Monday, December 5, 2011

God at the Center

Talking with our driver, Biniem, and hosts at our guest home, we've learned of large churches in Addis Ababa, ranging from 400 - 1000+ attendants, and we were thrilled to be invited to church when we were visiting Marta Friday at the Thomas Center.  We were told to be in touch with Abdissa, our representative for CHI.

On Saturday we called Abdissa and he was flattered.  He asked Ty, "You want to preach, yes?"  (Ty declined.)  Abdissa told us to be ready at 10 and a driver would pick us up.  Sunday morning rolled around and we waited in the lobby of our guest home.  And waited.  And waited. Finally at 10:40 two men arrived and we hopped into the van.  We drove a direction we hadn't gone before and as we drove further and further away from the city, it dawned on both of us we didn't even bother to ask whether who these guys were, where they were taking us, and indeed, whether or not they were sent by Abdissa to bring us to church.  When we pulled into a "road" jutted by jagged stones and dips, we looked at each other with trepidation.  What have we gotten ourselves into today?

The road took us past huts and poverty, and we pulled into a lot.  Here we saw a makeshift tent with toddlers and children gathered, and when the drivers turned the van's engine off, we could hear African singing from a very small building.  No way was this building holding close to 400 people.  We were told church was, "through that door," and it was obvious we were just being dropped off.  I asked if they'd be back to pick us up and he said, "Of course, of course. Wouldn't leave you here."

We entered the door, which happened to be the front of the church.  My senses tried to catch up with my surroundings.  Loud song in a foreign tongue.  A woman dancing.  A man kneeling.  Choir robes.  Lots of empty plastic chairs. Amidst their worship, members smiled and gestured toward the stage.  We were expected to sit on stage, and they would not take my frantic head shake for an answer.  There was a man kneeling on a chair in prayer on stage, and we took seats next to him.  Other than the initial greeting, worshipers didn't give us a second thought.   They were into their worship.

Overwhelmed from the music, the fear during the drive, and relief we were safe, the sudden enormity that we were at church in Africa hit me and I was overcome with emotion.  My eyes welled with tears and my body was covered with goosebumps.  This place was amazing.  The presence of God in this makeshift building was so real.

After some time, I was able to absorb my surroundings.  There were about 100 seats, about 1/4 of them filled.  Of those 25 people or so, almost half made up the choir.  And those ladies could sing.  No one cared who was next to them, who heard them, or who they heard.  God was the center of attention in this building.

The man who was kneeling shook our hands during worship and said, "You are welcome here.  You are welcome here.  Thank you for coming." I began to put the pieces together and realized he was the pastor, and Abdissa, our representative for CHI, and the man who spoke with Ty on the phone.  He gave us a Bible, a regular study Bible in English, and directed Ty to a passage.  "You will read.  You will read."  Ty realized Abdissa was telling him he would be reading to the congregation.

While Ty read the passage to himself, Abdissa told me to take pictures.  This didn't feel right, somehow.  I didn't want people to feel like they were museum displays, so I gave my camera to Abdissa.  I should have known it'd be okay.  As he took pictures, no one gave him a second glance.  They were worshiping God.

Half the congregation, minus the choir.

After 30 minutes of songs, the choir sang.  Beautiful.  So beautiful.

We were asked to introduce ourselves to the congregation, and when Abdissa translated we are from the states and in Ethiopia to adopt a little girl named Marta, we were met with applause.  I was humbled and wondered who I am to accept their gratitude?  I was honored wished to convey to them that it is a privilege of ours to adopt such a beautiful child from such a beautiful place.  Their beautiful child.  Their place.

And sure enough, after the worship, Abdissa read scripture in Amharic and asked Ty to read it in English to the congregation.  I've never heard his voice shake like it did when he read.  It was so sweet, from the man who is on the worship team and performs drama at our church in America.  Abdissa delivered his message to the congregation and every 10 minutes or so would stop and give us a Cliff's-notes version in English.

Sometime during the the message, the group of children we saw when we arrived filed into the church.  We recognized them as toddlers and children from the Thomas Center.  Each Sunday they are brought in a van to church.  And let me say, I've never seen such a well behaved group of children in church. Respect and attentiveness had obviously been taught to them.  The older children cared for the younger when necessary, but these kids just got it.

After church we were greeted by many.  The kids recognized us and were eager to play the high five game we played at the orphanage.  It turns out our drivers did not return to pick us up, so Abdissa brought us to our guest home.  We learned on the drive back this small church is a plant.  It is a high need, high poverty area and there are two services.  The one on Saturday night packs the building.

By the time we returned "home," we were exhausted and emotionally raw.  But we were smiling and our hearts were filled with gratitude.

Oh!  I forgot to mention!  I, also, was asked to read a Bible passage to the congregation. Ironic that at home my voice shakes and I get cold sweats if I have to speak in front of church, but here, in Africa, I was completely comfortable on stage.

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