MOUNTPOTTINGER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
MOUNTPOTTINGER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

 Sunday 22nd July

I get up around 7:30am to get ready to go to church in Kitelira, a small village around 4km further into the bush from Msalato school that we were at Wednesday and Thursday.  I’m going over my talk (I wont give it the credibility of a sermon) and trying to get a few Swahili phrases to get the crowd (congregation) on my side so that they at least don’t start leaving or falling asleep.  I’m drying my breakfast dishes  when one slips and falls onto the tiled floor.  Lets just say it didn’t survive.  Is this an omen?  We’ll see..

Craig’s up about the same time as me and between 7:30am and 8:00am as folks wake up, the dreadful reality starts to dawn on them.  Its too early in the morning?   Its church service – oh no?   There’s no Rice Krispies left?  No.  Worse!  Much, much worse!  There’s no data left on the internet SIM!  Aaagh!!!  I’m sure the cries could be heard across the country!  What are we going to do?

We leave for church at 9:00am.  We are told that church starts at 9:00am, but no one ever shows up that early (not sure how that works….).  Kitelira church really is in the bush.  You cannot see anything for miles around.  There are no landmarks that you pass along the way, just high grass.  There are no signposts.  You just seem to follow this dirt track for ages and then when you seem to be completely lost, turn left of this dirt track onto a smaller one and it takes you right up to the church!

It’s a nice sunny morning, although very windy – a bit of a problem if you have notes, because there are no windows in the church, just window openings with iron grids in them, like many houses around here.  When we arrive, the minister isn’t there yet, just the catechist who runs the service (this is an Anglican church).  We are told that the minister John Ntande isn’t going to be there this morning as there is other business to see to, so the catechist and John’s son David (who drives the landrover for Kids4school) will lead the service.  David is to act as interpreter for my talk and will also let us know whats going on.

Its now 10:20am and David isn’t here yet – as are most of the congregation – however those that are here (and not of African origin) are wondering when the service will start.  We should try this kind of scheme in our own service.  Starting bang on 11:30am seems very rigid.  Around 10:30am we can start because David’s here and a few more congregation, although we are told to expect people to drift into the service (and out of the service) at any time.

I have to say that the service was relatively restrained given the soundtrack that was blaring across the bush from the church beforehand.  We started with a welcome to us (in Swahili) then a choir group performance (including choreography), then it was our turn for a song.  “Praise is rising” was up first, since because the service hadn’t started in time, we weren’t going to have time for our full song list (I say that as if that is a bad thing or we were disappointed!).  Everyone in the team got really into it.  We were swaying and singing our hearts out.  It was a decent opener.  There was then a couple of readings and then it was sermon time..

Doing a talk through an interpreter is not the easiest thing I have ever done.  Speak one sentence (and these must be complete sentences but short and simple so that the interpreter can translate the sentence without forgetting its content, since the Swahili syntax is not the same as ours) and wait for the interpreter to speak his translation.  Then carry on with the next etc.  [If you’ve read this article thus far, you’ll know I’m going to have a problem here with short simple sentences!]

Well, the congregation didn’t run away, didn’t heckle, nor fall asleep – so it cant have been that bad!  So I sat down relieved.

Another song and dance from the choir, a drum and whistle session from a different group of women and then it was us again.  We tried to whip up a bit of atmosphere in the congregation with a hand clap before starting into “Behold He comes” which continued through our song.  Again, volume was OK, effort was OK – not sure of the quality, especially as we probably started a little high, but we had one lady from the congregation come up and dance (only to realise that the rest of the congregation weren’t following her and she then returned to her seat).  We did have a few of the obligatory Swahili yodels (well that’s the only written description I can give them, so I hope you get the meaning).  The congregation again applauded, so not so bad.

After the collection (they have two – one for the diocese and one for the church itself) it was us again with “Kwake Yesu”.  The singing was grand, we swayed in (approximate) time with the rhythm and again it was appreciated by the congregation.  There then proceded what could only be described as a committee meeting where tending of plants outside the church was discussed – and there were probably a few more announcements as well – all of which we couldn’t understand and then to the high point of the service – the auction!

Being a poor area, not everyone could bring a monetary offering.  Some of the congregation brought produce.  Some of this wasn’t suitable for onward sale, but one item – a large watermelon - was and the catechist proceded to take bids!  I have a bid of 5 (thousand) at the front, who’ll give me 6 – at the back, lady in the red dress!  6,6, who’ll give me 7 and so we went on.  Jackie from kids4school eventually paid 10 thousand (£3.50) for the melon (about 2 – 3 times the market price), which did make a difference to the collection.  I think this would be a great addition to our service; we have the pulpit, a great vantage point to spot bidders, we could use the area at the front of the church as a parade ring!  Johnston to go back to Presbytery for approval and auctioneer training – minute for next session meeting!

After the auction was complete, that was the service over, but we did get our encore call from the catechist – who asked us to do another number song.  To fit in with the theme of the sermon we went with our God is a great big God.  We had David, the interpreter explain to the congregation that we wanted them all to do the actions and to those who spoke English, we went over the words.  At which point, we went right in and sang through twice.  More applause and then we exited the church.

Leaving church in rural Tanzania is a thing to behold.  The minister leads.  The person who follows him, upon leaving the building shakes his hand and then joins the line next to him.  The next person shakes the hand of the minister and then the next person and joins the line.  This carries on until everyone has left the building, the line snakes around the area outside the church and everyone has shaken everyone elses hand.  While a healthy dose of hand sanitiser may be required afterward, it is a great way for everyone to meet!

We were advised that it might be nice to bring some sweets for the children in the congregation to hand out afterward.  Some warnings about the best ways of managing this were outlined, but not to the poor soul – Daniel – tasked with the job.  In school when we handed out the lollipops, we let each child reach into the jar and lift out their own.  It was calm and controlled. When our Daniel entered this particular Lions den, it was a case of Lions 1 Daniel 0.  Literally a swarm of kids were round him; three or four hands in the jar at once and a wrestle for control of the sweets!

With the sweets gone, we departed for home and some antiseptic cream for Dan.  It was a time also to take stock of the service.  Maybe because there were a good number of people absent – the congregation size was around 70 this morning – there weren’t as many choir pieces or dances as usual and our praise was as lively as anything they had, we were a little disappointed.  We had in our heads hyped this up as something it could probably never have been.  But it was an enjoyable time of worship to God.

Afternoon meant barbecue.  The cooks were given the day off.  Craig took on barbecue lighting and cook duties and did it well – using quite a lot of one of the trees in the compound to get the fire started before the charcoal took over.  We devoured our purchase at the morning service and then the local curio dealers had been invited to sell us mementos of our trip.  This saved a lot of trekking around Dodoma fishing through rubbish to get to some good stuff.  These traders were well known to Kids4school and the products were better than average and the prices reasonable.  This was a time to hone our bargaining technique, as we were never going to get a bargain without some effort.  Prices were enquired, laughter ensued, we would walk away, come back, more laughter, a revised price, more laughter, more walking away and so on until eventually we got the bargain of a lifetime and the trader got the best profit he had seen in weeks!  We all made purchases and all enjoyed the afternoon’s entertainment of haggling over what amounted to no more than a couple of pounds!

We had a relaxing evening after this, planned out what we needed for tomorrow and sang a few songs. Tomorrow is Bible clubs again and more painting – this time at a different school.

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