Monday, August 24, 2009

(marie) an abundance of church

(posted by marie harkey)

On Sunday morning, Chris A, Chris F and I set out for All Saint Church, Esabula with the Rev. Joash Owila at 9 a.m. He had walked to St. Philip's to collect us, a feat I only appreciated as we walked with him back to the church. We crossed the main road (which does not mean a paved road) and headed down what we in the States would call a path to his church. Thirty minutes and many dips, turns, rocks, gulleys and a couple of ankle-twistings later, we arrived at the church. All along the walk (during which I looked mostly at the ground to see what the next obstacle would be) I was reminded of the red clay dirt of my youth in Georgia. The dirt here in Maseno looks exactly the same. And it stains your toes and ankles in exactly the same was as Georgia dirt does.

We arrived at the church around 9:30 and the youth service was already underway. The Padre (that's what his parishioners call Rev. Owila) says that when he came the youth group at All Saints was very strong, but that they needed a priest who understood them. Although the bishop isn't terribly fond of services that don't follow the prayer book, he allows the All Saints church to have this "youth service" conducted all in English. The younger folks prefer that because they learn English early in school and Luhyia isn't a written language. They love what they call praise music, which pretty much means anything in English. Chris and I are bringing home a song called "When Jesus Says Yes" to the Crossing.

The youth service is led by a young man perhaps a couple of years younger than Chris. There is sharing and testimony from each person present. Most begin with "Praise the Lord," to which the congregation responds, "Amen," and then "Praise the Lord again," to which the congregation again responds "Amen." Many of the young men and women offer their testimony with the words, "I want to encourage you from..." and they quote a scripture to which all rapidly turn in their Bibles. Chris was able to follow suit when we were called upon to
offer a word and encouraged the congregation with Paul's words to Timothy about not letting anyone despise his youth.

After the youth service, the choir began to practice and a more beautiful sound I can't remember hearing in a very long time. Thanks to the new iPhone voice memo software, I recorded much of it. The choir at All Saints is quite famous and they are working on buying a tent and chairs so that they can go on the road to other places with everything that they need.

Chris A., Chris F. and I processed in with the choir and Rev. Owila, and others who were involved in the service, strings of what looked like Christmas garland around our necks. (Yes, of course there are pictures.) We were treated as very honored visitors and seated at the front with interpreters since the main service is conducted in Luhyia. (The Luhyia are the tribe that dominates the Western province of Kenya.) My interpreter was Grace, one of the leaders of the youth service and the daughter of one of the lay leaders of the church.

Chris A's sermon was a wonder! He referenced Luhyia customs and culture, got a few laughs (through the Rev. Owila's translation, no less) and made points that kept Rev. Owila talking throughout much of our journey back home. I hope he will post it at some point. At the end of the service, we recessed out (we began and ended the service outside) and I was asked to offer the benediction.

After church, we were invited to the home of one of the church members for lunch, which was wonderful. This Southern girl is loving the way they cook their greens here in Kenya!!! There was also chicken, ugali, rice, bananas (tiny little things - I must remember to take a picture) and oranges. I can't begin to tell you how much better fruit tastes here than at home.

Finally, there were a couple of stops that we needed to make on our way home. If we had stayed for tea at each, as was wished, we would have missed dinner at the Hardison's back home as well being caught in a downpour. Fortunately, the Rev. Owila understood that it would not be good for us to be late for dinner and made our excuses as we visited the museum/home of the first African archbishop of Kenya and then the home of the widow of the Bishop Mundia, the previous bishop of Maseno North diocese, I think. That woman is a wonder, called Mama by everyone (a title of great honor). In greeting and leave-taking, she kisses you on both cheeks repeatedly and I was honored that she called me Mami, which is perhaps related to Mama.

We finally arrived back home at 4 pm, just as the first drops of rain started to fall. I asked in concern if Rev. Owila (who had accompanied us once again) would have to walk home in the rain and he replied, "It's just a drizzle." Silly me and my American sensibilities.

Dinner with the Hardison's was wonderful, but I couldn't do it justice after having eaten so much lunch. There was a wonderful stew of beef, green beans, potatoes and other vegetables and I did manage two helpings as well as a piece of homemade cake from Nan's grandmother's recipe.

The contrast between scarcity and abundance here is striking. Scarcity of water because of political conflicts. Scarcity of electricity because of deforestation which has led to rationing. Scarcity of material goods and money to do what is needed in this country. And yet, an abundance of offerings of the first fruits of the harvest to the Orphan Feeding Program at All Saints. (Throughout the morning, people came in to lay great bags and baskets of maize at the altar rail. The harvest had just ended and these were offerings to feed the orphans.) Abundance of hospitality, beautiful singing, worship and praise and above all, an abundance of love.

Sending love from Maseno,

Marie

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