When words are not enough

It really is so difficult to describe what it is like to go to church at 7:30 on a Sunday morning and find the service already so full that the only available seats are in the very back of the church. As time passes, however, you realize how lucky you are just to have those seats because people who arrived even later are now watching from the windows or standing around the door.

That was the experience I had this past Sunday at the cathedral in the Diocese of Yei, about 100 miles outside of Juba. The previous Sunday I had been in a congregation in Juba where the announced attendance was 1300+. That, apparently, was a down Sunday because I heard that the Sunday I was in Yei the attendance at the church in Juba was over 2000.

It is simply flabbergasting to worship in situations like this when I am so used to the empty pews of American churches. Pictures do not even begin to do justice to the experience but here are a few.

One of the (many) remarkable things is how young the congregation is. In Yei, I probably skewed the average age higher rather than lower it (substantially) as I often do in American churches.

There is nothing terribly surprising about all this. It is a fact that Christianity’s centre of gravity is shifting south and east. For some time, more Christians have lived south of the equator rather than north of it. But there is something exceptional about the church in Sudan. In South Africa, I routinely went to church with 300 or 400 people. That was one thing. But 1000? Or 2000? Stunning.

I’ve been re-reading Vincent Donovan’s Christianity Rediscovered while here, about his evangelism among the Masai in Tanzania. I was struck this time through by this section:

As I pass on this message of Peter and Paul and John to the segment of the nation before me, I am overcome with a kind of melancholy. History is playing itself out, in capsule form, before my very eyes. As I watch these Masai men and women…ponder the implications of this message, I know they will have to work out their own response to it. And their response, whatever it is, will not have very much to do with me.

As the message passes from us to them, I find myself hoping that they will make better use of it than we did.

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