Rwanda: Day 6

This morning, there was no Bible study. Instead, we went to church. As we walked into the service this morning at precisely 9am (the worship service start time), the dancing was already in swing. We were told that churches in Rwanda are no longer allowed to have dirt floors because the dancing kicked up too much dirt. Our Mission coworker, Kay, said, “It gave a whole new meaning to the phrase, ‘wait for the dust to settle.’”

This month is women’s month and the Presbyterian church in Huye (Butare) takes that very seriously. The service was led almost entirely by women. They asked all the women to stand to honor them. Then they asked the men to stand. Then they asked the students to stand. Then they asked the pastors all to come up front so that the children could hug them and shake their hands. As the continued to introduce everyone who was there, between each introduction there was a festive fanfare of music. By the time the choirs had sung (there were no fewer than 5 choirs) and everyone had been introduced, we were an hour and a half into the service. 

I know to the American ear, it may sound boring or extreme to have an hour and a half of introductions, but it was woven with the choirs singing, with dancing, with joking, and just unadulterated joy. If we had this sort of joy in the American church, nobody would be looking at their watches. And it was a great way to affirm and celebrate everyone who had come today. Women’s Sunday didn’t involve corny platitudes about the sweetness of motherhood or wimpy carnations that would wilt by Monday morning. There were no throwaway comments or prayers about women that will be forgotten by noon and not dusted off again for another 51 Sundays. 

Before the children left for children’s church, there was one last time of praise. We learned today that in Rwandan church, “Time of praise” is basically a dance party with worship music. This last time of praise was just for the women. Not young women, they said. “No girls, only the ones who are the mothers. The mothers they don’t get enough time and space to praise God because they are always so busy. So this is their time to praise.” And let me tell you. . . We mothers DANCED. According to my watch, I danced about 2.5 miles this morning at church. I really appreciated this. It was an honest acknowledgement that women are important, exhausted, and overworked and that sometimes, we just need a chance to dance with God and with other women who are trying to keep up with the world’s demands.

The American church has grown bored with God. We have grown bored with our fellow humans. We have grown bored with worship. The scripture passages today included Psalm 100, Ephesians 5:1-20, and Philippians 1:19 and following. Our mission coworker, Kay Day, was the preacher and she asked us if we are truly delighted in Christ, as Paul was. Is all that we do to glorify God? She continued to talk about life and death in Christ, and she ended her sermon with the reminder that faith is not all “me and Jesus.” Yes, eternal life, forgiveness, heaven, that’s all good. But Jesus directs us to LOVE and to SHARE JOY. It’s our job as Christians to share joy – which is exactly what we experienced at church today. We must share joy with those around us and care about their needs. 

When it came time for the offering, there were people who brought produce to the front instead of money. These people had no money to spare, so they brought the fruits of their land. They brought what they had. Afterward, the produce was auctioned off to other attendees and the auction money added to the offering. At 11:52 am (nearly three hours into the service), they began a time of testimony. I got worried for a moment, because when you hand people a testimony mic in the US, it often leads to a long line of people oversharing. But the three people who came up were concise and had powerful stories of God working. One of these stories involved our presence. 

This week, before they knew we were coming to join them at church, the deacons were meeting because they needed to do more to help the poorest in their congregation get food, clothing, and shelter. They knew they needed 40,000 Rwandan Francs (about $45) in order to do what they wanted to do. That was a large sum to expect in the church offering this Sunday, but they committed to pray all week together. And then this large group of foreigners shows up. And they got 80,000 RF in the deacons offering: twice what they’d been praying for. They can do all the compassionate work they had wanted to do, and then over again. The deacon giving the offering report fell to her knees in tearful prayer of thanksgiving as she shared the news. There was cheering and handwaving and tears.

In the afternoon, we went to Murambi. 

And I don’t want to talk about that yet. 

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