I went with some of the mommas and children this week to a village church. I guess I wasn’t really thinking about what the church would look like. Honestly, “Wakiso Baptist” sounded middle-class to me. So when we pulled up in the taxi on a dirt road next to a market (market is using the term loosely), I was a little surprised. We hiked down a dirt… road I guess, although it was more just dirt than a place where people drove. I was a little surprised initially by the physical state of the church, but after a few minutes at the church felt relatively at ease and normal. I left wanting to come back, though I didn’t really understand all of the English translations and no American preacher would ever have the guts to speak as long as this one did.
At Wakiso Baptist, stripped tree logs hold up the pieces of tin that ward off the rain over the dirt floor. The “stage” is a platform also made of dirt but packed in slightly higher than the rest of the church. The focal point behind the pulpit is not a large wooden cross or projected image of a small international child smiling. It’s a shower curtain or a few of them, mainly there for the practical purpose of shielding rain, as it also acts as the front wall of the church. The congregation sits on bench frames made of metal pipes with one piece of wood that my bottom didn’t fully fit on. It’s relatively dark, actually it’s only as bright as the day is because there are no lights. There’s no electricity or running water, and as far as a bathroom, I didn’t ask, but I did see a little boy peeing at the back of the church at the end of the service.
But after the initial “oh, this is a Ugandan church” feeling left, it was an incredibly normal experience. There was singing, dancing, announcements, and preaching (athough each part lasted about 45 minutes longer than the 15 minutes we “put up with” in American church.) and I felt incredibly at home. The preaching was good, although translated from Luganda so a little bit jumbled. The story of Esther is probably my favorite in the Bible, (well, second to Jesus. He wins.) and it just so happened that it was the topic of a sermon series the pastor had going. At one point in the service, I looked around and thought “This is not normal, but this is good.”
As I’ve thought about that experience and what made it not an uncomfortable and alarming one, I realize it was because the people were comfortable. This IS their normal. This has been their normal since birth. I don’t think I’ve done a good job at explaining Rafiki here, but let me just tell you, it’s like an oasis. It is not like the world outside our gates. Which is an incredible thing to be able to provide a stable environment for a group of kids that have come from lives that are anything but stable, but as a mini-missionary, it’s kind of like getting the Disney version of a war story.
I sometimes forget the poverty that is normal even right outside my gate because of the amenities I am capable of having as an American (even an American living in Africa). This church was real Africa. And it was eye-opening to me because these people worshipped God, the same God I worship, when He has given me so incredibly much and them a whole lot less. And they accept their state of being. Not that I’m sure each and everyone of them is totally great about living in poverty, but there wasn’t complaining. There isn’t complaining here really actually. People make plans when God provides. They don’t make plans for God to provide and then convince a wealthy church to do the providing. (Now I’m not condemning America. At school, I attend a “mega-church” that just did a life-changing series all about giving more and serving more and loving more and has raised a ton of money through church members and is doing incredible things with that money. I’m just saying that this is a different way of doing things.) But these people GET to trust God to provide because they don’t have another option really.
As I thought further, I realized I expect people to not be satisfied with what they have. I expect for people to be making plans and to be focused on the future and what “better” could look like. It is my normal to look around at what I am given and wonder how it could be changed, how I can make it better. I won’t lie. I sat in the church and thought, “I could raise enough money to build them a building so they wouldn’t have to meet here.” But the incredible thing about all of that is it’s unneccesary. The God we worship doesn’t only exist in finished buildings with the right lights and songs. He doesn’t only exist when we worship “well”. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and He provides. And it doesn’t matter to these people if they worship on a dirt floor under a tin roof. They still worship. And I’m learning to worship right beside them.
**The picture above isn’t of the church. Just a neat picture of African life today.
**Also, still no propane. But we have not run out. Thank you so much for the prayers and please continue to pray.