Sitting around the table back in our rented home tucking into a late supper of pasta and veg, there was much to mull on from this eventful day.
It had begun with an early rise, finding my legs tucked around the mosquito net (thus rendering it at least 30% ineffective), a power shower in the luxury en suite and a nasal reminder of the downside to a compost toilet.
Prayed up and energised we paused for a group prayer and then set out on the ‘journey’ to church. This was almost immediately thwarted as the car wouldn’t start, and so, with robes in a bag, anointing oil and a lovely picture of Christ Church by Christine Smith to give as a gift to the church, we began the trek up the hill to the church – and got there surprisingly fast and before the local archdeacon anyhow!
I was preaching, and had a thoroughly enjoyable time speaking on ‘holely homes’ from Mark 2 (Jesus healing a man who gets let down through a hole in the roof). It was especially fun to lead into a bit of a New Wine style response moment and I was delighted later in the day meet people who had been there who had appreciated the talk.
The church itself is in an impressive complex, large and spacious. Probably the stand out moment of the service was the offering at the end. In a break from the usual routine the offering was staged as a battle of the sexes competition. Men and women were asked to come forward as usual and put money into pot, but the men came first and put money in the left pot and then the women in the right. I think the score sheet will be read back next week!
There was a young and vibrant feel to the church in this country where the median age nationwide is 15.8 years old. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there, and then I popped down on my own to the community church next to where we are staying while the car was repaired (very easily!) I’ll post fuller reflections on both services in a later post, but for now with regards to the community church I just want to note the warm welcome, an invitation even as an unannounced stranger to come up on stage and introduce myself (still in dog collar!), the way they use the stage, ushers and microphones to give select people prominence, a handful of people bringing money up during the sermon and placing it on the lecturn(!) whether paying him to keep going/finish I don’t know, after church compulsory classes in ‘life stage’ sections – ‘Older youth’ (i.e. unmarried people), single parents, marrieds and new Christian, the incredible use of advertisements via a rolling banner on screen under the hymn words, a culture of seeking / promising blessing and prosperity from God, and the noisy fun of being in an interpreted service again. The service leader also had a set of laminated cards to hold up when he felt the preacher had gone on long enough! A great cultural experience all round, with great dancing in the worship.
From there, after an enjoyable time arm playing and arm wrestling with a disabled girl who propels herself on the ground hunched over and using her impressive biceps, Emily and I went into town passing through the market where there was an array of fruit, meat and children playing barefoot in the dust around the stalls and serving customers for their parents. We then stopped at Alfred’s IT store and internet café, got treated to a soda and saw this view from the back… Pastor Paul (the preacher from the community church’s) wife and young son Mark saw us and came down to say hi. She is nine months pregnant and so we looked after Mark a little who loved being lifted up and down.
Then it was time to take the children on to school. First stop the garage, organised in ways that would please Emily’s last host in England, Tony Eastwood. Each child has a heavy duty blue box containing various essentials for boarding school (toilet paper, 12 pencils, uniform, exercise books and of course 2 kilos of sugar) as well as a thin roll up mattress. These were sorted, kids got changed (or washed and changed depending where they had been living in the 2 month long recess) and they were genuinely excited to be going back to school. Kit was loaded onto motorbikes or in the car and kids piled on/in as well. I later found out how much these children had changed through this care.
Boarding school is the norm here for children if they can escape the government schools which are not always well enough funded to cover teacher’s basic salary. The term fees at the top school in town are £80 for full boarding and tuition. Children start there aged 6, but I heard of others starting much younger elsewhere.The environment is lovely and it is instructive to see how happy the children seem to be there, compared perhaps with some of our well stocked playgrounds and classrooms in the UK. Eating disorders are unheard of here, and for all the problems of poverty and relative poverty there are an abundance of smiles, and a sense of freedom and well-being for many.
I quickly found myself sitting on a bench with a teacher who had heard me preach in the morning at the Anglican church. He was a success story of a child sponsorship programme. A western family had sponsored him and his two siblings after his father died when he was young. He was now a Key Stage 2 teacher and a wonderful role model at the school. If I hadn’t fully realised the power of sponsorship before what stuck me most was when he said his ‘one sadness was when his contact with the UK family ended when his sponsorship did.’ Writing to, and receiving news and messages from the UK had been an emotional life-line. Most people here will never travel even to neighbouring countries so international contact is a big deal.
One of the highlights of the day was seeing Simon with his sponsored child Prisca. Her story is both harrowing and inspiring. Deserted as a baby a kindly but poor lady took her in and adopted her. A year and half ago mother and child came to this area looking for some shoes. Sometime before this someone from Christ Church had given Emily some shoes for a child, but she had felt strongly that she should hold on to them for someone special. When Emily met Prisca she remembered the ‘cinderella shoes’ and like in the fairy-tale they fitted the girl perfectly. This began a strong bond, and when Simon came to visit the second time he began sponsoring her. Today was her first day at school, aged 6-7 (no-one quite knows her age), arriving with the children of the relatively affluent, alongside her adoptive mum who had borrowed a pair of slip on flip flops for the big occasion.
‘My one sadness was that my contact with my sponsorship family ended when my sponsorship did’ (Teacher, aged 26).
The day finished with a lovely time with Alfred and Sam – including a long (asked for) monologue from me on why the bible actually does support women in ministry. This delayed Simon’s supper (‘the short version please next time!’). We heard also about two inspirational and talented women clergy in the diocese here and the culture shock surrounding their first appointment. Then supper together, a drink and early bed with a book. The first full day in Rukunguri completed.