Friday, 10 July 2009

Sunday Morning

Wow. Church is very different here. On Sunday morning we attended Ggaba Community Church. It is a very large church with an attached school and mission center, called African Renewal Ministries. It was about a thirty minute walk from our guest house. Alfred led us on the walk, and we even took the short cut, along the dirt paths instead of the main street. Lining those paths are the smaller houses, some made well, but others cobbled together from sheet metal and wood. Interspersed between these are compounds, some with enormous and beautiful homes. It is a very odd juxtaposition to see such poverty and such wealth side by side. The paths are very rutted from where the rain washes down the hills, and there are lots of rocks and trash to dodge, so you have to be very careful. It was tricky to navigate them carrying Tommy on my back. As you walk through there are many little children playing, and many yell out for you to say hello, or wave, or tell them how you are. Some run up to you and grab your hands and walk with you for a while. They are especially attracted to Jeff. In church the children ran up to him as well, and they all wanted to touch his hair, and to know Tommy's name, and hold him. Even the littlest kids here will pick up other little kids and cart them around. A girl who was four, maybe five, grabbed Tommy out of Jeff's lap during the service. We were caught off guard, and so was he, but he was pretty patient about it. Then the little girl and her friend sat with us for the end of the service. They were very friendly and sweet.

The service was very different for us. We grew up in the Presbyterian Church, and although we attend contemporary or blended services, we still fit the "frozen chosen" stereotype fairly well. There is nothing held back here. The Sunday School teacher was very direct, and as he taught he addressed some of the social issues they have here and told people very bluntly what they ought and not ought to do. The music was incredible. Everyone sang and danced and it was very loud. And when I say danced, I don’t mean that they swayed side to side while clapping their hands. They were actually dancing. The service included an infant dedication, and an engagement ceremony. It was really amazing to see both, and we were really impressed with how they perform engagements here. We, of course, had no idea what was going on when it started. Music began to play, and all of a sudden people began rushing down one side of the church. They lined up on one half of the stage area. One of them was holding a basket of flowers. Then another group of people came down the other side, and stood on the stage. Then the couple was introduced and they spoke about their love for each other and God, exchanged gifts, then rings, and announced the date of their wedding. Marriage in the context of the church is very important here, as many people chose to have common-law marriages (married without a ring) instead of marrying in the church. I thought that having the engagement in the church was really special, as it solidly places the marriage relationship within the church community and emphasizes the importance of the couple's relationship with Christ to their relationship with each other. Then there was more singing, and a sermon by a visiting evangelist from the US. The church had sponsored a week-long crusade for students that culminated in a "Jesus Festival" last night. The entire experience lasted about three hours. It was a lot of action crammed into a little time, and we really enjoyed it.

One thing that is really noticeable in church is how nicely Ugandans dress. Eddie, who has been teaching us about Ugandan culture as he drives, informed us yesterday that dressing "smart" is very important. This is obvious on the street as well, but it really stands out in church. People wear all kinds of different outfits, from traditional African clothing, to formal dresses (think prom, but more modest than in the US), to blouses and skirts. Everyone is always dressed very nicely, and everything they wear looks pressed (it probably is). Even walking through the dirt paths almost everyone is dressed quite well. Occasionally a child will be wearing something that is dirty. Everywhere you look you see clothing drying on the line, which explains why everyone always looks so clean. Jeff and I (who are generally very casual dressers) look so shabby in comparison. I think we embarrassed Alfred today at church because there were slobber marks on Tommy's baby carrier. He told us we had to wash it when we got home. His comment this evening when I told him I did not want to iron all of Tommy's clothes as per his suggestion/insistence, but that I was worried he would think we looked bad:

Amy: "In America I can be wrinkled."
Alfred: "When we look at you we don't think you look bad because we know it is your culture."

I laughed and told him that comment was going on the blog.

After all these years of graduate school most of our clothes just aren't very nice, and we didn't want to bring the ones that are nice because we knew we would be hand washing them and hanging them on lines. Cultural differences limited what we could bring anyway. The point is, with the exception of the court outfits we left our best things at home. So, we are basically the worst dressed people in all of Kampala. I am really thankful that we decided to wear one of our court outfits to church, or we would have really stood out. But at least everyone would have forgiven us, because 1) we were in church and 2) being poorly dressed is apparently a hallmark of American culture.


Gretchen said...

What a huge cultural difference! So funny! Maybe you could buy a few "nice" clothes in the marketplace for your stay. =)
I'm loving hearing about this experience!

Chelsea Lee said...

oh i cannot wait to be back to africa. i miss it and reading your blog makes me miss it more. i hope you are falling in love with my favorite place in the world. p.s. today at vbc kevin and i had a fight over who tommy would like best. p.p.s. jeff assembly is not the same without you. i have no idea what we're gonna do at family camp :)