It was Sunday, my first full day in Africa. What a perfect way to begin a week that promised to be unlike any other week of my life, by going to church! With 17 people piled into the pickup, we bounced along the mile-long dirt "road" with tall grasses and scrubby growth an arm's length from either side of the truck, a cloud of dust in our wake. If there is one word that best captures the image of West Africa in my mind it is dirt. There's no getting away from it, as it fills the air and settles on everything during the dry season. I don't even want to think of what it must be like during the rainy season, and how people deal with the mud. So we were bouncing along happily with a truckload of contented Christians on their way to worship the Lord with the other believers in the vicinity of Mansoa. It's not like Charlotte where there's a church (or two or three) on every block, a veritable smorgasbord to choose from. If we don't like the pastor or the music or the carpeting or the parking lot at one, we have the option of moving on to the next. To our shame, this has become church in America for many. But in West Africa, if you are a Christian you are blessed if there is a place within walking distance to gather with other believers once a week. When I realized that our truckload of worshippers were the only ones arriving at church in a motorized vehicle, it was almost embarrassing. The only others that didn't arrive on their own two feet were the babies tied to their mothers' backs.
The dim interior of the mud brick building was cheerfully decorated with strings of little triangular flags run from corner to corner just below the raw saplings serving as beams holding up the corrugated aluminum roof. Colorful curtains threaded on strings flapped gently in the welcome breeze in and out of the four windows. Worshipers in their Sunday best streamed into the small space, greeting one another and finding spots to sit on one of the low benches as the singing began. I was grateful Kate had chosen to seat us against the back wall where there was something to lean against, and also where I would have a good vantage point for observing.
We had the privilege of being in Guinea Bissau for two Sundays, and also experiencing two slightly different versions of worship at the church. The first week there were some visiting musicians who led worship with their electric guitars and amplifiers, though I haven't a clue where the power came from to run these electricity gobblers that felt very much out of place in that setting. Maybe there was a generator somewhere nearby that they could tap into. But my preference was definitely for the more authentic simplicity of two drums and a tambourine together with a roomful of clapping hands accompanying the voices lifted in praise to our God on the following Sunday morning. In spite of not knowing any of the words being sung, the spirit of praise permeated my soul and I felt transported to the very throne of God. The energy of the 75-80 worshippers in that dim little room with their feet in motion and their hands in the air as their voices lifted to heaven with the rhythms of Africa gave me chills. I could see Jesus standing before this little crowd, receiving their praise with a big smile on His face and saying, "I like this."
At the end of the service the first week, after the message had been given, about 30 people flocked to the front for prayer. All the Americans, including myself, walked forward and prayed over them one by one. A language barrier is no hindrance to prayer, and I felt my soul bond with theirs during this time of seeking God together.
The call for prayer at the end of the service on my second Sunday was completely different. One older woman and one young man came forward. Wade and Lalas were motioned to come up, and it was turned over to them to lead the congregation in prayer for healing. Wade gave a clear explanation of what Jesus said to his disciples about healing and casting out demons when they were sent out into the world to minister, and then he exhorted us to do the same. Immediately the room was filled with the voices of believers calling on the name of Jesus to take authority over whatever sickness or demons were troubling the two who were standing at the front expectantly. Wade and Lalas had questioned the two before the praying began, to get a clear understanding of their needs, although they didn't tell the congregation any of the specifics. Once it was all over and the worshippers dismissed, we headed back to the truck and Wade explained to us Americans what had happened. The woman who went up for prayer said that she had been sick and in a lot of pain for two months. Afterward she told them that while we were all praying for her she felt the sickness leave her body and she was completely pain free! The young man, who was visiting the church for the first time with a friend, reported before the prayer time that he had been tormented by demons for about ten years and wanted to be free. Afterward he reported that during the prayer he felt his mind come back together for the first time in many years, and he gave his life to Jesus then and there!
When all the glitz and polish and smoke and props of 21st century western church are stripped away, it's much easier to actually see the simple truth of why Jesus came to this earth. And the simple power of God touching a life is far more convincing than any program or fancy packaging could ever hope to be.