May 15, 2016
The Church was a rectangular concrete building with a tin roof on top. The inside was filled with nothing but dancing people and plastic lawn chairs, white for adults and blue for children. The only source of light peeked through the opened doors and scattered holes in the grey brick walls.
Women dressed in vibrant-printed dresses and square hats in matching fabric. They sang, clapped, and danced on the red, rocky dirt floor. The people’s voices echoed off the walls. The people’s clapping was not in unison, but to each one’s own beat.
A big man in front dressed in a black suit and bright red bow tie. It looked new. He yelled in Kinyarwanda. He shouted about God, spoke of Jesus, and told the story of Esther. The people shouted amen.
A woman walked to the front of the chairs. She shouted about Jesus. An English translator repeated her words. The people sang, clapped and danced more. The woman laid on the floor and wept. She praised God.
The people danced around the one-room church, singing praises. They raised their hands and jumped. They didn’t speak English, but their praise to God was eminent. It was contagious. It was genuine.
Praise is universal.
My first experience at an African church was slightly uncomfortable and greatly enjoyable. I did not understand the Kinyarwanda words the people preached, but I understood the message: God is good.
The people modeled what the prophet Jeremiah spoke when he said, “… His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I’m weary of holding in it; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).
God’s word was in the people’s hearts. It was burning. They could not hold it in. I want to know God like that, to feel the Word of God in my heart like that.
Sunday night we danced with the novices, nuns in training, at the convent we are staying. They waved their arms, swayed their hips and sang “halleluijah.” I didn’t understand any other word they sang, but their praise to God was clear. They shook a mirage, beat a drum and clapped their hands. They hopped, laughed, and brought each one of us to the center of the circle to tickle us and challenge us to their version of a dancing contest. They asked us to sing for them, and though we sang church hymns in English they clapped.
African, American, European, Asian – no matter the language or culture, people can praise God together.
God is universal.