I will sing to the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. (Psalm 104:33)
How does one choose a church to attend when in Nanyuki? My one hope was that I would understand what was spoken (at least some English). We decided to try the Methodist Church. In Kenya, the Methodist Church is part of the British system and not the United Methodist denomination.
We hired a tuk-tuk and guessed correctly – 10:00 a.m. and an English speaking service! It was exactly 10:00, and we were among the first to arrive. We were greeted and then took seats near the back. We were quickly ushered from the back to the front. What followed was a 3 hour worship experience that seemed far shorter than that.
A quartet of young adults had already begun singing, alternating between swahili, english and meru (the local tribal language). As children arrived, they were seated in the choir loft. Soon the children were invited forward, and the church prayed over the children before they moved to the children’s church. Our first hour was mostly singing, led by a variety of singers and a keyboard. We were reminded several times that we were singing to the LORD. At one point, all of the men came forward to sing. Then the youth came forward to sing. The choir came forward to sing. The visitors were asked to introduce themselves (and fortunately not ushered forward to sing!) which gave me an opportunity to look at those seated behind me. To my surprise the sanctuary was filled, and we were the only mzungus (white persons) present. Each visitor was applauded. We estimated 150-200 adults in attendance. Later, I was told that about 300 persons are counted as members.
Songs and scripture were projected on a screen. There were a few songbooks, handwritten and handmade – in Meru, I assumed. Scripture was read in English, three readings – Isaiah 42:1-6, Philippians 2:1-11, John 13:1-6. Although it was Pentecost Sunday, the theme was disability awareness. The pastor (called the superintendent minister of the circuit) was out of town. The special education teachers from the congregation were leading worship; the guest preacher was a counselor and therapist. For the third hour, we heard two powerful messages about how all people are special, even those with disabilities. The speakers spoke against the view that disability had anything to do with a lack of faith, that families should acknowledge the existence of a child with a disability (reference was made to some areas where a child born with a disability is killed and a recent news story where a family kept a disabled child chained to a tree and treated like an animal). This was a moving message, bringing many to tears. The church was challenged to be those who would lead the way for justice and seek out the special ability that God has given to a person with a disability. At the end of the sermon, all of the special education teachers were invited forward to be prayed over. I understood only a few words of the prayer, but frankly I didn’t need to understand. This was a prayer given with such great power and emotion that it moved me to tears.
We had been given offering envelopes soon after we were seated. The offering box was placed at the front and as a song was sung, each person came forward to place their envelop in the offering box. Then another basket was passed in which people seemed to place coins.
The service ended with everyone saying the benediction while turning to shake each other’s hands. Then we sang a song in swahili and exited the sanctuary with those in the front, the first to leave (there ought to be some perk for sitting in front!). As persons left the sanctuary, we shook hands with those who left ahead of us and then formed a line to shake hands with those who followed. Amanda and I were quickly greeted by the secretary of the congregation who invited us to tea. We were lead to a small room with a table. It turns out that guests are given dinner. A few leaders of the church were present and the guest preacher’s family. We were served a meal of rice and beans with a cup of tea. We made a few connections with people who promised to call us. The secretary (Moses – a biology teacher at the secondary school) offered a tour of the grounds. The church has a primary school through class 8 for 282 students. They are building a dormitory for students in class 5 and above. I found it impressive what this church of 300 was accomplishing. And the message of justice was as compelling as any I have heard.
I have been to church today. Our worship may not have referenced the day of Pentecost, but I experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a way that celebrated the inclusion of all people.
I will sing to the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.