Today, I attended church for the fourth time in my life.
Last night, Alison and I wrote notices that we would be holding a meeting for battery owners this Wednesday to talk about impact and suggestions for how our sites could be improved. These notices were distributed to church leaders in Banda to be read at church services today, thereby spreading the message to the community. Jeremiah thought it would be beneficial for Alison and I to attend church with him so that people would see us and spread the word that we were there – giving the announcement more authenticity (aka – we were trying to get facetime with the locals…). Though not quite sure what to expect, Alison and I agreed, so at 9:15 this morning, we headed out – borrowed Bibles in hand – to the Free Methodist church down the road.
Upon arrival, we were seated in the “visitors” section next to the pastor and one of the choirs, with many curious head turns and whispers of “mzungus!” following us to our seats. The two and a half hour service consisted of about four-fifths singing and one-fifth praying and reading from the Bible. Despite never really knowing what was being sung or said, it was definitely the best church service I’ve been to.
The church had four microphones, an electronic keyboard, an electric guitar, a DJ-esque sound mixer, and two wonderful choirs, which made all the music enjoyable and upbeat. During some songs, members of the congregation – men, women, and children alike – would enter the empty middle space of the church and dance joyously together. The best part? All the electronics were being run off a single 70 Amp-hour battery – a battery that gets charged every week at Kigogo, one of our hydro sites. Alison and I, having done impact analysis surveying for a number of weeks now, and were thrilled to see first-hand such a display of the impact of our sites on the community. As we have found out during our impact analysis surveying, church services weren’t always this fun and upbeat. Many of the choir leaders we surveyed attributed the dancing and loud singing to the presence of the electronic equipment, all of which is run on power from our hydro sites.
At one point in between songs, one of the church leaders stood up and started talking in Kinyarwanda. I didn’t think much of it until someone started yanking my arm… “Stand up! Stand up!” ordered Jeremiah. I looked around… other than the man at the microphone, not a single person in the church standing. “Jeremiah, why?? Are you sure?!” “He’s welcoming you to the church, stand up and introduce yourself in Kinyarwanda!” A microphone was handed to me. With 250 people staring at my now undoubtedly bright red face, I took it hesitantly. “Uhhh…. Nitwa Sophia? Di abwenyeshuli muri kaminuza Dartmouth, America.” (My name is Sophia [my Kinyarwandan name]. I am a student in Dartmouth University, America.) Relieved, I handed the microphone to Alison, who said almost the same thing. We sat back down, glad that our embarrassment was over. The church leader once again took over the microphone and continued talking. He then led the congregation in a short song accompanied by hand movements. Alison and I started copying them – our futile attempt to fit in – but were stopped by Jeremiah. “They’re welcoming you into the church. He is saying that you are no longer visitors. He says you are Rwandans now and should always feel at home here.”
At the end of the service, all the itangazos (announcements/notices) were read. Ours came second to last. At the end, it read “Murakoze. Sophia” (Thank you. Sophia.) Immediately, there was some murmuring in the church and many eyes were on me. “She speaks good Kinyarwanda?!” they seemed to say. In fact, I had written an English version of the itangazo, Jeremiah had translated it, and I had merely copied the Kinyarwanda and signed it. Now, it seemed that the whole town thought that I spoke fluent Kinyarwanda. At the market tonight, I couldn’t help but notice the words “Sophia” and “Kinyarwanda” being whispered as I passed by, imbedded in sentences that I unfortunately could not understand.
Singing, battery usage, and awkward introductions aside, perhaps what I found most interesting about the church service was the Bible passages read. Only two were read. One was from Phillipians, but I’m not sure which verse.
The other was from Mark, starting at 10:17. It reads:
“Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’ So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not bear false witness,” “Do not defraud,” “Honor your father and your mother.”’ And he answered and said to Him, ‘Teacher, all these things, I have kept from my youth.’ Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’ But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God!’”
Despite having been to church only three other times, I had heard this passage read once before. It was at Dartmouth, a sermon written by my professor, Richard Crocker. In the context of the his (wonderful) sermon, the passage read as a warning – a reminder of the dangers of economic ambition (he specifically referenced financial consulting) – that likely inspired guilt in the majority of attendees, including myself, despite the fact that I neither believe in heaven nor intend to work on Wall Street. But when read in Banda, a community where many live on less than $2 a day, it did not seem that the majority of the congregation felt guilty. The passage read, to me at least, as a source of hope for a better future.