Tuesday, November 24, 2009

worship as service

At church on Sunday the visitors and those returning after an absence were asked to introduce themselves and greet the congregation. The last in the line was a young woman. She spoke quietly and after the initial line of greeting, she cried out and fell to her knees crying. One woman began a song and another came over to rub her back as she lay on the floor. As her sobs died down, this mama helped her to her feet, wiped off her knees where they had hit the dirt floor, and put her gently back in her place on the wooden bench. The service continued as she recovered herself.
At the end of the service, everyone who wanted to be prayed for came forward; there was a teenage girl who was worried because her parents were fighting, a young man who wanted to accept Jesus, a teenage boy who wanted to be strong as he is "very weak", and there was the young woman again. Each was prayed for in turn as the congregation sang. We still don't know why that young woman was there but her pain was carried by the entire body of Christ on that day.

Yesterday we received our copy of the Mennonite bi-weekly magazine, aptly titled The Mennonite. In it I read a news blurb about two North American Mennonite congregations that had chosen to give up worship one Sunday a year in order to "do service." This was hailed as an admirable act. The attitude to worship conveyed by the actions of these two churches stood in marked and disturbing contrast to Sunday's service at the little mud brick church. There are two attitudes to worship that the Mennonite church can learn from.

1) Worship is the work of the church.
We do not go to church only to fulfill obligation. We do not go to church only to gain the strength to go out into the world and serve, as important as this may be. We go to church because this is the work of the church. When people can bring their pain into the church and release it there without shame, the church is fulfilling its call to bring hope and healing to a hurting world.

2) We are the ones in need of healing and hope.
The hurt is not all "out there." The hurt is often in ourselves, our families, our communities. We are as much in need of healing as the people out there we go to serve. And we cannot serve them unless we are right with God and our neighbours. We are never so righteous that we can forego this time in order to serve those who are more in need. We are in need ourselves.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

multiplying talents through t-shirts

When Tabor Mennonite Church asked us whether they could take an offering for a special project in Mthatha, we wanted to find a use for it that would serve multiple purposes. The church gave us money that the kids raised at Vacation Bible School and we used it to buy t-shirts and get the BBS symbol printed on them. These t-shirts went on sale at our conference and graduation this past weekend and were received with joy.

BBS was begun in 1982 as a response to African Initiated Churches' (AIC) feeling that they were not respected by mainline mission-founded churches. Certain AIC leaders identified one of the reasons for this as their own lack of education and formal preparation for ministry. BBS arose as a way to address this issue - to better train AIC leaders for ministry and to give them confidence and credibility in the larger South African church scene. We know that students proudly display their BBS certificates each year and take pride in their school and what they gain there. The introduction of the t-shirts seemed to give them another way to express their loyalty.

We also hope that the shirts will serve as a way to bring in new members. As many people we work with do not read, written promotional materials are not very productive. However, a shirt on someone's body can create interest and begin discussion.

In addition to helping us raise funds for next year's BBS workshops and a future BBS building, the purchase of t-shirts has demonstrated the concept of multiplying resources as in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Instead of simply putting the money into the BBS budget, it has purchased something that will be sold at a profit. In a place with extremely high unemployment, most people rely on social grants to eke out a living. Taking a small portion of the money available to them and investing it can make a huge difference in their standard of living.

Mama Faniso, Mama Dokolwana, and Mama Velaphi wearing their new shirts


Friday, November 6, 2009

marriage blessing

Last Sunday, our church held a special service of blessing for a newly-married couple, the husband of which is connected to the congregation through his mother. The mother had greatly desired that her church hold this service. The pastor approached the service with great consideration and, at times, consternation--so great was his desire to make sure that all would feel fully welcomed and satisfied at this event. Proof of the event's being "set-apart" in the mind of the congregation was the inclusion of a tent, sound system, and keyboard. The event began with the youth, coordinated in pink attire, dancing the couple in. Then, the pastor and his wife welcomed everyone to the service, most notably a row of special guests from the husband and wife's respective families. I was given the sermon, using a variety of texts to illustrate my points about marriage. The word hitting close to home in a context of many broken marriages, a number of people responded in an extensive period of tears, prophesying, speaking in tongues, and prayer. As calm returned, a cake was unveiled, blessed, and then cut by the couple.

As in all special events in this setting, a hard-earned (from all the patience and sitting through what has become a long, hot day) meal ensued. The special guests and leadership took the meal together in the house of the mother of the groom, while the youth, children, and other members ate together back in the tent. Our kids, with a few other children who were already there, ate with us on the mother's premises, though they had to wait--in reverse of much North American church culture--until the adults were served first. Our oldest two have finally come to accept this. I fed Levi off my plate and Anna held Jesse. The cold Coca-Cola always tastes so good at these events!


Thanks to Deb Byler, our special guest from Mennonite Mission Network, for the photos.