May 29, 2012

Post-Kenya Notebook: Kenyan Pentecostals Put Us to Shame

During dinner at our hotel, I prayed I wouldn't have to preach the next morning. I usually enjoy preaching and sharing my heart. But this would've been the seventh time in two weeks and I just wanted to relax and soak up the church service in all its pentecostal glory. Alas, as Dan was filling in the details for the next morning, Sunday the 20th of May, he announced the plan and those who were preaching at churches. I was among them. Not surprised, I spoke up, hoping to dodge the responsibility. I was fresh out of 'church' sermons. There were only 'evangelistic' ones left. Apparently that mattered little to Dan. He said that would be just fine.

For some reason though, preaching an evangelistic sermon to a booming pentecostal church wasn't sitting well with me (those were supposed to be for the crusades). Against Dan's advice, I wrote a new one early the next morning, something fresh, something with Naro Moru in mind. It wasn't technically a sermon. I called it a "reflection." Whatever it was, I prayed it would be good enough for the charismatic Kenyans who would fill the seats and rows of Naro Moru's Foursquare Church. With dirty pale red floors, tin walls and overall rickety structure, the building could accommodate well over 100 Kenyans comfortably. 100 Americans comfortably? Not so sure.

Three of us arrived that morning ready for the service, Lyndsey, Danielle and I. It was almost 9:45. The sign out front said main service started at 10. Some of the kids standing in the front yard grasped our hands to say hello. They were much more mellow now. They were used to us wazungu. Inside the building, Alice, 19, was teaching on what sounded like anger to five others who arrived early to listen and learn. She taught surprisingly well. Articulate, insightful and dynamic. Not bad.

White plastic yard chairs were organized in three columns. In the back, when the chairs ran out, were flat wooden benches. I was curious about how and who engraved "New Covenant" into the back of each chair. It looked like the words were melted in. That was no simple job. Each chair was numbered as well, but don't assume that the chairs were actually in order. They most definitely were not. I would've been quite impressed.

The service started shortly after 10. Only a few were gathered. During the first song two ladies moved our backpacks to the front row and slid over a coffee table, which was usually placed in front of the pastors' chairs. She wanted us sitting in front. I don't like the front.

Praise and worship went on for over an hour. I wanted to fall asleep. You have to understand that this was our last morning in Kenya. We are exhausted. Everyone else though was loving it. If I counted right, there were four special songs (and other spontaneous ones), a mini-sermon and, oh let's not forget, lots and lots of dancing trains weaving throughout the rows. Joy and freedom spilled out from that place while the tinny speakers blasted the sounds of the keyboard.

By the time they took offering, I figured it was nearly time for me to preach. All I could think about was how tired I was and how I was not going to be able to be the excited charismatic they needed. Oh well… I would have to man up and deliver this "sermon" I wrote only hours before as best as I could muster.

Finally, Jeff, the pastor, called me up, the one to preach "the word of God." This phrase when used in an introduction for you to preach is quite terrifying. I preached with the little energy I had. I told them what I wanted to say, three simple points: the righteous live by faith, god uses people and pray honest prayers. Turns out that faith had been the theme to their revival meetings the week prior.

I remember looking out. The building was stuffed full with beautiful Kenyan faces, mostly women. Many youth and kids were there too. What was I doing? Where was I? It was all too surreal. Preaching to a poor church in Naro Moru, Kenya. I was telling them things I learned in my faith, which was lived out in a completely different context, a whole other world, a world impossible to explain. And yet it transferred. Faith transfers. Their faces looked at mine. Their eyes full of hope. As Alice translated, some would nod, affirming they were not only listening but understanding. Thank God.

It's crazy that you can get on a plane, fly to a strange country and unfamiliar people, and yet find common ground: faith in Jesus. Though we walk different soil, we walk the same ground.