Monday, December 20, 2010

Going to church...

My host dad's church. My dad is on the left, the pastor is on the right.
Church in Mozambique is quite interesting. I went to a couple of catholic churches in Namaacha. The services were pretty standard but the singing was a lot more beautiful than anything I remember hearing at other Catholic masses(I haven't been to that many in my life). The second Catholic church I went to had some crazy stuff go down a few days after I visited. The priest was being accused by some of the boys in the church of sexual abuse. I guess that's an issue over here too.

The evangelical churches, on the other hand, are a bit more interesting only because they are far more varied in their nature and so you never know what to expect. A group of volunteers were attending an Assemblies of God church with their families so I checked that one out a couple of times, since my family still hadn't gone to church since I'd arrived. The first time I went, after a bunch of different groups sang their songs -men, women, young women, old women, teenagers, kids, teenage boys, teenage girls -and after a few different offerings were taken which had everyone standing up, singing and walking to the front to drop a coin in the bucket, the pastor had each of the seven volunteers who were there that day introduce themselves and say what church they were from back in the US. This was pretty awkward for the Jewish volunteer and some of the other non-religious people in our group, but they all seemed to handle the situation pretty well.

I visited that church again a few weeks later with my friend Patti, who was really, really wanting to visit a church. We were the only non-Mozambicans  that Sunday, and when they had us stand up and introduce ourselves, they asked if we had a song to sing for them, since all the other groups had already sung that day. Luckily, I had brought my ukulele to church with me that day, so I sang a song that I had learned last time I was in Mozambique. “Jesus passando por aqui.” They knew the song and sang along with me! It was wonderful.

The following week, I didn't go to a church, but I did visit the Arco Iris children's center outside of Maputo. This was the group I came to Mozambique with last time I was here in 2005.  They have churches and children's centers throughout the country. As a matter of fact, this past Sunday, I was walking around my little ol' villa of Ribaue, talking to a stranger I had just met, and when I mentioned that I had come to Mozambique with Arco Iris five years ago, he told me that his uncle was a pastor of the Arco Iris church in town. He immediately took me to the church and we walked in just as the small congregation was getting ready to leave. It was 1:20pm and the service had started at 9am. When I walked in, they looked at me awkwardly, so I quickly introduced myself and after that, every single person came up to me to greet me, including a crippled man who had to crawl to get to me. We walked together back into the villa singing songs I hadn't heard since 2005. It was really special. Okay, back to the children's center outside of Maputo. So it was just me and Patti, my church companion. We got a tour of the whole place, heard a lot about what they do, and at the end, we got to play with a bunch of chicken-pocked kids.

On my last Sunday in Namaacha, I was sitting outside of my house, reading a book when my host dad suddenly got up and announced that he was heading  to church. This was the first time I saw him go to church, so I really wanted to go. I had him wait for me to get dressed and joined him, and I'm so glad I did. I texted Patti on the way, since, by now, I figured out that she's really into church stuff. We stopped by her house and scooped her up, and soon after, we came upon one of the more interesting church services I have ever been a part of (and I've been to a lot of church services). “Igreja Zione Apostolica Jerussalema de Mocambique.” That was the name of the church, haphazardly painted in white on a small piece of thin cardboardy wood that hung on a tilt on the wall behind the altar. The small church was made of mud and stones and most of the church members sat on mats laid out on the dirt floor. But Patti and I were given seats at the altar looking out into the congregation, right next to the pastor and a few other men who occupied the altar. The pastor and my host dad wore white lab coats with a green border on the end of the sleeves and at the bottom edge of the coat. One woman, who my host dad told me later was a prophetess, also wore a white coat or cape of sorts, with a big red cross sewed onto the side.  The service, conducted entirely in Shangaana, the local language –oh ya, I forgot to mention that all these services I've been going to have been almost completely in Shangaana, so I've never had a clue as to what was being preached. So at the church, a young man did a lot of the scripture reading. Later, when I asked my dad what had been read, he told me that they had read the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer, two passages which they read every week. That Sunday, they also read a passage about the blessing of having children, since five women were dedicating their children to God. The pastor asked Patti to pray for each of these women. Thankfully, since Patti is familiar with church stuff, she didn't flip out, and went ahead and prayed for each woman. Then, almost every person in the church stood up, sang a song, said something in the local language, and then walked up to me and Patti and greeted us with a handshake or a hug or a kiss or combination of the three. It's as if the whole service was revolving around us. A little bit strange but definitely memorable.

One weird thing did happen after church however. My dad was translating some of the things that had been said during the service and he mentioned that the pastor had told the women who were having their babies dedicated how lucky they were to have a white person praying for their kids, since God is white. First off, Patti is Filipina, so she's not even white, but second, and more importantly, if God does have a skin color, it's definitely not white.  I told this to my dad. It wasn't that big a deal for him.

Although I feel like I have at least a little bit of insight as to what faith means to people in the US, I think I am still very far from understanding what faith means to people in Mozambique. While I'm certain there are similarities, it seems to me thus far, that the differences are kind of big. That's something I'm looking forward to exploring during my time here.

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