Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fisenge Church

Fisenge Church

Each Sunday morning we have gone with our hosts to the Fisenge United Methodist Church where John Enright pastors with a young Zambian pastor-in-training. The village of Fisenge is an old community and well off the beaten path—or a distance from the tarred highway at least. As is the custom in Zambia, all the churches are located on the same street. Their close proximity to each other, and their lack of windows, means that you can literally hear the neighboring church at prayer, song, or preaching.

Fisenge United Methodist is a tiny church in a former home with about 80 in attendance. This is a new congregation, started in very recent years by John’s father before his death. Simple plastic chairs or benches seat adults in one section, with children seated in another section at a right angle to the adults. The children sit under the banner “God’s Kids” with pictures they have drawn and colored. God’s Kids is a program for children started in varied localities by Lorraine Enright, John’s 83 year old mother who spends half of each year in Zambia. Instead of Sunday School, Fisenge has its children’s programming on Wednesday afternoon. Local church members carry on the God’s Kids programs when Lorraine is in the States during winter months.

We have been surprised by the length of the Fisenge service: about 1 to 1-1/2 hours and short by African standards. Evidently the shorter service is intentional as people often have difficulty with the more traditional and longer services. It includes a time of singing, a choir number, simple preaching, and an offering and prayer in closing.

The church is a simple brick and plaster structure with uncovered openings for windows. The inside has a concrete floor, plastered walls, and a tin roof. No soft surfaces muffle the sound of singing or speaking or falling rain. One Sunday it rained too hard to even hold church—the noise against the tin roof would have made hearing impossible. Another Sunday the rain fell while we were there, creating a predicament for the speaker. The congregation simply sang and sang until the rain let up and speaking could be heard again. The sound of the singing and the pounding of rain upon tin created quite a din, a noise I’ve never heard before.

The choir is made up of about 5-6 people, three of them nursing mothers. They keep their babies on their back or nurse them openly, as is the custom here. The choir’s combination of music and simple dance is very pleasant. Their young director even writes most of their music. Congregational singing is from a hymn book (words in Bemba but no music), with many of the tunes familiar from Western hymnody. The best, though, is when they break out in African-styled rhythms and harmonies, accompanied by intricate claps, dance, and much repetition. Perhaps this is considered African “praise” music (or African gospel, as I’ve heard it said).

We have enjoyed the simplicity of the Sunday sermons. Stories about widows, oil pots, hunger, healing, orphans, miracles, and more take on a new life in an African setting. There is an immediacy and urgency to faith that one simply can’t experience in the West. We are reminded that Christ was announced by the angels as “Good News” at the time of His coming. And He is Good News indeed.

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