For the past three weeks while staying in Kenya, I have visited a church each Sunday. Having no churches on the island, I saw this as a great opportunity to witness the African church at work. This Sunday we had made plans to stay after service for most of the afternoon, to share lunch and get to know one another better. Quite frankly, I was not looking forward to it. I was feeling low and the thought of making small talk all afternoon filled me with dread.
As I was sitting in my chair during the sermon, I flipped through the Word and I came across Psalms 69. Reading verses 16-20 felt like King David had peered into my soul and cried out to God that of which I did not have the strength, will or words.
“Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Hide not your face from your servant; for I am in distress; make haste to answer me. Draw near to my soul, redeem me; ransom me because of my enemies!
You know my reproach, and my shame and my dishonor; my foes are all known to you. Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none.”
Many things had conspired to bring me to this low point: from the things I am learning in this seminar—the hard truths of life in Africa, the hurtful words and actions of friends, my own interpersonal failures, to the growing concerns of the Ebola epidemic, in a place I once called home, where I still have many friends. Add to this the consuming loneliness of always being in a crowd of people but never being known. Of being surrounded by couples and families, constantly reminding me of what I lack.
Useless. Unwanted. Overwhelmed. Inadequate. Unimportant.
My soul felt battered from all sides. I swam in a bitter sea of self-pity. That’s where the Lord found me yesterday morning when He showed me David’s cry. He understands. And with the reassurance of his understanding, I thought he would be content to leave me to my wallowing. I wrote the Psalm in my journal and sat back in my seat preparing myself for a very long day.
But thank God, He does not leave us in our distress. He answers prayers that may not have even been uttered.
Following the sermon we were invited to the front of the church to receive gifts. I had attended church with a couple and a family with two kids. The family was presented their gifts and “appreciated” by a church family, the couple by a couple, and a single lady who I’d seen sing in front of the church on several occasions came to “appreciate” me. Her name was Agnes.
In much of Africa names are very important. Among some Kenya tribes, grandparents insist that their grandchildren be named after them so that when they die a part of them lives on, whether they believe it is symbolic or that their spirit actually remains alive in that grandchild. Names and naming ceremonies are incredibly significant.
Agnes was the name of my maternal grandmother. When it came my turn to thank the congregation I told them that I now know I will always have family in their midst, because my grandmother is among them. At these words, applause and shouting erupted. They were pleased and I felt myself beaming for the first time in days.
Following the service, I stood in the receiving line shaking the hands of all 220 members as they filed out of the church. Little girls crowded around me; they struggled over who would hold the hand I wasn’t shaking with. My hair, which I’d worn down, was being combed through by curious little fingers. I remained focused on greeting those streaming out of the church as my curls were being bounced from behind. And it felt wonderful. The words in my mind started to change.
Valued. Appreciated. Important. Wanted. Loved.
The afternoon passed quickly. We ate a wonderfully authentic meal cooked by the women’s leadership. We learned some of the choreography to a dance the choir performed during worship that day. We relaxed and played with the children.
Who would have thought that this small church in the middle of a slum in Kenya would be able to pull me out of a deepening depression? God knew what He was doing as he always does.
Before going to bed last night I received this text from my new friend Agnes: “Once, all the villagers decided to pray for the rain. On the day of prayer, all people gathered and only one boy came with an umbrella—that is FAITH. When you throw a one-year child in the air, he laughs because he knows you will catch him. That is TRUST. Every night we go to bed, we have no assurance that we will awaken the next morning but still we have plans for tomorrow. That is HOPE. May the Lord enrich you with FAITH, TRUST and HOPE.”