On Sunday, I had my first experience at a church not in the United States, and it was an interesting experience.
Everything you have ever heard about African churches is totally and completely correct. They are upbeat, welcoming, and crazy. There is dancing, clapping, greetings, and singing. And for me, that was a bit of an adjustment.
You see, I’m not really a “social” person. Yeah, I like people enough. But, I prefer to have conversations with few of my close companions than go around talking and meeting a lot of people and socializing with a lot of people at once. And, as far as dancing goes, I don’t do that. Like ever. I was the kid who stood in the corner at prom taking pictures instead of dancing. And they get so into their worship. Which is great, and I love it, but I’m not really that type of person either. I mean, when a song gets really intense and I am really feeling the Spirit moving, I will get into it. I will close my eyes, lift my hands, let the Spirit speak to me, whatever. But, I don’t usually get that into it. I don’t dance. Sometimes, I’ll sway, but I don’t full out dance. I also don’t really clap. I’ll start and then give up because I can’t clap and sing. And I sometimes feel that I get so focused on the clapping that I don’t allow the Spirit to move or speak to me.
So, this was a transition for me. The first thing we did when we walked in was shake hands with anyone and everyone. We introduced ourselves, and then sat down and waited for the service to start. As it began, there was singing, dancing, and clapping. It took me a while to get used to it and warm up to it, but eventually I got into it. And it was a pretty cool experience. I felt the Holy Spirit moving in ways I hadn’t felt before. I noticed myself getting into it in ways I never could have imagined. It was different. It wasn’t better or worse than my normal church services. Just different.
And, I didn’t understand all of what was being said. They had a translator, but everything was still not understood completely. The Swahili songs were not translated into English, nor were the prayers. And sometimes, even when English is being spoken, the accent is difficult to understand. So, understanding what was happening was not always easy. Fortunately, Lyle, one of the leaders on the trip with us, gave the sermon, making it easier to understand. But, regardless of the communication barrier and the difficulty in understanding and mixing in with the culture, it was a pretty great experience. I was reminded that the same God is being worshiped in Kenya that we worship in the United States. The same Spirit is moving them that moves us. We may be worshiping differently, and in different languages, but it’s the same God. And He understands everything. What we are saying, what we need, what we are thinking. Even when we don’t. And that’s amazing.
Our God is the same as their God. He is the same as the God worshiped in Europe, Africa, America, Australia, the Middle East, everywhere. He is the same God who is worshiped in a church, in your home, on the street, wherever you are. And this experience helped remind me of this. It helped me to remember that the church is not just a building. It’s not just a group of people. It’s not just a country. It’s everywhere. It’s experienced differently and done differently, but it’s the same celebration and the same God.