He directed me to park the car behind the building under the shed. I pulled around to a tin roofed area with irregular boards on three sides. It reminded me of the shed in my grandfather’s barn. It was where he parked his tractor. This now open shed had been the church building for the first twenty years of its existence, David later told me.
When I joined David around the front I noticed the outhouse near the building. It was more of an open structure than private. It also took me back to my childhood and my grandfather’s farm. It felt like rural Mississippi in the 1950′s. The church building, which was built several years ago is still unpainted on the outside. Everything feels rustic, simple and bare. No signs are on the building. But at the same time it is majestic for this community.
I stepped inside with David and saw a simple service area with plastic chairs. The pulpit had been draped in cloth and decorated with a few simple items. There were seats for well over a hundred people. I turned to David and said how many people come here? I expected maybe twenty and he said over a hundred people attend each week. He introduced me to two elderly ladies who sat in the room ready for the coming service. These ladies each smiled with missing teeth and clothes that seemed aged and unkempt. One had her hair covered with cloth tied into a bun. Out of respect they grabbed their elbow and reached out their hand of greeting.
A high percent of the people in the church have no job and little income to sustain them. But you could not tell by their hearts. Happy and content they were excited to be in the Lord’s house. Big smiles and quick laughter were followed by dancing and shaking their heads. I felt so welcome.
He took me to the back area where their Sunday School was meeting with young people and children. When I walked in each leader immediately reached out their hand in greeting and said welcome Pastor.
We came around the corner and I saw dozens of little children with a bowl of food in their lap. They were eating before the service. David said it would be the only meal for many of them today. Most of the small ones have lost both of their parents to Aids. The rest had lost at least one parent. I was stunned. Where does the food come from I asked. He said the teachers cook it and the church pays for the food.
We stepped outside to see a large water tank that is filled by the church for use on Sunday’s There is no water well anywhere in the community. This tank is filled by a water truck. Children were filling a cup of water to drink with their meal. They were very careful to close the faucet and not let water drip on the ground. It is a precious gift for them.
All of a sudden I realized that my heart was not prepared for the simple beauty that I was witnessing. This church is a haven for the broken, lost and desperate children who must continue without their parents. These teachers call them all by name and treat them like their own little ones. Zodwig, Sipho, Lesego, Sindy, Excellent and Nokwanda were introduced to me along with many more. I glanced into the eyes of children who looked at me with a longing that tugged at my heart. They smiled and showed gratitude that they were being remembered by someone. I had to choke back the tears.
I did not understand the depth of ministry that was going on. When the service began their voices hit the top of the ceiling. There was no piano, organ, or any instrument. Everything was human voices only. On occasion a tambourine was used to accent the voices. But they sang and danced to every song. The depth of their worship was so enjoyable, spontaneous, rich and continual. Then the little children went forward and sang this little light of mine. I am gona let it shine. How can they want to shine in such desperate circumstances?
Greetings began and everyone in the church came to me and welcomed me. Even the little children made their way around the adults. Nothing plastic or formal but it was warm words, hugs and smiles. The little children gleefully told each other about meeting the big tall white man. No one wanted to miss my hand. One of the elder ladies came up and said, yea bo (a popular African greeting), I am so glad you are here.
I felt very inadequate to share with this crowd. They speak Swati and Zulu. Some understand a little English but it is very little. The Scripture reading was in Zulu and presentations were in Swati. How do I connect with them?
The Word of God was the bridge and they responded well. Many had the Zulu Bibles we had provided last year through special gifts. They leafed through the Gospels to follow the stories and listen to Pastor David as he translated my comments into Swati. The children sat on the edge of their chairs when I told the story of Balaam’s donkey from the Old Testament. Laughter and comments filled the room as I demonstrated Balaam on his donkey. The children were amazed that the donkey spoke to Balaam.
Afterwards several wanted the verses from Numbers about the donkey. I want to go home and read the story myself! But most importantly you could hear the gratitude in each voice for the sermon. Oh Pastor, God spoke through you today. Thank you for coming.