Acceptable Christmas Rebellion.
It is Christmas morning in Mali. I have not been to church for a Christmas service for some years now. That makes me a pagan in the minds of some.
However, my faith is intact, and lived out with others, as is needed. I simply have avoided box church, so far, for the second half of my life. That could change. I am open to it.
However, since I am here in Mali alone this year, I decided to go to my friends church, rather than appear to be a stick in the mud.
I tried, I really tried to compel myself to go to the Malian box church, for two days.
It worked, I went. I break down and go to these kinds of services once in a while, thinking it will be good for me. But I rarely find much encouraging by observing the goings on, as we mostly do these days.
It was all great and good, and it must work for them.
What I focused on was not the dozens of special songs sung by the kids, the youth, the women, the elder women, and the choir.
I focused on these children who wandered in off the street. The kids of the church were all seated over on the opposite side of the church on mats.
But, here they were, street kids wandering in off the street, hearing the music. They were in the doorways watching. At times they kind of danced, or clapped to the music, but much more restrained than the in crowd.
I remember the look in the eyes of one little fellow as he watched the seventy five church kids, all dressed in their Christmas finest, singing and dancing as a group. You could tell he wanted to be up there too, part of the group. He moved as they did, a little.
As they plugged the side door of the church, one young man shewed the dusty, dirty, street wanders away.
The tears rose in my eyes.
What the hell are you doing?
I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger.” Job 29:16
‘Who has not been filled with Job’s meat?’— but no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler Job:31:31
The children cleared the door, but only long enough for the young man to go out of sight, and loose interest in them, which happens rather quickly, thankfully. One of them peaks around the edge of the door frame, and seeing the coast was clear, they not only fill the door again, this time they came right inside and stood along the wall.
Acceptable Rebellion……. I welcome it. I gave them a thumbs up and a smile when they came in. He smiled back.
Why were they not invited in, instead of asked to clear the doorway?
I will be honest, after observing them for an hour, I had it all figured out in my head. I was going to go and buy two huge mats to put down by these side doors (Like the other children sit upon on the other side of the church)…. and I was going to talk to my friend Sama(*) and share what I observed of his church, these dozen kids wanting in to watch, listen, trying to sing, clap, and dance along with the rest, but they were not part of the in group….. they hold back.
I was all prepared to speak to him and have him consider designating a new ministry for the church youth. Each week they could assign several older youth to be in charge of welcoming these street waifs to come in and sit down. To make it clear they are welcome, that they are told, “You belong here.” They could even encourage the waifs to sing, and show them the African dance moves, help them join in.
I took a picture of them, and the guy beside me kind of looked at me funny. As the other people were filming the music, and dancing. Not the wandering children who came in off the street to see what was going on.
I didn’t care.
I will admit I prayed for them, through out the church goings on, which were all great and fine.
However, that stuff was not the reason i came anyway. Several times I was half teary eyes as I prayed for them as I watched their expressions, and their reactions.
This verse kept rolling though my head today.
“I was a stranger and you invited me in…” Jesus, in Matthew 25:35
Invite those damn kids in.
I should have done it. I was going to. But you know how it is, I said to myself, “Its not your place, it’s not your rules.” And we hate to offend the colossal church way right?
The whole church sounds and scenes sent me through waves of happiness, and sadness, at the same time. A half tear in my eye so many times, too many times, and I don’t know why.
I winked at various ones, the waifs, and smiled. They smiled back giggling. I gave one guy a smile and a thumbs up. The next time I looked that way, he gave me a thumbs up and a smile back.
Then something happened. One of the pretty young things from the other side of the church, dressed in the Christmas pangya cloth that many were wearing, special order outfits for the church Christmas day. She walked past me, to the kids, and waved for them all to follower her, and they did.
She lead that dusty, ragtag lot past me, I smiled and gave them a thumbs up on the way by, which several returned. They were lead around the back of the crowd, up the far side of the church building, were the young lady rearranged things, making room for the waifs to sit with all the other finely dressed kids.
I lost it, right there. I was a bundle of, huge tears, flowing down my face into my beard.
They belonged. They were welcomed in.
At 10:41, one hour and eleven minutes into the church program, they were finally welcomed in.
I could have hugged that girl.
And no sooner had those waifs been seated, clearing the side door, when first three, and then more, appeared in the door frame, having wandered in from the side street too. Would they be welcomed or shewed away?
I had to get up and leave.
I was glad I went. It started at 9:30, but I left at 11AM. The Electric guitar was something else today. They used it for everything. It robbed the music of the beauty of all the amazing rythmic instruments of their own culture and traditions. I am not intending to criticize them for being modern, for ruining my Africa illusion. The Led Zeplin picking riff for the choir special was something else. My ears hurt from all the riffs and picking.
Me and my waif tears left the building.
I pushed my bike out the gate. I went to have my own communion, as this church only celebrates it once every four months or so. After which i wrote the waif’s story.
Why was I so concerned that those dity, wandering street children feel they belonged, when the fact is I rarely feel I belong in those very same settings?
The Hypocrisy of me runs amazingly deep. Yet, i still believe you can fully find Jesus, outside this rigidity. But this is where most of us have to begin.
The street waifs were invited in.
This alone made my Christmas.
This alone made me happy I went, even if not to the end.
I saw an angel at work.