After settling into our first ever Saturday in Africa, Charlie and I hopped in the Johnson’s 4 door Toyota pickup and headed into the “bush”. I don’t know a better name for the area to which we were headed. We were basically going “out in the country” to visit a group of believers in a little village called Sorian. You just can’t imagine how excited both Charlie and I were as we loaded into the truck with Andy and Severen. Severen is an amazing Dagara believer who speaks French and Dagara and was Andy’s language instructor. He taught Andy the tribal language of Dagara and later became a believer in Christ and an employee of Andy and Melissa. He works around the house helping in any way possible. On top of all of that, he is one of Andy’s dearest friends and he loves the Lord and His church.
The church in Sorian was planted some time ago but had begun to sort of wither, for lack of a better word. The believers there had quit meeting together regularly and Andy had really become concerned that the group might simply dissolve back into their culture. Severen took the lead and went back to the village to meet with the church and encourage them to return to Christ and to the meeting place. In a remarkable way, through a Dagara Christian, God brought the little church back together. It was so encouraging to know that God had transformed and saved Severen, a Dagara man, and had then used him to help reestablish this congregation in Sorian. It was just so, so cool – excluding the temperature, of course.
We drove down the dirt/rock hill from the house, across the two-lane paved road and took a right into what looked like, well, it didn’t really look like much. It looked like Andy had made a wrong turn into a dirt field. I half way thought that maybe Andy didn’t really know where he was going and after about 10 minutes of a very rough full-body massage by the truck, I was becoming convinced that he didn’t know. Severen didn’t protest, however, so I trusted them both and hunkered down for the journey. Charlie kept his mouth closed and his eyes fastened on all of the amazing new things he was seeing. There were people walking on the same dirt road we were driving and, of course, many of these were women with huge bowls filled with any number and variety of things “delicately” balanced on their heads. I think I’ve said before that the women were amazing. Their strength, resourcefulness and quiet reserve was inspiring. It was never unusual to see a woman carrying most anything on her head. Stools, benches, bowls filled with water, supplies, wood, food, vegetables, fruits – any number of things could be found delicately balanced on a woman’s head as she walked around. They are beautiful, hard working women many of whom have completely committed themselves to Christ and serve to bring strength, consistency and beauty to the church. In every church we visited, the women were fully involved in worship and service. It was so inspiring and so encouraging.
After stopping to pick up some female, Christian “hitchhikers” (3 to be exact – one in the back seat with Severen and Charlie and two in the back of the truck – all were very, very thankful for the ride), we bounced our way, literally, into Sorian. When the truck finally stopped and all four wheels were on the ground simultaneously, I was quite pleased. We bounded out and headed for “the meeting place”, a small dirt spot covered by some scraggly trees with logs to sit on as “benches”. Ouch. Round, hard benches with little room for a bony American bottom. (I instantly complained about the seating because I know that’s what church people do. I told Andy that this would be our last visit to any church that didn’t at least have the consideration to provide little log cushions. I mean come on, it may be Africa but Christians deserve some conveniences when they worship. Andy agreed and I’m certain they’ve corrected this little problem. All of this may sound funny because my tongue is placed firmly in my cheek – get it – tongue in cheek????? I’m joking, of course.) We sat down, gingerly, and waited for the other believers to gather.
Since no one wears a watch, church service begins whenever the Christians see the missionaries arrive and begin to gather around. It was quite interesting to watch as we waited. Most everyone who arrived came and greeted both Charlie and me before they sat down. It was common custom to do this. Also, a word to you late arrivers. In Dagara churches regardless of when you arrive, it is expected that you will greet all of the other Christians. I know this was expected of visitors and I’m pretty sure it was expected of all the church members also. I’m afraid some of our church services would never get started in America if we implemented this tradition. Anyway, I digress, I digress. Severen introduced Charlie and me to several of the believers and it was here that we learned that Charlie actually had a Dagara name. Since his name, Charles, translated into the French name “Charl” and since French was the national language of Burkina Faso, they had also translated the name into Dagara – Shal. Sadly enough, the name Wendell did not translate and I wasn’t surprised. Not much of me translates to any culture – even my own….Ha!!!
Well, I would love to go into all of the detail but I fear that many of you are asleep already. Church service consisted of beautiful, rhythmic singing accompanied by syncopated, strong clapping as we sat in a semi-circle (semi-square actually). The Sorian Christians brought in a separate bench, on their heads, before church service began just for Charlie, Andy and myself. It made sitting much easier. (It still had no cushion, however, I just couldn’t believe it.) The singing was just so wonderful. Severen would sing a line and then the Christians would echo. Later, one of the sisters took the lead line and the rest of the congregation echoed. All of the singing was backed by the strongest, most rhythmic clapping I had ever heard in my life. The singing was almost secondary. We sang and sang and clapped and clapped and then listened as Severen said a few words (none of which we could understand – we just smiled a lot).
Andy then introduced us and asked me to “preach”. So I stood and talked about God my Father who watches over all I do. Jesus my Savior who has taken all of my sins. And the Holy Spirit, my advocate and guide, who lives within me, guiding and directing the decisions I make and actions I take. Andy translated and most of the congregation seemed quite interested to hear what this tall, pasty white dude had to say. It was simply remarkable. I have now preached on two different continents. More significant than that useless fact was the kindness and joy and love with which we were received by these fellow believers. It was a very special day.
Severen then spoke at length with the Christians about the need for them to assemble regularly and to come together in Christ. He also explained to another Dagara man who had happened upon our meeting and had joined us about half way through that this group was all about Jesus. Basically, the man had been curious about the difference between what we were teaching and doing versus what the Catholic church was teaching. Severen explained that the Catholic church in that area taught the worship of Mary and also allowed the native believers to continue their pagan practices of worshiping their ancestors and that the Bible did not support such. Severen made it perfectly clear that this group was all about Jesus Christ and that as long as this man trusted Christ and looked to Him then he could join them and “pray” with them. The visitor stayed. Charlie and I also taught them the song “The Name of the Lord is a Strong Tower”. They listened intently and were quite amused with our singing. During one of their songs I chimed in with some good ole harmony and I thought they would die laughing every time I sang! It was sweet. We closed things with a prayer, the scriptural thing to do, and then visited for several minutes. We were amazed.
Thus, the overwhelmation began to set in and we spent the trip home pummeling Andy with questions and sharing the joy and excitement of the day. The bumpiness of the trip, the hardness of the bench, the dust that covered every inch of our sweaty bodies and the blistering heat didn’t hold a candle to the joy and excitement we felt and experienced with these believers in Christ from the other side of the world – literally. The things that we would have wasted hours complaining about were nothing in comparison to the joy we experienced worshiping with the saints in Sorian. The adventure was in motion now and we were soaking in every drop of it.
Christ is King!