“Under the Wing of God” by Rinda Hayes
Reflections from the 2018 trip to Taru, Kenya.
It’s Sunday morning and we are “church hopping”. Sundays are days of joy here in Taru, as it is a given that everyone will be going to their various churches to worship. There’s nothing passive about worshipping here. You do it with your mind and might. Every fiber of your being is thrown into the mix. “God is our energy,” “God is our might.” “How could anyone live under the wing of God and not know it?” I am asked, when I mention that a large number of people in my world are atheists.
The Taru community is a beautiful example of how different religions can coexist, bringing a rich blend of spirituality to an area. In this community, which is one third Muslim and two thirds various Christian sects, it is a given that all social and civic functions start and end with a Christian and a Muslim prayer. Prayers are woven into the very fabric of every gathering. If I accidentally begin a Board meeting, or any meeting for that matter, without a prayer, I’m quickly stopped. “Mama Rinda, we are forgetting the most important thing.” The format of the prayer matters not at all; the content does. It is simply an imperative that we acknowledge God, invite His presence, and most of all, thank Him for the gift of life. I am humbled by this earnest and universal need for divine invitation. It’s foreign to me, coming from a world where the mention of God can stir rancor.
When in Kenya we usually attend the local Catholic Church, St. Kizito, a small parish that is the church home of Joseph, our director, and his family. It’s the community “staple”, with its choir of harmony so rich and multi-layered that it swoops you up in awe. The church used to be run-down; what Joseph would refer to as a “place whose beauty has grown old.” But it has been revived; a gorgeous mural painted on the wall behind the alter. I love to be there, looking, listening, embraced in the fellowship, watching the children dance up the aisle to a gorgeous blend of African and Christian music.
But on this Sunday, we’ve decided it’s time to visit some of the other churches. Everyone here wants you to “meet” their church, like you would meet their family. So today we are “church hopping”. Alex, our loyal staff member who was once one of our students, has taken us to his church, the African Inland church, a tiny branch, where we have heard a beautiful sermon about “asking God to transform you. To do so, you must serve God in conviction, not convenience.” The pastor builds on this theme; “To be transformed you must realize your weaknesses, and be willing to be used by God for a beautiful purpose.”
This sense of “purpose” seems to propel my African friends. They are swept up in it. It overrides the grim and often grinding challenges of their lives. It is often so missing in the lives of people in affluent cultures – the strong sense of purpose that fights isolation and embeds meaning in every day. I soak in the powerful words, tuck away the message to draw on throughout the challenges of the coming week.
Next we go to Daniel Dzombo’s church. Dzombo’s gleaming smile, his Pentecostal zeal, his fervent love and his gentle ministering to all, have been part of the African fabric of my life since the beginning, in 2005. Dzombo has served on the Kenya Keys Board for 13 years, but it was only on this trip that I found that his “job” on the Board is to “pray full- time for Kenya Keys”. Huh. All those times I’d witnessed things come together in strangely miraculous ways, and I’d thought maybe I had something to do with it? The truth comes out – it was undoubtedly because of Dzombo’s prayers, beseeching God to bless his community through Kenya Keys, landing on listening ears. How could you not listen to a voice so deep and fervent?
Dzombo had begged us to come to his church – The Lord’s Promise Church – now located in a new tin shack. We heard the service long before the shack came into sight. That little place was rockin! Dzombo came out to greet us, so proud, so glad we’d come to be part of the service. “We’ll be praising God and then praying,” he said. “We are so blessed that you are here.”
All eyes turned on us as we walked in. In all the years I’ve worked in this area, I’ve never seen another white person, except those passing on the highway on their way to safaris, so we stick out wherever we go. Shock at seeing white people (wazungu) walk in quickly turns to warmth. At God’s Promise Church, whether in the praises part of the service, or the prayers part, it all involves dancing, singing and moving with wild abandon. Now this I can do! Whoever knew that church could be such a good workout. It made my usual worship feel so paltry, so dry and lifeless. This was real!
I watched as Dzombo began his sermon, his voice bouncing off the tin walls, the whole place reverberating. I never understood a word of his Swahili sermon, but I never had to question the impact it was having, as I watched the woman in front of me, eyes raised, one hand on her heart, one hand lifted to heaven, her face alight. The grime of her life fell from her. She saw only heaven, as did everyone around me.
“Whatever they are drinking, I want some of it,” I said to myself, my earth-bound body feeling so cumbersome next to their nimble, organic dancing. What thoughts are filling their heads right now? How do they exude so much joy in the midst of lives that appear so hard?
Can I please just ride to heaven on the jet-stream of this little church, tucked beneath the wing of God?
Enjoy watching the exuberance of praise at The Lord’s Promise Church
Rinda Hayes is the founder and Executive Director of Kenya Keys. This was her 13th trip to Kenya on behalf of the organization and the hundreds of students it serves.