Laughing with my friend Dina after church a few weeks ago. Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Five funny moments from church this week

Two months ago, I began attending a Swahili-speaking church. I am growing in my understanding of the language but am not yet fluent enough to understand without aid, so a couple friends help me out. For context, the church is also a charismatic evangelical African church, unlike my previous evangelical white American churches. This means we actively believe in both the power of the Holy Spirit and the importance of God’s written word, and we like to dance.

Both translation and the extra energy found at a charismatic church can lead to a lot of laughter and smiles. This Sunday was no different. A cheerful friend translated for me, and we had to hold back laughter at multiple points throughout the three and a half hour long service.

Can you relate to any of these moments?

When your translator translates English into English.

At the start of the service, my friend kept forgetting to translate. I would catch her eye, and she would apologize and catch me up on what had just been spoken. At one point, the choirmaster was giving a testimony to praise God since he had recently turned 40. We both were listening to his Swahili when one of the mamas in the choir turned to us and said in English, “When he’s done, let’s all sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ One, two, three, ‘Happy Birthday.’” Those of us in choir agreed. My friend proceeded to translate the choirmaster’s Swahili testimony and then translated the mama’s already-English words to English.

“That was English,” I said. “She told us in English.”

“Oh,” she replied.

When your translator translates the Biblical Joshua to “Josh.” Repeatedly.

I grew up in the Church and have never heard the Biblical character’s name or his book translated this way. Apparently my friend had not either, for she caught mistake each time yet could not help repeating it. The pastor would say something like, “Na Musu alisema ku Yoshua,” and she would translate, “And Moses said to Josh.”

Technically, it’s accurate—it’s a nickname—but it cracked us up. I had to hold back both tears and laughter at several points throughout the sermon. Good ol’ Josh.

When a two year old steps into his mom’s livestream of the sermon.

Our church posts its services on YouTube each week, praise and worship and all (see here), but one of the pastors’ wives also livestreams it on Facebook, at least when her husband is preaching. She sat in the wooden pew in front of me this week.

Her young son stepped in front of her camera as if to say, “Hello Facebook world, I’m here and I’m cute and I know it.” (Sorry I don’t have a link for this one.) We knew it too, but that’s not why the viewers were online. I motioned him aside, but he shook his head at me in refusal.

After a few moments, the mama next to the pastor’s wife pulled him away. Ultimately, we and the viewers were there for God, not for the child, however cute he may be.

When the pastor is so animated that his mic falls off.

The Swahili-speaking pastors’ charisma always humors me compared to the French translator’s calm demeanor. All the preachers I have interacted with this summer are gentle in person but jump around and shout when up front. It’s their preaching style. It’s a charismatic church. But even when the preacher grabs his arm to demonstrate an action, the translator is best described as “chill.” He copies their motions but is more reserved.

This week, the pastor was so energetic that his clip-on microphone fell off in the middle of the message. He didn’t miss a beat, didn’t seem to notice, but continued preaching as the choirmaster jumped up to clip it back on for him.

When the pastors repeat the Scripture they ask others to read.

Often, in the beginning or middle of the service, the pastors will ask somebody to read a passage of Scripture in Swahili—or another language like Kirundi or Kinyarwanda, if needing clarification. When the person reads it in Swahili, the pastors will shout out the passage after them, line by line.

“And Jesus said—”

“AND JESUS SAID!”

“Be holy—”

“HOLY!”

“As I am holy.”

“AS I AM HOLY!”

(This is not a specific example, but I chose it because my church has a strong focus on holiness.)

I do not understand why this repetition is necessary since the person already read it, but it makes me smile.

 

I am grateful for my church and the countless ways my friends there have helped me and loved me. I am glad God is a God of humor, too; it makes life enjoyable.

Do you have any similar experiences to these five, either from translation error or from having an animated pastor? Comment below if so!

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Why salvation is not exclusive

Two years ago this weekend, God changed my heart and set me on the course toward racial reconciliation.

At a summer ministries retreat, in a room full of students lamenting over the ways they had been hurt, God’s Spirit convicted me to confess my racial prejudice in public and to repent. Although God rescued me from slavery to sin and brought me into his Kingdom when I was a young girl, and although he led me through various seasons of focused growth (e.g. prayer in third grade, evangelism in my senior year of high school), that weekend in 2014 marked a significant turning point in my life.

On the same weekend in 2015, God called me to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where I hope to work with refugees. This connects to my work while I’m in the States because the refugees may move here, and I want them to be safe.

While in the States, I fight for #blacklivesmatter because God’s work is holistic—he cares about both body and soul. White evangelical sermons often focus on the soul, and since eternity is unfathomably long, I’m glad these pastors are thinking ultimate. We want people to know Jesus. Yet these same pastors and churches may also be afraid to talk directly about race. About bodies. They leave out half of how Jesus interacted with people and spoke to them.

You see, Jesus raised the dead, healed the blind, and hung out with women and men from the underprivileged ethnic groups, the Gentiles and mixed-race Samaritans. The Jews of his time weren’t too fond of these folk, to put it lightly. In fact, the Jewish leaders’ speech dripped with prejudice toward them. But Jesus wanted his ethnic group, the Jews, to come alive and see that God’s Kingdom welcomes women and men of all ethnicities.

(As a crucial aside, Jesus didn’t call everyone to be the same—the Gentiles did not have to conform to Jewish practices such as circumcision, for example. But he created all people in his image and desires for them to be reconciled to each other just as they can be reconciled to God through his sacrifice on the cross.)

The apostle Paul proclaims, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16, NIV). God does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, social class or gender. Everyone who “believe(s) in the Lord Jesus … will be saved” (Acts 16:31, NIV). God doesn’t qualify “everyone.” He says everyone, black and white, Native American and Indian immigrant, Puerto Rican and Vietnamese.

Although many black Americans are restricted to zip codes with poor housing and poor education today, if they trust Jesus, they will dance on the golden streets of Heaven. (And since black churches in the United States tend to incorporate more movement than white ones, the Lord knows these brothers and sisters will make a prettier sight than most people from my white church! 😉 )

Part of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples—which applies to all Christians today—begs for God’s Kingdom to come and will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. So why aren’t more white evangelicals engaging in social issues regarding race and public policy? Why do they hesitate to believe the real life testimonies of black brothers and sisters?

It would be horrible for a newly arrived black refugee walking out of a convenience store and down the streets of his own neighborhood to be shot by a police officer who has been socialized to fear black men. It would be atrocious for a Congolese woman, scarred from warfare in her home country, to see her young son killed in this new land of “opportunity and freedom” or to be beaten herself on the roadside. (If you weren’t following the news last year, I’m referencing Mike Brown, Tamir Rice and Marlene Pinnock.) I pray these borrowed examples will never happen to new black refugees.

In my experience, the Church has compassion for refugees. It follows that it should also act justly and lovingly toward black Americans who have lived in this country for centuries, building it from the ground up. I pray the borrowed stories will never again happen to black Americans.

Toward that end I strive.

I encourage my Christian readers to seek the Lord as you also strive for his Kingdom. All human beings have dignity, being made in God’s image. Why then do we remain complacent about the structures that keep many of our black brothers and sisters in both visible and invisible chains? I especially call Christians to open their eyes and hearts to the reality of racial injustice and inequality in this country.

Let us not grow weary in doing good.

Never forget that #blacklivesmatter.