I especially realized this two days ago when I went to church in Mbonisweni. The purpose of going to church is not to make yourself look good in the community. The purpose of church is to have community. To come together as one and to realize that we are not alone. Each of us experience joy, pain, struggle, and triumphs. Church is a place where we should come together and talk about these things with each other and with God. It is a safe place to praise God and to express your doubt, failures, and frustrations to Him. Church is a place where most should feel welcome because it provides for those that need help the best it possibly can. It is not supposed to be a place of judgement. It is not supposed to be a place that is exclusive. It is not a place to be self-righteous. I'm very sad to say that I have very often experienced all of these things at churches in the States.
Church in South Africa is very much the opposite of the tendencies of churches in the States. Services in America are often about one hour long, yet seem to last for eternity. In South Africa, services last up to three hours, yet go by so fast. I think that this is because people don't hide at church here. In their worship, they cry out to God when in need and shout praises when they are filled with His presence and joy. Sermons are about practical issues, and people are not afraid to share their stories, troubles, and testimonies. They are led by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit very often rebukes and gets rid of any evil that is in the building. The church culture here is very hard to explain unless a person experiences it first-hand, because it is so different from anything else.
Church this week especially impacted me because it is Heritage Week in South Africa. Many of the church members abandoned their western-influenced clothes for beautiful traditional wraps, pleated skirts, beaded headbands, and intricate necklaces. There are 11 national languages of South Africa, each of which contains its own history, culture, and tradition. This week each culture is encouraged to practice its roots. I love it when people are still able to embrace their culture while fully embracing true Christianity. This is exactly what church this week was all about. There was something so comforting and so needed about the church service, especially after the riots. Many people needed comfort or needed to express their anger and frustrations. It was a very unifying service. During the entire service, I got to hold little Charity, Mama Charity's oldest girl. She almost instantly fell asleep. Even though she drooled all over me in her sleep, I couldn't help but feel so happy and content to be a part of this community that so much needs and yearns for God's presence and unity.
After church a few of the base members and I got a bite to eat and then went to Pull Together, a sort of youth group that's held once a month. Teenagers from all of the churches in multiple towns came together to worship and celebrate God's presence. I had the time of my life! It was such an amazing experience to be surrounded by young people so on fire for God. My ears were ringing from how loud the worship was. It was also such a blast because of people celebrating Heritage Week. At the beginning there were worship songs which were an amazing mix of praising God and doing traditional Siswati dances. I was sitting in the front row when some of the performers, all decked out in their beautiful cultural clothes, came to the front and started dancing. I was quickly handed a wrap to tie around my normal clothes. Before I knew it, I was swiped out from the crowd and put in the middle of them, trying to keep up with them as they danced. I probably looked like a hysterical fool, but I had the time of my life! The Holy Spirit's presence was so evident among us as we praised and laughed and danced! This is what Church is all about-- it is supposed to be a Jesus Culture. I think it is seriously so beautiful when boundaries can be put aside and multiple cultures are put together in one place to celebrate and praise Jesus. When this is done in the right way, the cultures are still able to embrace their beautiful traditions that God put in place for them. When praise and culture are combined, I think that some very powerful, world-changing things are able to happen. And that is exactly what happened. The world was changed a little bit that night as a church in Mbonsiweni, South Africa opened its doors and sent out its youth into the world with a mission of bringing peace and unity despite color, nationality, or circumstance yet still promoting the beauty of culture.