about the fellowship of believers and about encountering the One true God and yet it so easily becomes about so many other things. It becomes about the style of music we love and cherish or it becomes about being with good friends or about hearing good preaching, nothing of course being wrong with any of those things. But I’ve noticed that if I’m not careful I can become a church critic picking apart this and that aspect of the service and all together missing the whole point of being there. Because the truth is, all of those things are secondary, and in fact are subordinated to the purpose of our church services, which is to bring the people of God into the presence of God.
I couldn’t help but wonder if I had been the pastor of that church on Sunday morning, if I in my western worldview, would have dogmatically stuck to the program (because after all there is a schedule to keep and people are depending on me to keep it), or if I would have thrown myself wholly into what God was doing, as Pastor Kobella did.
And sometimes here, I really wonder who is teaching who.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I spent most of last week nursing my wounded ego back to health by singing “Jesus loves me this I know…even if no one comes to my seminar.” I realize that this doesn’t rhyme at all but that’s ok because I’m about as musical as a stick of celery. Anyway, I’m thinking of publishing the song in a book called Hymns for Him. You see, men have egos roughly as fortuitous as eggshells and we occasionally need a little affirmation. The truth is, we’re all Humpty Dumpty. I say that more to just hear myself say it, rather than to actually inform anyone because most women are well acquainted with this fact (it turns out), and so are most men.
It’s just more fun to pretend we aren’t.
We had the second of our youth seminars on Saturday, and I am delighted to inform you that we had 17 kids show up and consequently I sort of felt like Benny Hinn preaching to the multitudes (only minus the white suit, the big hair and the dispensational theology).
The whole thing has been educational for us. We have discovered some challenges that we hadn’t planned on, and begun to see what works and what doesn’t.
One of the most interesting things we discovered was during the very first session of the first day. We were talking about dreams. The idea was to get the kids talking about their dreams in life and then to talk about what kinds of things might prevent those dreams from becoming a reality – things like sex before marriage, or drinking beer or not going to school. What really shocked me though, was that everyone’s dream was virtually the same: to have a stable job. It was that non-descript and that simple. Not to be an astronaut or a doctor or a firefighter or anything like that. Just to have a job. Any job that you could go to day after day, week after week, year after year so that you could take care of a family.
The most sobering moment of the seminar came during one of the activities that reinforced a lesson. It became apparent that one of the girls, who looked to be about 14, couldn’t read. She didn’t tell anyone, and was clearly wanting us to think that she could. I imagined how hard life must be for her and it occurred to me that illiteracy is probably more widespread than we know. This reality will create its on set of challenges as we plan future events.
The best thing that happened though was that we seem to be inching toward becoming friends with these kids. I think at first we were just a couple of weird white people doing the weird stuff that white people do and were looked at with a mix of curiosity and skepticism. But after the first session we had a wonderful little discussion on soft drinks. We had tried to explain to some of the guys that in some parts of the States, soft drinks (called “softies” here in
To which one particularly bright guy named Elvis said, “in that part where they call everything cokes, how do you order a Sprite?” Smart kid.
Another of the kids came over to our house earlier this week and was helping us with some stuff, and he casually mentioned, “I really love your teachings. They’re so practical.”
And as quickly as he had fallen, Humpty was back on the wall.
Life is good.
Monday, June 09, 2008
All week last week I was looking forward to this weekend. Partly because I was excited about doing our first youth seminar. I was excited about the seminar itself, but I was also excited about the idea of being able to sit down afterward and write the mother of all blog entries. I had it all planned out. I was sure I would be reporting on hundreds of people getting saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, among them the town witch doctor, the owner of every bar in Livingstone and the mayor (not that the mayor should in any way be associated with witch doctors or bar owners, mind you). I was sure that by Sunday I would be writing to tell you that during our seminar a revival had broken out and that the anointing of the Lord had so come upon Paula and I that people were lining up outside our home hoping that our shadows might fall on them as we passed by.
But, as it turns out, that’s not quite what we have to report.
We didn’t exactly have the100 people show up that I had hoped for. In fact, we didn’t exactly have 50. Or for that
I’m pretty sure he was sent by the devil to mock me. “Hey, this looks like a GREAT seminar. Sorry nobody showed up. Guess you wouldn’t mind if a lizard sat in would ya?”
So, we had ten people show up, and none of them were witch doctors or mayors, and our shadow ministry is well, it’s non-existent.
And ok, I admit it. My ego was a little damaged. We had secured the biggest church in town, which is practically a cathedral by African standards, and we had spent all week preparing and planning and then, the day of the seminar…8 people from the church that hosted the seminar showed up, and two from another.
It was ten people though. And these weren’t just any ten people mind you. These ten young people, I’m pretty sure, are THE MOST AMAZING young people in all of
So maybe our first time out wasn’t akin to Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost when 3000 got saved. And I’m fine with that. Really I am.
But then again, maybe it was. And maybe we just have a tendency to count the wrong things sometimes.
I mean after all, Jesus started with only twelve. And no lizards.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
We arrived back home last night about 8 o’clock after being away for six weeks. We were very excited about finally being in our own home, about sleeping in our own bed, and about getting a little rest. The road to Livingstone is worse than ever. I don’t even know if you can say the road has potholes anymore, as there are more potholes than road. I guess a more accurate description would be, the potholes have a little road left. And for much of that last 60 kilometers, it was faster to drive on the unpaved shoulder than on what’s left of the road.
When we got to the house, feeling as though we had been for a ride in a washing machine, we discovered what looked like the
“Uhhh…there’s a river coming out of our very open kitchen door!” I said to our guards. “How long has this been like that?”
“About three weeks,” they said, trying to look as shocked as we were.
Three weeks! I thought about that for a second, and made a mad dash to the front door. As I stood sorting through keys and matching them to the right lock, I imagined a veritable lake in our house, our furniture floating around like big cushiony buoys, some guy paddling a dugout canoe down our hallway, casting for Tiger fish. Small children diving off our countertops, using large pots and mixing bowls for make-shift boats. I got the door open and rushed into the kitchen. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared, but bad enough. A pipe joint had come loose under the sink and so for three weeks, water had poured out like a fountain; like a big, fat, watery, kitchen-hating, fountain of evil and destruction.
So, after a trip atop a washing machine and after what seemed like an eternity away from home, the vision we had of a relaxing evening quickly vanished. We shut off the valve and started the massive job of cleaning up the lake in the middle of our kitchen. We pulled the now warped kickboards off the bottoms of our brand new cabinets and found more standing water and mud.
When we finally got to bed, I think we were too tired to sleep and I lay away thinking about our youth seminar that begins this weekend. With lots of planning and preparation to do, this was about the last thing we needed. Although, I guess nobody ever needs something like this.
So, we’re working on getting back to normal, although “normal” is a rare commodity here. But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe missions is best done, when we come to the end of ourselves and say in desperation, “God, I really need your help!”
I have been meditating on John 6 lately, and the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand. I think the lesson Jesus wanted to teach the disciples that day, when He asked Philip where they should buy food for all these people, was he wanted them to realize that their own resources would always be insufficient. Their money, their wisdom, their reasoning, their fears. All good things, but completely insufficient by themselves. Instead, if they trusted in Jesus, and turned to Jesus, they would find that He is more than enough. And so, at the start of this week, our bodies are shaken (not stirred), our purses are empty, our bones are our tired, and our floors are wet.
And the multitude is approaching.
So, Lord – here’s my tuna sandwich. In my hands, it just a meager lunch. In yours, it’s an abundant feast. Do in our midst, what we could never do on our own.