One of the highlights of my trip to Uganda was worshiping in a village church about an hour from Fort Portal.
From the moment we stepped out of our vans, people greeted us warmly. Ugandans are big on greetings. The women often lean down into your shoulder and hug you, then do it again on your other shoulder, similar to the way some cultures kiss each cheek. Men will shake your hand and/or hug you. The handshake involves what my kids call a bro shake as well. I'll have to show you some time. It is not uncommon for them to keep your hand as introductions are made. Many held mine tightly as they welcomed me as if I were a long lost friend.
As we waited for people to arrive I noticed these drums outside. I was told they were used as a call to worship. The men in this picture came with us, so I’m not sure if they were issuing the call to worship or just playing around with the drums.
On the inside, seating was separated into three sections. There was the main seating area and then two smaller seating areas up on the platform.
We were led to the seating area on right side of the platform to join others already sitting there. The musicians sat among the people on the left side of the platform. The only instrument used was an electronic keyboard. The young man playing it had a good time with it, using it for sound effects as well as accompaniment. Whenever someone would say, “Hallelujah,” he’d play a chord like he was making a rim shot on a drum.
To begin the service, the keyboard player started a drum pattern, then played a tune as people sang. The music was lively with lots of clapping and dancing, and very repetitive. If I could have spoken rutooro, their language, it would have been easy to learn the songs.
More and more people arrived after the singing began and I laughed at the way it was just like my church at home which gets fuller 15-20 minutes after we’ve started. Many elements were the same. The service was not in English, but I gathered that besides praise and worship, there was a time for announcements, an Old and New Testament scripture reading and special music time.
About halfway through the service, the children were led outside for Sunday school and one of our team members was tagged as the teacher. Though she didn't know til we arrived that she'd be doing this, I hear she did a great job off the cuff.
The rest of our team participated as well. The church wanted to hear some of our music, so the young man who’d been leading worship time during our team devotions brought his guitar and led us in a few American songs. They wanted Kelly to preach and someone on the team to give a testimony. Kelly asked me to talk about being afraid to commit to Christ because I didn’t want to go to Africa. I only had the van ride to church to think about what to say. We brought a Ugandan pastor with us and he acted as our translator. Standing before this group of people was absolutely surreal for me, especially since I was talking to Africans about being afraid to go to Africa! I was amazed at how God calmed my heart and brought the right words. What an experience!
I had no idea what Kelly planned to speak about, but as only God can do, our messages were very similar. She talked about being poor in spirit and how God uses those people the most because his power is made more evident. It tied in well with my testimony that saying yes to God, even when we feel scared, points other people to Him because they know you couldn’t have done it on your own.
After the message they took up an offering. Actually there were two offerings. I’m not sure, but I think the second one was to raise money for a young Ugandan man who was getting his home back after his father died and left a debt the son couldn’t pay. People came up front to put money in pouches. Some brought food and placed it on the platform. Once the adults were finished, the children came back in singing, led by this little girl with the flower. They placed it on the platform as their offering as well.
I found the offering time very beautiful with people giving what they had--rice, pineapple, sugar cane, potatoes, mangoes, avocados, beans, pumpkins, etc. As soon as the service concluded, they auctioned off the items given.
Believe it or not, the man is holding up an avocado in this picture. They grow 'em BIG and wonderful in Uganda.
During the auction, the keyboard player used more sound effects as we heard the Ugandan equivalent of “going once,” (whistle) “going twice,” (whistle) “sold” (arpeggio like at a baseball game). It was so funny.
I’m not sure exactly what time we got started (Ugandans are not as strict with time as we are), but I’m thinking the service and auction lasted around three hours. Would you walk some distance to attend church for three hours?
Afterwards the children swarmed us as they did everywhere we went. They all wanted pictures with the mzungus and loved seeing themselves on camera.
Though we didn't speak the same language, I found that praising God is the same wherever you go. The passion of the Ugandans impressed and humbled me and I was honored to be among them that Sunday morning.