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Bwana asifiwe: "Praise the Lord" is the call at the beginning of the service in Kakamega and is sprinkled liberally throughout the prayers, the notices and the sermon.
Let me take you through a morning service such as the one we attended today. The whole world seems to go to church on Sunday morning. Some mornings the sound of gospel singing from the field next to our house wakes us before it is even light. Just after 8 a.m. we set off on foot for the walk into town for the 9 a.m. English service at Christ Church, joining a long procession of people making their way along the red, rutted dirt road, towards the Pentecostal Assembly in a large hut at the stadium, the Lutherans down a side road, the Baptists a little further on. Once on the main road, a stream of boda bodas (passenger bicycles) flows on our left, nearly all heading the same way: into town where one finds the Roman Catholics, the Church of God and the Salvation Army. The path is for everyone and we pass children in their Sunday best, trudging hand in hand, women carrying burdens on their heads making for the market kiosks, a boy driving three scrawny cows. The footpath today is muddy and treacherous because it rained hard in the night (joy!!) and we have to avoid the puddles, as well as the usual rocks and garbage.
As we get closer to the centre of the town, the matatus are more frequent and we shake our heads and smile at the touts wanting to take us to Kisumu or Eldoret ,and the newspaper vendors offering us the Nation. We step round a large pile of garbage at the boda boda station and leave the large pig rooting happily amongst the papers and fruit peelings. Pedestrians do not have priority, and every road junction is fraught with danger as bicycles zoom around the corner and minibuses jockey for first position. At the time we pass, the stall holders are setting up at the main market and we edge by handmade wheelbarrows and sacks of oranges. Once through the main shopping area, we walk past the sellers of second hand shoes, past the tiny park, leaving the Anglican Diocesan Centre on our left, and cross the road to take the hill up to Christ Church.
We aim to arrive a few minutes before 9 and join those already waiting outside. A few months ago, we stood outside the door, sweating and breathing heavily from the heat, the altitude and the climb. I think we must be acclimatised, for this is no longer the case. The church holds a bilingual prayer and praise meeting before the service, and we wait for them to finish. The church is quite spacious, with some glass in the windows. There are no doors and the roof sits on supports above the top of the walls. Birds and butterflies (and other insects) fly freely in and out. The inside is unfinished concrete and will not be painted until the final transept is complete. Ramshackle and mismatched pews fill the nave and the eastern transept. A simple wooden cross hangs on the wall above a small table which is the altar. There is no piano or organ and the wide platform at the front holds the chairs and kneeling cushions for the clergy and lay preachers. The Vicar has several churches in the diocese and travels every week to take the Communion service. We are supposed to have him with us for communion on the first and last Sunday of the month, but so far it has only worked out twice.
The main officiant is Isaiah, a large, cheerful bear of a man with a booming voice and an infectious grin. He is a high school teacher in a school outside Kakamega and a vigorous, enthusiastic leader. He is assisted by Ezron the "evangelist" and other men and women who are authorized to conduct the service and to preach.
We take our places when the prayer meeting finishes and try to find a pew with a rack for our hymn book, prayer book and bible. Everyone brings a bible, but not everyone has the little booklet for the service or a copy of Golden Bells. As we settle, Isaiahís voice is heard at the back and the whole congregation stands to sing, unaccompanied and in harmony: Alleluia, alleluia, Amen; Praise God, praise God, Amen; You are worthy, you are worthy, Son of God, You are faithful you are faithful, Son of God, Alleluia, alleluia Amen. Some raise their hands in prayer and the clergy walk down the central aisle to take their places..
The service will not begin until Isaiah has called on us again to Praise the Lord and respond Amen. The prayer book is very African, but with many elements that we recognise. (We shall bring a copy home with us.) Members of the congregation come forward to give announcements or accounts of meetings. No one speaks without the greeting: Praise the Lord (and often Praise the Lord, again) followed by : I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ, my personal Saviour. The treasurer gives the amounts of the collection from last week and all notices are read out (no printed reminder sheets.) At any moment during the service one of the leaders or speakers will break into a chorus or hymn and the congregation will follow in harmony. We have recorded some of the singing, including some from the KiSwahili choir at the second service. Many choruses are accompanied by hand clapping and even a little bopping from the clergy. From outside we hear the voices of the children singing in KiSwahili in the outdoor Sunday school under the blossom trees.
Every service is evangelical with a full gospel message. Sermons deal with the practical difficulties of life: corruption, poor crops, family losses and sickness and use frequent bible texts to show how a Christian is expected to live. People follow in well thumbed bibles and many take notes of the sermon. We are still humbled by the vibrant, simple faith that we see all around us. "God is good," is the constant cry. "God has a plan for me. Godís will be done." Our neighbour lost her sister in childbirth last week and tells us it is part of Godís plan. She has gone to a better place. A girl came in to sign her scholarship contract today and wrote: "I cannot believe how God loves me." The applications we get for scholarships are full of conviction that God will provide and that through prayer something good will happen. A young man or woman in a shop will say: "I am saved. Where do you fellowship (worship)?"
The church compound consists of the main church, still unfinished, the clergy house (where cows graze on the front lawn), a small remnant of the original church which is in very poor condition and serves as an office and robing room plus one other building. Outhouses are placed discreetly on the edge of the property. Our Dean and Wardens in Victoria have generously agreed to donate part of the Easter offering to Christ Church, Kakamega, in order to help finish the church building and begin to implement some of the outreach they plan. Rod and I met last week with the Vicar and the Project Committee and received an outline of their plans. It is well thought out by serious and competent people and begins with the completion of the west transept, the installation of power and the painting of the walls. The church has a vigorous youth section and they eventually want to put up a new building to accommodate youth services, proper offices, Sunday school rooms and a Christian library. Some of these ideas may be years down the road, but they are looking at the whole picture in order to bring about a truly vital, Christian centre in the town.
It has been a great blessing to us to be part of the congregation for the last few months. We are grateful to the Victoria parish for their generosity in offering the donation to our brothers and sisters so far away. Rod and I hope to be back with you in time for Easter. We are sending some pictures of the church and the clergy which, if they are not printed with this article, we hope will be on the Cathedral web site.