Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Church Without Walls (Literally)

“This harvest, there will be much food. We will not go hungry. And we have time for other things, too. We do not spend all our time in the fields. We have time to enjoy the life that God has given us.” Her pride was almost tangible; her joy infectious.

I looked at her, and beyond her, past the rough branches that acted as non-existent walls. The sky was brilliant blue and the clouds, white and fluffy like a child’s drawing. An artist couldn’t make walls so magnificent, I thought. Like a mural on a cathedral, this church had only sky and field, grass and crops, to create an image for worship.

The pastor spoke again, about the seminar they held on child sexual abuse. How to prevent it, how to report it, how to fight the stigma and the judgment that can create a double victimization. Another women stood, “Even if the man is the one who brings in money, we still will not accept it. It is a disease that hurts us all.” 

A report was handed to us, four pages of detail about this congregation’s community health evangelism (CHE) projects: providing nutritional supplements to people living with HIV; enhancement of security in women and child-headed homes; planting moringa trees to supplement child nutrition; teaching about natural insecticides; conservation farming seminars and model plots; seed and cassava distribution; holistic evangelism programs; solar cooking seminars; working with 200 households on food security. It was all there, on the paper, but it was also there, on the faces of the thirty men and women in that wall-less church. They were getting things done.

Having served as a parish minister in the United States for twelve years, I honestly can’t imagine a congregation, meeting in a building without walls, with tree branches driven into the dirt to hold up a tarp roof. Pieces of plastic tacked onto scraggly boards, an attempt to keep out the rain. But, instead of saying, “Hey, we really need to focus on our building project before we start working on nutrition, agriculture, HIV/AIDS, child nutrition, sexual abuse, holistic evangelism, seed distribution, etc....” Instead of holding off on the outreach, holding off on the justice work, holding off on the acts of mercy and compassion, this congregation has decided that it is okay without walls, for now. They will keep on worshipping, keep on singing, keep on praising God. And they will keep on serving, keep on caring, keep on feeding their community.

While there, we went to visit a woman’s home; she had donated part of her land as a model plot for conservation farming, and another part of her land was donated to sustain and feed the pastor. She beamed with pride as we saw the abundance of her land, the crops growing strong and tall and green. Food. There was food. They would be hungry no more.

I am hungry for a faith like this, for a church like this, for a world like this. Where our walls are as beautiful as God’s own sky, because we have forgotten to use any bricks. Instead, we have spent our time and our money and our energy on feeding one another, caring for one another, serving one another. And we realize that we don’t need the walls, after all, because the church stretches forth, in field upon field of cassava and ground nuts and maize and sweet potato. 

This harvest, there will be much food. Thank God for this harvest.

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