11 June 2007

taste and see

We are at the church property, which is a collection of classrooms and offices, a school and a sanctuary arranged around a yard and one large tree, which we shelter under as people slowly arrive. It has been raining all morning here, and I am learning to practice the word “mvua.” I see children walking past with umbrellas that look like giant lollipops, and a man riding a bicycle outside the gate, sitting perfectly upright with an umbrella in one steady hand.

Later, after hours of meetings and translation about the upcoming seminar, I find myself unable pay attention. We hear the students released from classes at midday break and about a hundred four year olds come bouncing out into the church yard in their blue school uniforms laughing and dancing outside our windows. One of the church officers who is a year away from retirement seems to be as distracted as I am. He is most delighted by the fact that chai has arrived. It is served with milk and sugar, and we each receive two small homemade packets of sugared & roasted peanuts. He eats them one by one from the bag, closing his eyes as content as a lion lazing in the sunshine, and I half expect him to begin to purr. When he finishes the tea and snacks, he dozes a bit, contentedly, and sniffs awake to resume note-taking. He is old, gentle, pastoral and personable, which I decide is a winning combination. I am smitten in a way and think that if I had had a different life, one in this far away country, he could have been my grandfather.

In the church sanctuary across the courtyard, the choir practices music for a wedding that will take place tomorrow. The joyful music pours in the windows, creating further distraction. The rain stops and the sun comes out strong and bright, making the trees glisten, making the room begin to feel steamy and sleepy. We yawn and stretch, continuing to hear reports from parish leaders. There are small groups collecting money for soap and nutritious food for orphans and widows, for those dying of a disease that has many euphemisims and many victims. I am humbled by the reports of these faithful ones who have so little to begin with, who cannot afford to feed their own famililies and yet continue in obedience, in sacrifice, in faithfulness, in love.

Give us this day.

As the clouds roll out over the mountains behind us, the powerful sun starts to make dust and ruts of the red dirt in the courtyard. I think of the muddy roads we took to visit some new friends in the village last week who are the hands and feet of the ministry reports we’ve been hearing. Travel on these roads is arduous, but nothing compared to the labor that people who live in the remote villages perform several times each day just to carry water from the river to their homes, to chop fire wood, to harvest their fields of maize and sweet potatoes, to visit the sick, to go to small group.

We are out of touch. Sometimes it feels as if the heaviness of all of these burdens together in one place should send the earth spinning off into some new orbit. We are closer to the sun here—I burn, I shield my eyes. I feel the need to ask for re-centering, for strength to hear the struggles and injustices, for wisdom. I pray to the only one who promises these things.

Later in the week at the beginning of one of the workshop sessions, Bernard said to me: “Have you noticed something about the people here?”

“Yes,” I said, “They love to sing.”

Everyone in the meeting hall stands, and a quiet rhythm finds its way out of these same feet and hands who carry the compassion and love of Christ to the suffering. Faith leads a song and her whole face lights up—“Lord, you are our home”—she sings out, and raises her eyebrows as all respond. Dennis, the pastor on our team, is in front smiling and clapping, doing his own little swaying dance. He has been in seminary in St. Louis, away from his wife and children, from his brothers and sisters, away from beautiful, simple, familiar songs. He is clearly thankful to be back in the midst of these joyous harmonies, surrounded by the warmth and gentleness that seem to be the most ready demeanors here.

I listen to the song—the Swahili words which I am just begining to understand—the idea which is elusive and obvious, frightening and reassuring all at the same time: Lord, you are our home. My feet begin to shuffle out the rhythm. I look at Faith and Dennis, Naomi, Sedock, Octavian, baby Harriet. I think: As much as I feel ill-equipped, afraid, overwhelmed, and full of disbelief, this is what faith means: to take one step, and then another. To not take them alone. To give praise to the one who holds all of us in his mighty hands. And to remember my home.


Blogger the kitchen gnomes said...

Wow...I wish we were arm in arm shuffling out the rhythm together!
Maybe someday???

10:19 AM  

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