Monday, June 23, 2014

Two Cars and A Goat

Well it has been a couple full days since I have been able to post. Yesterday we attended a marathon of a worship service. We arrived at the church at about 8:30am and did not depart from the service until after 2pm!

The service was to honor and bless Rev. Aaron Urio and his wife Sophia for their many years of service at Ushirika wa Neema Deaconess Center. Rev. Urio was retiring from being the directer of the center and Mrs. Urio from being the headmistress of the Montessori teachers college, also located at the deaconess center.

Imagine sitting on hard wooden benches for that length of time without being able to understand anything being said because you don't speak the language. Then imagine doing this when you were a teenager! That's what our POP kids did in Africa yesterday. And they did it with grace and good humor. At our dinner this evening with the bishop and other church leaders Rev. Urio shared openly about how much it meant to him to have our young people present at that service. The bishop also shared his appreciation and joked that our youth will always remember that service!

There were moments during the service that engaged our imaginations in spite of the language barrier. For instance, during the gift giving portion of the service when they brought in everything from washing machines to coffee tables to billy goat gruff pictured above. Yes, two such goats were walked right up the center isle of the big church during the procession of gifts. The Urio's also received the gift of not one, but two, cars which were parked out front of the church.

The service was to be followed by a big luncheon out on the church lawn but I could see my group was hanging on by a thread and we quietly made our escape!

Today we moved into another new region to visit Agape Lutheran Jr. Seminary. This is the first time we have gone this direction and the landscape changes from the dry foothills to a gorgeous mixture of deep greens and golds surrounded by mountains.  Agape is a Lutheran boarding school for the brightest young people from about the ages of thirteen to twenty-one.

We saw the foundation being laid for the chapel being built on the campus.  The new church will seat 1,000 people and the students are helping to construct this holy space on the very location where the local tribes would make sacrifice in the old days.

Next, we made our way to Ashira Lutheran Parish.  This congregation has a fascinating history connected to the establishment of the Lutheran Church and the work of the German missionaries.  Back in the day this hilltop location was the sight where the local tribes disposed of dead bodies.  

Location of first Christian baptisms
The word Ashira is derived from the English pronunciation of the Chagga word for “place that stinks." Imagine telling people you are a member of Stinky Lutheran!  The chief figured that by giving the pesky missionaries this cursed ground they would soon disappear.  More than one hundred years later and the Lutheran church thrives everywhere you look in this region.  The gospel can take root and grow wherever it is planted!

We hiked back into the forest near Ashira to see the place where the missionaries baptized the very first Christians in this region. In fact, they continue to baptize people in this historic location to this day.

Our visit to Ashira was also special because this is the place where Candy Kvamme's Aunt served as the headmistress at the Ashira Lutheran Secondary School for some years back in the late 50's to early 60's. We all walked through the beautiful campus of the school and Candy was able to meet the current headmaster and even sign the visitors book in that special place.

Next we traveled to Marangu Falls where we heard a good history of the Chagga tribe and hiked to the base of the gorgeous falls.

We ended this full day by accepting bishop Martin Shao's invitation to have dinner with him and other church leaders from the diocese. Many heartfelt words were spoken about the profound blessing of being partners in ministry together. The bishop and others shared their delight that our youth are here for this trip as a sign of a strong future together.  The bishop had gifts for all of us and Sister Agnes ended the night with a long prayer of thanksgiving in her native Chagga language.

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