In June 2009 I boarded a plane for what ended up being close to 20 hours of flying, with a brief layover in London, before I landed in Nairobi, Kenya. I had embarked on my first missions trip after returning to church after my decade long Jesus vacation, as I now call it. I had left church as soon as I moved out of my parents house and returned 10 years later to find something new. But, that’s a story for another time.
I knew going into this trip that there would probably be some speaking involved. My friend Matt Berry, whom I call Padre, told me that I would more than likely be sharing my testimony at some point, although I didn’t really know what to testify about. I had only been in church for a year and a half and was pretty sure that I had nothing to preach about during my short time back.
On the last Sunday of the trip, Padre, myself, and a fellow mission tripper Josh, piled into a small blue pickup truck along with our driver and his young son. We were bound for a small town called Juja. Padre had been asked to preach there this particular Sunday at a satellite church for the missions network we were in Africa to serve. I don’t really recall how long it took us to get there, but I do remember thinking to myself what a beautiful country Kenya is, as we were outside anything that resembled a city at this point, and the scenery was just amazing.
When we came into the town, we left the paved road behind. We were driving through areas that I had previously only seen on t.v. or in the movies. Once we arrived at the church we were greeted by the pastor. I don’t remember his name now but I do remember he had the biggest smile and was so honored by us being there. He wore a coat and tie and drove a beat up old red dirt bike.
He was so eager to give us a tour of his church which started by showing us the empty dirt lot that him and his congregation use to meet in just a short time ago. Now they have a building. To them it was something to be amazed at. The pastor had been telling us that the roof was a blessing from God and that the church had been saving for months and just recently bought it.
When I looked up I saw metal sheets that looked like they were right off the side of my grandpa’s barn back in Texas. Torn up, rusted, and full of wholes. I’m not sure that there was a single perfect piece up there. The church was just one big room with a number of open air arched windows. The walls looked like they were made of cinderblocks that didn’t pass inspection at the plant. The floors were all dirt but spread out evenly across them were plastic white lawn chairs and a few make shift wooden benches in perfect rows.
The thing that got to me was he was so proud of his church. For me, the outsider, the westerner, it looked like what could be a condemned barn, but these guys were here to worship, sing and to hear a Godly message. I have to be honest, I was taken back by it all. Thinking about all the people in the U.S. who would be getting up in 8 hours and heading to their multi-million dollar mega churches, the people who leave a church because the seats aren’t comfortable, or the people who decide not to go because, well its just to far to drive. when some of his congregation walks 3 hours one way to come to church in their suit and tie or Sunday best under the Africa sun.
I had decided that when it was my turn, I was going to talk about worship. About what it means to me and what it does for me. But that plan backfired, when worship started and I watched in complete amazement at what true worship really was. These people worshiped God like nothing I had ever seen before, with total and complete abandonment. I didn’t understand a word of what they were singing but I didn’t have to either. It was one of those times where you just knew what they were saying even when you didn’t.
There were congo lines, dancing in chairs, dancing under chairs, clapping and everything else one could do in a suit and tie on a dirt floor church in the middle of Africa. All the movement in the church stirred up the dirt floor and the dust collided with the rays of sun breaking through the holes in the new metal roof resulting in hundreds of visible beams of dust filled light covering the church. The light and the dancing crowd together was like something I’ve never seen before. They were singing and dancing around that church like their life depended on it, and that’s when I realized for most of them there it probably did.
I caught on to a trend there when praying for people, they tended to ask for basic necessities needed for life. Food, water, cattle and the like. It wasn’t about money, jobs, the car I want. It was about what they needed to make it through the next week. Yet as bad as they have it in our mind, there they were, every Sunday, worshiping God like I have never seen and I have to be honest it puts most American churches to shame.
I stood there clapping and fake singing in Swahili thinking to myself I wanted what these people have. I want that spark, that utter desire to let it all go in worship. Not thinking that in just a few minutes I was supposed to stand up in front of them and talk to them about something that they do so much better than me!
You see this big bald arrogant Texan boarded a plane to the other side of the world thinking I’m going to Africa because Africa needs what I have. They need me, and I am going there to do some good, I’m not saying that I didn’t do some with my teaching but what I found out more than anything was I needed Africa way more than Africa needed me.