This morning Mélance was at the hotel as requested at 7:00 am. This was to be a day of church visits, in fact two new congregations. We will see most all the members together at Mugina for the first holy day tomorrow, so this was just about visiting these groups in their halls – in important personal touch, and hearing their requests for assistance on site. Marjolaine and I were still short on sleep and jet lagged, so I felt she should have a day to catch her breath and she agreed that she would remain at the hotel today.
I should say a word about how new congregations often happen in the region. Much of Christianity in rural Africa springs from individuals who study the Bible and feel led to share their faith and beliefs with others. It’s often spontaneous and not the fruit of denominational proselytizing. There are many independent groups of various sizes that have no firm connection to a larger body. Those that understand and observe the seventh day Sabbath often keep in touch with each other.
Nathan is known in the region for his beliefs and work, and he’s respected. As people hear of the church and learn what is being done to preach the gospel and care for the people God draws to us, they are curious and some are desirous of having that spiritual and also the physical support we provide. The physical support mostly is just having a decent place to hold Sabbath services out of the rain. It’s usually the leaders of small groups that make contact, and after discussing with the parishioners sometimes most or all of the group want to be associated with us.
There is a fine line to walk for us. We want to do our best to care for those God draws to us, but also to discern between those who are truly called and those who are only looking for financial help in a difficult situation, which describes most of sub-Saharan Africa, without any deeper understanding. It takes patience and perseverance to sort this through, so I move slowly, and observe as carefully as I can.
We met Nathan on the side of the road in Cibitoke and proceeded up past Rugombo and farther north and east to a rural village called Gichacha. We were greeted by a small group in an open sided shelter. The protocol starts with happy hand-shaking and greeting before everyone sits.
One man leads a hymn or two, there is an opening prayer in Kirundi. There may be special music performed by a small group. Then Nathan acknowledges the group, before introducing me for greetings. I pass along best wishes from the HQ office and from other members in Africa, and sit down. Almost immediately I’m invited to give the equivalent of a long sermonette on a Bible topic of my choosing. In this case I talked about the New Testament teaching about the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. Nathan translated into Kirundi phrase by phrase. After about 20 minutes I wrapped up, and everyone seemed very happy. I ask the group to step outside for a photo op which they were happy to do, including some close-ups of the children, whose faces I often find fascinating.
We got back in the Prado and retraced our route south to Cibitoke, where another new little group is meeting. The congregation was very excited to have a visitor from afar. We all greeted each other in the traditional manner as we made our way to the mud-brick hall. Again we sang a hymn. They have translations of a number of our church hymns into Kinyarwanda (done in Rwanda) which is close enough to Kirundi that they can use them.
After the prayer, Nathan then I gave our formal greetings and introductions, then I gave my long sermonette. We sang again and Nathan prayed. I was presented their doléance, which I could tell from gestures concerned the corrugated tin roof, through which, here and there, I could see sunlight. I told them I would discuss it with Nathan, and they all smiled.
Marjolaine and I will observe the evening together, there are no other members in Bujumbura, and tomorrow will celebrate the day with the whole group in Mugina.