Life here is such a mix of emotions. Just yesterday I was missing home, family, friends, DC… I was pining for a normal life again and wanting to go home. And then, God gave me today. He gave me an experience that very few people are able to have, and I found myself thankful for being right where I am. I was able to participate, or maybe I should say observe, a true Mozambican church service. During the service, I found myself often snapping to my senses in amazement of what I was privileged to be a part of. The culture here is so different and it felt so surreal to take this event in.The kanisoo church built by the DC students on their J-term mission trip had its inaugural service yesterday and we were invited to attend this special event. We were told that church begins at 9:00 African time. So we showed up at 9:30.
We arrived at the site and parked in our usual spot that we used while the team was here. It was very strange to not have all of the kids with me as I got out of the car. I was greeted by the same adults and children who were with us as we worked last month, and it was very sad for me to be there without the DC students. As I walked along the house and down to the church, I recalled the many trips between the car and church carrying water for thirsty laborers, tools to build, cement blocks to be laid, and going to open and close up the van every time someone needed to get something out. At the end of the path was the small tree that we would gather under to find a bit of relief from the hot sun in the shade. It seemed bigger before. I found it hard to now believe that this little tree gave us such comfort. I then rounded the corner and entered the church building.We went inside the church to see that we were preceded by two men. Shortly after us, a woman and her child arrived. One by one they began to filter in. After about an hour I turned to Don and commented, “We need to build a bigger church!” All of the chairs, benches, and grass mats were filled with people. And there were more still yet to come. The local Iris churches from Matola-Rio and Chinoquela were attending as well to show their support for this new church.
As the church began to fill, a woman began to sing out and was joined in by the people. They sung in Shongon, the local tribal language. No one had a hymnal, no words were posted on an overhead screen, but they sang song after song knowing all of the words by heart. Their voices were accompanied by a woman playing the drum with her hands. I just love hearing their voices joining together. It is hard to describe. The best way to put it is that is sounds just so African!! The Matola-Rio group showed up with their own drum and joined in with a little boy playing. He was amazing and I could not believe how long he played without tiring. These people sing with their whole heart and soul. I clapped along as well. After a while, my hands began to get sore, but I kept going. Also my mouth began to hurt from smiling so much! It was so fun to participate and to watch the people. The men are especially energetic dancers and love to show off. Everyone, and I mean everyone, participates. Every mouth is moving, every hand is clapping, and every foot is dancing. The worship is alive and vibrant. This continued for about three hours. Yep, you read that right, three hours! These people were so hungry for God and so in love with them. They loved worshipping and loving Him!
The churches were then each invited to come up and perform for the people. Each group sang and danced. They danced so hard that the room filled with the dust from their stomping feet. No one seemed to notice the dirt or the heat. They were just loving this time of worship.
We then settled into our chairs to hear of the history of the property. The people had been meeting and praying under a tree on this property for years. A few years ago they bought the land with the hope of building a church. That hope is now a reality. As I heard them recount these past few years, I was humbled by God’s goodness. You see, at times when things have been hard, I have questioned whether I should have come with Don this past year. I have wondered whether I should have stayed back for Brent’s senior year and Will’s 8th grade year. Yet God clearly showed me today that I have been in His will. If I had not come, these people would not have been worshipping in this church! I am not implicating that I deserve full credit, or much of any credit at all, so hear me out on this one! J
Last March after visiting Mozambique for 2 weeks with Don, I returned to DC with the vision of bringing high school kids over to experience this culture for their J-term experience. The first time I saw Scott Ryle, the head of maintenance at DC, I thought to myself, “He would be great to come over the lead the kids in a construction project.” But I was afraid he wouldn’t be interested, so I kept it to myself for the rest of the day. The next time I saw him, I felt that I was to say it, so I blurted out, “Scott Ryle… I have a J-term mission trip with your name written all over it!” That afternoon he stopped by my classroom to find out what I had in mind and by the end of the week it was officially proposed and accepted as a J-term trip. At that time, I envisioned a new playground for the children at the Iris Matola-Rio children’s center. Yet when I asked the director, Corrie, what she would want the team to build, she said a new church. This is a true example of how selfless Corrie is. So that is how it all began. God reminded me of all of this. and brought me to the realization that if I had not come here, this J-term trip would never have happened, and this church would not be standing in the bush! During the testimony time at the service today, several people thanked God for this church.
I join them in praising You and thanking You, Lord, for working in the hearts of so many people - me, Scott Ryle and the other chaperones, the students who came, their families and friends who supported them financially, and so many others. These people made this place of worship possible. And they not only built a church, they built relationships. I looked around at the congregation and saw many people who touched us and were touched by us. There was “Jim” (name given by Scott Ryle. He had trouble remembering everyone’s Mozambican name, so he gave them all American names.) , a quiet, gentle Mozambican man who gave his time and expertise to help us build the church. I recall how patient he was with the students. He could have laid and mortared those cement blocks in half the time it took the team to do it. But he patiently taught the students and stood at their side to intercede should they run into trouble. Many of the children with whom the team played soccer with each day were present. The little girl who during the time of construction was suffering from a severe sinus infection and scabs on her head that was so bad that she was covered in flies was there. She was well and no longer showed signs of any infection. Throughout the day I saw here snuggling with her mother, always at her side. Sambo, the owner of the house by the site was there. He clearly was proud to have this church being dedicated to the Lord. The women who so kindly cooked our rice and beans each day for us were there. Mama Helena who had come to pray with us over the site as the foundation was being laid was there. It was a blessing to see them again and to see their joy in worshipping in this place.
The pastor of the church, Pastor Paulo, shared from the book of Ezekiel with the people. I looked around at their faces during his preaching. Every face was alert and attentive to the message. The people again showed their hunger for more of God as they listened to His Word. Pastor Helena and Pastor Janito, who will be assisting with the church, also shared and led the people in a prayer of blessing the church. There was lots of sharing (Mozambicans love speeches!) and lots of prayers and even more singing for the next two hours. The sign that was designed and painted by members of the J-term team was presented. Sambo even presented the kids with the soccer ball that was left for them by the team.
If you are keeping track of the time, by the way, you may have noticed that we now have been in church for five hours! Yet no one was growing weary and everyone was hungry for more. At this point, my stomach was beginning to growl, and I wondered if anyone else was having this experience. It must have been so, for things soon wrapped up and we all went out to have lunch that was prepared by the women.
Everyone sat around in small groups. I joined Corrie and some of her girls under the tree where we had previously eaten each day while building the church. A woman came around with a pitcher of water and a basin. She poured the water over our hands and gave us a towel to dry off with. She began with me, which was an honor. Then mega-sized pots of rice, fish, and fried potatoes were brought out and dished up. Each person was brought their meal where they were sitting. I was humbled, almost to the point of embarrassment, when I realized that Don, Will, and I were again served first. We were the guests of honor at this event when all we ever wanted was to serve. We all ate as we were served and then sat and fellowshipped for the longest time. It is always a challenge to talk with people for us. We are still learning our Portuguese but we always seem to get by. It helped to have Corrie and Amina (our faithful Portuguese teachers) nearby. The Mozambican people are very social and love to talk. Eventually our thirst for a glass of fresh, cold, bottled water overtook our desire to stay. So we said our goodbyes and headed down the road to home again. We had such a delightful time and were thrilled when before leaving they asked us how long it would be until we came back again!