20th Sept 2014
You may have heard that church is different in Africa. It’s true.
Pastor Martin (my 71-year-old host grandpa) and I departed on his motorbike at 9:15am, riding just over a kilometer down the banana tree-lined dirt road of Rukira to the Lutheran Church. The building is one large room, a sanctuary built of concrete and mud bricks, perhaps 150-200 feet long and 70 feet wide by my shoddy estimates. It is not yet complete— there are still bricks to be laid at the highest-most points of the metal roof (about thirty feet high), the dirt floor and the brick walls have yet to be coated with concrete and plaster, and the two-foot high wooden benches to replace with taller benches with backrests. Yet it is enough. In fact, seeing the people sing and dance and worship in the unfinished building was something beautiful. In a physical way, it seemed to offer a statement of belief: that God’s work is not complete, and living in faith means dwelling in the mystery of that incompletion— trusting that that there is enough, and that the future is a bright future in store. (I wish I could find better words to describe it; how can you catch a cloud and pin it down?)
Two special events last Sunday extended the length of the service from one-and-a-half to two hours (normal) to approximately three hours and fifty-two minutes (but who’s counting?) One of those events, of course, was my introduction; and the other was the formal installation of Pastor Emmanuel, the young man who has replaced Martin as the official leader of the parish. These events warranted the coming of two other congregations from nearby towns to join us, and to bring their choirs.
The festivities began at 9:30 with dancing. A young man blared repetitive chord progressions from an electric keyboard as children (and some adults) boogied across a tarp-covered rectangle in front of the altar. After fifteen or twenty minutes, three men in white robes emerged from the small sacristy near the altar: Pastor Martin, Pastor Emmanuel, and Philip the Evangelist (a title used for young men and women who plan to become pastors.) We sang a hymn from the Kinyarwanda hymnal, did a short liturgy of Confession and Forgiveness, and had the formal installation of Pastor Emmanuel.
Then, after a few Bible readings, I was invited forward. I had to pee, very badly. Pastor Emmanuel explained the YAGM program to the congregation and introduced me in Kinyarwanda. “This is Ruka Hahn-sohn, from America. He is a good man. I brought him from Kigali on the bus, and he asked me many questions the whole way [not the whole way!]. I know he is very excited to learn about Rwanda, and to live life as we live it here. He has agreed to teach English and music to the small children in the nursery school [true], and he will lead an English club for adults and teach guitar and piano [also true.] He is also an expert on food security! [Excuse me?] He has brought seeds to plant vegetables by the church as an educational project. [Yes.]
Then he invited me to say something. I think I did pretty well, considering my limited Kinyarwanda. “Hello! My name is Luke. I am from America. I work as partner with the Lutheran Church. I want to learn. My Kinyarwanda is few, but, one year…. my Kinyarwanda is BIG!” There was thunderous applause. “Thank you very much.” I hastily marched to the toilet.
The remaining duration of the service was taken by a long and charismatic sermon by Emmanuel (partially translated to me by my friend Edward), communion and offering, and— most lengthy of all— choral performances. There were three choirs instead of one, and each of them had written original songs with lyrics regarding Pastor Emmanuel’s installation— verses and verses of lyrics. Each song was probably ten minutes long. You can imagine how this added up to a long service. Thankfully, there was time for dancing during the songs, so I had fun with the kiddos. Church may be long in Rwanda, but at least we have some fun.