This was not my typical Sunday morning. Crammed into a mud and dung walled enclosure filled with choking dust from the stomping feet of a hundred gyrating Ugandan bodies. Somehow we were putting down the devil and praising the Lord and surviving the victory all at once.
To any passing observer, the white guy was out of his element. Swaying in slow motion with eyes glassed over, hand over nose and mouth trying to find breathable air, completely out of rhythm with the organized pandemonium in the rest of the room. A foot taller than anyone else.
I’d grown up Baptist, standing for three hymns and sitting for the sermon. The building was carpeted and spotless, the air was clear, the script clearly established for all to follow. I was so Baptist my parents wrote me notes for Physical Education classes every time we had dance instruction so I could get out of it for ‘religious reasons.’ I still bore the impact of repressing any inner motion that may have once existed.
But in this space there were 60 orphans under 12 and there were 30 street boys under 18. All rescued from the terrors of the streets and the horrors of the night. Many of them had scars to prove the brutality of their former existence.
And now, with full tummies, good night sleeps, real clothes, and a safe environment, their exuberance would not be denied. If the devil wasn’t going to get stomped into the ground he would certainly be choked on the plumes of red clay dust swirling in that small enclosure.
In addition to them, among the larger bodies, were former drunks, prostitutes, criminals and farmers who had just survived a drought. They didn’t come so well dressed or so well washed but they were there stomping and shouting like everyone else.
The little boys beating their cowskin drums, as if their life depended on it, rattled the roof’s wavy tin sheets with the outcome of their energy. The orphans lifted their voices as if in competition to see who could lift the ceiling first. Without knowing the words, I was left gasping like a fish out of water and working hard to cover it up with a smile.
The caretakers, overseers and pastors of the street boys and orphans had no strong resource base to build anything fancy. The orphanage homes were concrete block and tin roof but the church was built the old fashioned way - Wattle stick frame filled with clumps of mixed mud and cattle dung. Now half plastered over with white wash at the front because of a recent fundraiser.
A man followed by four young children danced his way through the throng to the front and held up a flapping chicken for all to see. “I give my only chicken to God,” he yelled during a brief break in the yelling. “My wife has died, but my God and my children still live.” The cheers went up and as the pounding continued others brought potatoes and eggs and cabbage and small coins to the front. I had been an usher once or twice but ushers seemed redundant in this place.
My life plumbing had been good. My smell tolerance was higher than most. When my bladder prompted me I extracted myself from the mob and shuffled out to the facilities. A choice of two. One three sided structure made of loosely intertwined sticks waist high and complete with dozens of inquisitive onlookers. Or a mud and dung low roofed enclosure designed only for crouching. I chose this structure and tied the door rope around the nail. As I lowered myself, several of the children thought this was an invitation to a tug of war with me desperately holding the flimsy door with one hand and they recruiting more and more friends to make it even.
Anyhow, I made it through and back into the wild melee in time to be introduced as the speaker. “You have two hours” whispered the worship leader as she passed. “Bring a revival. We have set the table.”
And this old plumber, by the grace of God, forgot how to stand in the pulpit and do it the same old way. Peter’s escape from prison had never been so dramatic, so life on the edge, so transformative for a church who wanted to see God’s power in action. In my quiet moments here I still gasp. That Sunday changed me from the inside out.
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