On Sunday I visited a church in the village of Iziwa, a beautiful spot on the slopes of Mbeya Peak. I was there with my colleagues from the Safwa language area to share about the work of Bible translation, to discuss the possibility of returning to teach people to read and write their language and to talk about Scripture Engagement training we can provide.
It turned out to be a very big church as it is the headquarters of the Pentecostal Holiness Mission (PHM) for this area. Due to having guests (us), several of the nearby PHM churches had come for a joint service, so there were about 500 people. We joined the service at about 10.30am (things had already begun while we were in the pastor’s office), and proceeded to sit through nine choirs presenting their songs. As guests, we were seated on the stage in plush arm chairs, looking through the glass pulpit to the choirs dancing in front. To my right two humongous speakers perched on the edge of the stage and my armchair vibrated to the beat. After an hour and half of listening to loud songs that were hard to understand and watching the choirs throwing themselves into elaborate dance moves, we moved into the offering time, after which we were introduced and my colleague preached (using a mixture of Swahili and Safwa). After a long (but pretty good) sermon on Job, there was a time of prayer in which everyone prayed out loud at the same time. And when I say out ‘loud’, I mean LOUD!! The service lasted over four hours, though thankfully we were invited to leave the service to ‘rest’ before it was over.
So, there I was, in a church with brothers and sisters in Christ, but everything about the service felt so far removed from what I am used to in England that I was almost led to wonder if we worship the same God. Does my God accept carefully rehearsed dancing as worship, does He like it when people shout their prayers and does an exceedingly long, loud service please Him? These things might not be pleasing to me, but that doesn’t mean we are worshipping a different God. Rather, we are different people worshipping the same God. When I stop and think about it, it’s incredible just how much diversity God created and loves. The fact that He can find pleasure in Iziwa villagers worshipping Him one way and Lapworth villagers worshipping Him in a totally different way speaks to the very bigness of our God. He isn’t confined to one culture or one way of doing things, His heart is so much bigger than my blinkered, judgmental one!
I hope that the longer I live here the more God will help me to see this culture through His eyes and the more I will glimpse the bigness of our God.
“As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways and thoughts above yours.” Isaiah 55:9 (Today’s English Version)