Monday, July 23, 2012

Going to Church Daraja Style

I have to admit that I am not normally a church-goer, but if every sermon I attended could be as rich and engaging as the one I attended at the little village church just outside the gates of Daraja, I would most certainly become an addict. Walking form Daraja, we could hear the music as soon as we crossed the gully, which cut through the landscape as far as the eyes could see. I accompanied a group of Daraja girls to the church on Sunday morning so that they could worship and also inform congregants of the community health event which was scheduled to take place the following Thursday. As we entered, we found the church empty except for the music system which had been set up in advance and was running off of a generator that roared steadily, just outside the church's windows. The girls started dancing and singing and mingling as the congregation steadily filled the sanctuary.

At least 50 children sat on the benches in the front while adults filled the pews behind them. I noticed an elderly gentleman in a grey suit sitting amongst the parishioners. He was wearing a bright orange tie and had a bulky orange bag that he set carefully on the floor next to his feet. Two young men got the service started by welcoming everyone in attendance. The entire service was conducted in Swahili, but despite a significant language barrier and with the assistance of nine bi-lingual Daraja scholars, I was able to follow the general program. All of the little children were soon invited to the front of the church to perform several songs with the support of their motivating and energetic leaders. Next the older children performed, then the young adults, and finally the church's choir.

About forty-five minutes into the service, the elderly gentleman was invited to the podium. I got the immediate sense that this man was highly revered and authentically appreciated. After welcoming everyone and providing a little background, he began to tell a story. He pulled a clear plastic container from his bag and as he spoke about the innocence and purity of every living creature, he filled the container with clear, sparkling water. This was to represent each of us as individuals and all of us collectively as a society. He told us that each of us are essentially kind, good, and loving creatures whose role on earth is to leave it better than we found it. Then, he pulled a clear vial from his bag which contained a dark liquid that he slowly emptied into the container of water. The darkness filled the upper portion of the vessel, but about an inch of purity remained on the bottom, representing the goodness that is always there, but sometimes so covered in sin that it is difficult to distinguish.

Next, the pastor proceeded to pull out three smaller containers about the size of four inch water glasses, that represented generations of elders. As he emptied the dark contents into the clear water of each, he discussed the sin that has been modeled for us by those whose charge it is to educate and guide.  When our norms are defined by sin, it makes them even more difficult to recognize. As he emphasized the darkness, I could feel the congregation's gradual discouragement. How can we possibly overcome so many challenges? the pastor pulled a beautiful red cross form the plastic orange bag and enlightened us to the power of Jesus Christ. There must have been some magic potion on the base of the cross (I am sure that teacher Mercy could assist us in identifying the chemical!) because as he thrusted the cross into the large container of dark water and stirred, the water became instantly clear again. As he poured the smaller glasses of dark water into the bigger container, the purity was immediately strong enough to absorb the sin and bring back the clarity. The congregation became increasingly amazed as each cup was poured, demonstrating the power of the presence of the Lord to combat sin in the world.

He spoke more about the power of individuals to make a difference and also about the power of collectives to change the world. His message reminded me of the following words by Mother Theresa who said,

"It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving."

I felt moved by the pastor's words and demonstration because it appeared that he had planned with so much love and thoughtfulness in his heart--- which is exactly what great teachers do.

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