Sunday, April 12, 2009

Love and Forgiveness.

The celebration of Easter in Swaziland begins on Thursday evening; or at least it does for the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Members from all of the congregations travel to the "mission" church or main church in their circuit where the Superintendent of that circuit arrives. Each circuit (there are 3 in Swaziland) has an average of 50 congregations. Some of these congregations may only have 4 or 5 adult members. The celebration starts with an evening service on Thursday centered on the last supper, Jesus' arrest and the trial. This service was over 5 hours long and ended a little after 1:00am on Friday morning. Most of the people who attend Easter services camp out in the classrooms of the primary and high school. Services resumed at 9:00 am on Friday morning focusing on the crucifixion, breaking for lunch and then more services/meetings in the afternoon. There was another service Friday evening. Saturday was a day of meetings and then another service starting at 7:00 pm which was a memorial service followed by a revival which lasts all night long. The resurrection is celebrated as well as Holy Communion at 5:30 am and then a final service at 8:30 am.

During this period there is a lot of singing and sermons by all of the pastors, local pastors, evangelists, bible women, stewards, etc. The meals for the three days are prepared by the women of the different congregations. They are each assigned a meal and depending on the size of the congregation there may be several congregations that work together. They fed over 800 people Thursday night and expected to feed close to double that amount on Friday and Saturday.

On the surface, this sounds like an awesome tribute to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And indeed it is. But I wonder about all of the people in those outlying small congregations that can't afford the transport money to come to St. Paul's or for whatever reason can not leave their homestead for that long. These are the people that probably need the hope of Easter services the most, however, they receive nothing. From what I understand there are no services anywhere except for the big gatherings at the mission churches. This deeply saddens me.

My struggle leading up to the Easter services was that I don't understand a word of what is being said or sung. Oh, I understand a few basic words such as Jesus, Christ, God, heaven and you. But that isn't enough to understand what is going on. I also don't have the stamina to sit in services for that length of time, especially when I don't understand the language. I kept praying for the Lord to open my heart and to tell me what to do. I was contemplating not attending the services and perhaps going to Nelsprit for the weekend to hide. But as the weekend got closer I felt my heart was opened and that I would be able to sit through the services over the weekend or just stay in my house when I had had enough. Indeed I attended the entire service Thursday evening. But after about 3 hours I found it difficult to stay awake and to think of new things to meditate and pray on. By the time the service was over I had read and studied the account of the events of Holy week through the resurrection in each of the four gospels multiple times.

As you can imagine, with that many people camped out here, it was quite noisy all night long. After very little sleep, I decided that I would get as much out of Friday morning if I stayed at home re-read the Gospels, wrote in my journal, listened to my Christian music and prayed as I would if I attended the services. So I stayed in my place and had some sweet, sweet time with the Lord. I got ready to go up to the church after lunch and was just about to walk out the door when I started getting a rather severe muscle pain in my lower to mid back. I walked up to the church in pain, trying to massage it out. I spoke with a few people, but had to leave after about 15 to 20 minutes because the pain was excruciating. I took a lot of Motrin and iced my back during the afternoon and evening. It still bothered me on Saturday and I decided to just stay at home. If someone wanted to talk to me, they know where I live and have my phone number. I was feeling rather guilty, but the thought of sitting on a hard plastic chair for hours upon hours kept me from going up there. I actually slept about 10 1/2 hours on Saturday night which if you know me, is a miracle.

I got up this morning, caught a Joyce Meyers talk on the television and then decided to go up to Mbabane to attend the late service at the Healing Place Church. It is basically an American worship service in Swaziland. I walked into the church and was greeted and hugged by several people (greeters) that I didn't know. That confirmed to me that I was where I belonged at that moment. The music and worship brought tears of love, joy and thanksgiving streaming down my cheeks. I felt Jesus' arms around me telling me not to worry or feel guilty, that I was right where I was supposed to be. My cup runneth over. Afterwards I was invited to join my friends who are here with Children's Cup to go out to dinner where I had a wonderful time talking with people who have become very dear friends and my family here in Swaziland.

And the back pain? It mysteriously disappeared this morning. Devine intervention? An answer to my prayers of the past week or so? I'm thinking the answer is yes and that I wasn't listening when He told me it was okay not to sit through all of those services that I didn't understand out of obligation, so He got my attention in a BIG way. I'm so glad He did, because spending an hour or so in precious sincere worship with my God was worth so much more to me and I think to Him than days worth of obligatory worship that was not heartfelt.

Happy Easter and Praise the Lord!

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