An excerpt from my book MAKUTANO, Lives Intersecting to Write God's Story (Chapter 7: A Rogue Baboon)
(Nine of my students travel to Kenya with me in June, 1997. The first of many teams that have traveled with me.)
We were originally scheduled to arrive in Nairobi on Saturday evening which would give us several hours to clean up and rest before our Sunday started at The Church of Restoration in Banana. I was able to contact Michael Chege and notify him of our change of plans, so he and others were there to meet the team when we arrived in Nairobi at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.
As we packed into the vans that had come to collect us, I heard someone sigh, “Oh, am I going to be so glad for a shower and a few hours rest.” I turned to the group and gave them the bad news. “There will be no baths or rest right away; we’re headed straight to the church.”
Folks were already gathering in the little wooden church in Banana Hill in preparation for the morning worship. They greeted us with warm welcomes and escorted us to two benches at the front of the church they always reserve for their honored guests. Hot tea and mandazi awaited us. I chuckled as one of the girls with leaden eyelids leaned over to me and whispered, “There is no way I am going to be able to stay awake for this service.”
I just smiled as I heard the distinctive pop of the sound system coming to life and the gentle bump of two of the ladies picking up their Kikuyu drums. Turning my eye to the huge speaker system that was scarcely 2 feet from her head, I said, “I honestly don’t think that will be a problem.”
Our congregation back home in America would never be qualified by the word “quiet.” We are rowdy, demonstrative worshippers. We have one of the finest worship bands I have heard anywhere, and they are loud. However, compared to the average worship experience in Africa, our group is more akin to the solemn chambers of a Benedictine monastery.
One of the Kenyan ladies took a microphone, listened to a chord on the keyboard, and started to sing. Her voice was powerful on its own as it entered the microphone, but in the nanosecond it took for her voice to traverse the 8 feet of wire to the large speaker just to the right of our heads, it emerged like a cannon blast. You could see the 15 inch speaker cone suck back into the cabinet (almost like one would pull back a stone in a slingshot) before releasing her powerful voice into the room.
Those of us in the “seat of honor” not only heard the worship service, we felt the worship service. The drums picked up to maintain the rhythm, more singers came to the platform, and a fellow came running and sat down behind a set of standard drums. The congregation came to its feet, singing as they rose. It was like a locomotive rolling out of the station, leaning into the wind as the powerful engine propels its huge weight toward the next station.
Our little team stood in shock for a few seconds before the infectious worship drew them in. Soon, they were wide awake and fully engaged in the worship. Travel weariness was gone and sleep was a forgotten issue, as they were sucked into a parallel universe. Outside the building was a mass of broken lives, grinding poverty, and shattered dreams. Inside, all of that was forgotten, if but for a few hours, and all eyes were on heaven.
In America we have a phrase, “Dance like nobody’s looking.” In African worship there is a complete absence of self-consciousness. Watch or don’t watch. Worship or don’t. Sing or don’t, clap or don’t, laugh at us or not; we worship for an audience of One, and it’s not you.
I remember when a member of a later team, accustomed to a more intellectually driven worship, remarked, “This is very childish.” At first, I was offended for my African friends, but I quickly realized that in his moment of condescension, he was spot on! These were children, and these children were celebrating with complete abandon at being welcomed into the very presence of their heavenly Father. When they pray, they pray as one. Prayer is not a stilted, poetic performance that appeals to men rather than God. It is a cacophony of human orchestration; it is a symphony of praise and petition that is as majestic as it is simple while many voices sweep into the Throne Room as one sound. It is a worship experience unlike any I have experienced anywhere else in the world.
There is a place for intellect. There is a time for a reasoned response to the mysteries of godliness, and there is a time for the primal need within man to connect with the infinite. On the day of Adam’s creation, God blew His own breath into a man; the essence of his own self took up residence in that human. Too often, we want to figure God out, to reason, to understand and explain; but there are moments when a man removes the guards of his fleshly self and opens his innermost being so that the finger of God may touch him in that most secret place. My travel weary team experienced the energizing power of an encounter with the realness of God that day.
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3 ESV).
Many believers stumble through their Christian lives in hopes of entering heaven, someday. We were in the presence of a people who enter the kingdom of heaven every time they come together. As their hilarious worship wafts upward bearing the sweet fragrance of praise, the doors of the kingdom are flung wide to receive them into the Father’s presence. I recommend that occasionally we abandon our insistence upon polite decorum and dance into the presence of our God as children, delighted by the embrace of our Father.