One of the last blog posts I wrote on my previous blog from high school was about how going to church in Grinnell felt grounding and safe, an instant home away from home even in the midst of scary changes and new experiences. Coming to Botswana, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find church like that. I know there are a lot of differences in church structures internationally, and I was fearful that I could not find something that felt as safe and supportive as finding a church in Grinnell did.
This morning I went to the Good Shepherd Cathedral Evangelical Lutheran Church in Gaborone with my roommate for the first time and got to see how a Lutheran church in Botswana operates. You can see what the church looks like in the picture at the top of this post. Thabang was singing with the youth choir this morning, so we arrived early, which was nice for calming my nerves about going to a new place and feeling like an outsider. Everyone who greeted me was so nice, and I soon discovered that this is also the church where Professor Volz goes when he is in Gaborone, so it was fun to see him at church as well.
So yes, there were plenty of things I was unfamiliar with. I thought small churches in Iowa took a long time for the passing of the peace, but at this church literally everyone left their pews and meandered through the church, greeting pretty much everyone there, all while singing a song that was really nice and easy to catch on to. I had to stand up and introduce myself to the congregation, much as we do at First Presbyterian in Grinnell, except that the entire congregation then responded with a sung “We welcome you!” song that was really sweet and surprising. They didn’t have anyone set in advance to read the scripture passages, but instead just announced what the verses were and asked for a volunteer to come to the front of the church and read them. The sermon was different because it was delivered in Setswana by the woman who appeared to be the main pastor, and then translated to English line by line by a man who stood next to her at the podium. Because this was the English speaking service (followed by a Setswana service afterwards) I thought that was a little odd, but it was still engaging to listen to. At the very end of the service everyone filed out in a line that then doubled back on itself so that everyone shook hands with everyone else in the church. I had a funny image in my head of the giant mega church I worked at this past summer trying to do that and taking hours for everyone to make it outside.
But there was also a lot that was very familiar. We said almost the same call to confession that is said in my church at home. The first hymn we sang was “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and I witnessed the same open-armed love that has made me feel so comfortable in church settings throughout my life. Here I stick out like a sore thumb, and I feel awkward about that, but I was so fully, wholeheartedly welcomed and made to feel a part of a whole that this morning was exactly what I needed while feeling a little stressed and overwhelmed by this whole new experience.
There was a moment, sitting there, singing along with some of the most beautiful singing (seriously, that was the best part. Everyone sang out with so much volume and joy, there was no way you could be there and not just start grinning at how beautiful it was), where I thought about how the last time I had been to church was three weeks ago, at my church in Pasadena back at home and how far I’ve come (both geographically and, more significantly, emotionally) since then. Thinking about that, basking in the love around me, I felt so at peace with what I am doing and how I am going to make it through this semester. Not everything will be easy, and I have definitely seen that already, but I am sure it will be worth it.
On the way home from church I stopped at the store on campus to buy more milk and cereal (my other grounding thing here), and also picked up some Oreos for fun, though they don’t taste the same as U.S. Oreos and I wish I hadn’t already eaten up the ziplock of Trader Joe’s Joe Joes, and then I came back to my room to work on internship applications. Some of my ACM friends are going to chill step, some sort of music and art festival happening today, but I didn’t really feel like expending the social energy of hanging out with a lot of people today. I ate my leftover fried rice from dinner last night for lunch (which arguably tastes even better cold the next day than it did at the restaurant), and then went on a long walk around campus to do something outside. It has been a simple, but satisfying day.