The first Sunday I was in Bohong, two local congregations combined their services. They had had the district meeting the day before and named the district council. Sunday, these people were introduced to everyone and installed. I was also introduced to everyone as well. I can say that I understood about 25% of this service – and most of that was because I knew the order of service and a few words they said in Sango. After the liturgy, food was served to the new council in the church. The Andre, chaplain who is my Sango teacher, another woman who just finished her seminary studies, and I were also fed in the pastor’s house. We had gozo (manioc root prepared into a dough-like ball) and goat meat in a sauce, both of which we ate with our hands. (Water and soap were provided so that we could wash our hands before and after eating.) Once again I was welcomed with honor and respect.
The second Sunday I went to the church which is closest to the guest house where I am staying and right behind the EEL-RCA’s clinic. Sometime last year the wind blew off the roof. They have plans to replace it, of course, but there is no insurance, so they must collect money first. They continue to use the building that has ¼ of the roof. Some people who sat in the sun section brought umbrellas to reflect the hot rays. I again was asked to sit up front. I was glad to be there because I sat beside Andre who could help me follow the liturgy and interpret some of the Sango. This week I was able to understand more. I have a copy of the liturgy book (in Sango) to follow and a Sango Bible. During the week, Andre and I read part of each so that I can better understand. I also read the lessons of the day in a French Bible so that I knew the story/passage and could then better follow the Sango. Even with the words in front of me, though, I couldn’t read/recite at the speed that they do! I can say that my comprehension went up to about 50%.
As I took part in the liturgy, I couldn’t help but observe similarities and differences between this church and East Liberty Lutheran Church (ELLC) in Pittsburgh where I have been a member for years. As the liturgy starts, pews/benches in neither church are very full. During the first 15-20 minutes, people enter both places. I have to say, though, that the church here got a much larger crowd!
Both churches have announcement times – ELLC at the end and this church after about 20 minutes of singing, the reading of the psalm, and prayers. During this service, the pastor reminded people that two weeks ago, they had been asked to each contribute 500 CFA (about $1, but probably the equivalent of $50 given how little people make here) for the restoration of the roof. This week, the pastor said, the women didn’t need to listen to the announcement. He went to the right side of the church (pews where the men sit – women are on the right and youth and children in the middle) and asked the men where their contributions were. He said that the women had given theirs… As he continued to talk, he said maybe they should repair only the part of the roof that covers where the women sit! (I understood a little of that announcement, missed part, and Andre filled in a little). Isn’t it the same everywhere? We have trouble getting enough to complete essential repairs to the building of the church… I don’t know if the men contributed their money, but work has started in rebuilding the church. Men have been making the wooden frame on which the tin roof will be attached.
As in Pittsburgh, lay people assisted in the service reading passages from the Bible and contributing prayers. Also the same, the pastor read the Gospel lesson and then preached the sermon. I have to say that I understood the parts of the sermon that recounted the passage from Mark (no doubt because I had read it in French and Sango several times during the week). Most of the rest of his message I missed. Still, this is great progress and I am happy!
There is a choir that sits together in both churches, but the one here is about 5 times as large as ELLC’s. They don’t have an organ here, but a young man played the drums. They also set up two huge speakers, ran a generator, and had an amplifier with two electric guitars. The problem was that there was a loud hum from the amplifier or speakers and each time they put it on, the singing was drowned out. It got turned off again, so that even though the man who set it up tried several times, he was never really successful.
During the offering, the choir sings in both churches. At ELLC, though, ushers pass plates for offerings. Here, everyone makes a line and goes up front to deposit their offering in a box. The box in this church has three openings – one each for men, women, and youth. I like the idea of everyone going up (even though it takes longer). It encourages everyone to give at least a little. Mostly, I heard gifts clink (coins, worth up to a $1), but all (or almost all) gave – even if it was the widow’s mite.
Churches here have communion once a month, usually, while ELLC has it weekly. I miss that part, but because I was traveling so much in September, I actually had communion each week. We did not have it during this service.
The liturgy here and in Pittsburgh is basically the same, although the order of service varies a little. It is good to feel at home during this Sunday morning time, even if I can’t understand a lot of what is being said.