In my blog post this week, I will attempt to paint a picture of what a typical Sunday here is like.
We are in the Banjor Branch of the Bushrod Island District. It meets at 9am.
We awake the same time every day of the week, and in the same way – between 5:30 and 6:30 to the alarm of the Imam in the mosque next door (have I mentioned how much I love waking up to his prayer song? Really. It will definitely be one of the top things I miss when we leave here).
I prepare a quick breakfast of oatmeal or cream of wheat and then at 7:45, we pile into one of the two vehicles going to church. In “Gavin” – the six seat belt truck donated by my nephew for his Eagle Project – we take…. all six Joneses, Faith, Josephine, and Patrick, and our neighbor (and investigator), Joe Prince Bishop. He hops in the covered bed of the truck. Rufus leaves about 20 minutes after us in the Suburban with the other 15 people. One person always stays behind (by rotation) to guard the compound and prepare lunch. It is a long and bumpy ride that takes about 45 minutes.
We get to the chapel in enough time for Andy to set up the keyboard and practice the hymns that are on the program for the day. Having a keyboard is a new thing in the Branch. Songs have always been sung a’capella. So the tune and speed of the songs have been sung the same way for so long that introducing the proper way, (with accompaniment) sounds a little like a tug-o-war! At 8:45, a conductor goes to the front and requests are yelled out from the congregation for songs they want to sing as prelude music, “One four four!” “One nine!” The conductor then sings the first line, to give the tune, and then he says, “One, two sing.” Which signals everyone to begin. The chapel is just a concrete box. There is not a picture on the wall anywhere. Tile floors. Plastic chairs – every one of which is filled. I would guess attendences is…150? Anyway, put all those enthusiastic voices in this room and we can really raise the roof!
Since we get there a bit early, we are there to watch everyone walk in, all dressed in their Sunday best. Boys and men wear just what we’re used to – white shirts, ties, dark pants or slacks, church shoes (if they can afford it – if not, sandals, tee shirts and long pants do just fine). They look sharp. Women and girls are in a bright array of colors – mostly tailored dresses in African prints. The women often have matching head wraps. Others are just in regular dresses that we’d see back in Utah. One thing I quickly learned though was that each week as I meet new women, I need to pay special attention to their faces. I made the mistake the first couple of weeks of just remembering their hairstyles, which are often interesting and intricate. Well, turns out that this changes from week to week in elaborate ways, because most women wear wigs or have weaves or extentions! One of the first friends I met had long braids one Sunday. You can imagine my embarassment the next week when I didn’t even recognize her when she came with short cornrows!
Names are also tricky. I’ve taken to writing them down in a notebook as I meet people. They are hard to remember. “Massa Twampo”, for example.
Sacrament Meeting and Gospel Doctrine, which are both held in the chapel, are a challenge. There is no microphone (well there is, but they don’t use it. The first week the Branch President tried using it, he was shouting into it. Everyone was giving funny faces at him, so he put it down and shouted, “You can all hear me, ya? I don’t need this.” And we haven’t seen it since), but there ARE ceiling fans (thank goodness). However, the ceiling fans make it impossible to hear the speaker from the pulpit unless you are in the first five rows. I often just read my scriptures through the meeting. Truthfully, it’s hard to stay awake, and several DO try to snooze. Funny tidbit here though: sleeping is totally UNacceptable – even if you are 2 years old. I’ve seen many little kids get wacked on the back for nodding off, even by complete strangers during District Conference. There is also NO CRYING. It is seriously the quietest meetings I’ve ever been in. Children just sit on their chairs like zombies through the whole hour. No Cheerios. No “quiet books”. It’s truly amazing.
The classes are hard because I’m still getting used to the accent/dialect. I got the giggles last week in Gospel Doctrine because the teacher reminded me of Martin Short’s character, “Fronk”, from Father of the Bride. It takes all my concentration to follow what is being said. By hour three, the heat and hunger have gotten the best of me and the little bit that I was grasping seems to just switch off. All of the sudden everyone might as well be speaking Japanese. This is particularly embarrassing if I’m called on…. eeekk! Luckily, in Relief Society there is a 70-something Liberian woman, Sister Collins, who has lived in Maryland for many, many years. She’s here running a school. Anyway, I’m grateful for her help translating when I get that deer in the headlights look on my face!
Bathrooms? Well, best if you go before you get there and hold it until you get home. Which is about… 5 1/2 hours. We made the mistake of sitting near the back window in Sacrament Meeting last week. Let’s just say, the grass grows pretty well back there 😉
Relief Society never ends on time. Every week it ends 15-30 minutes after church should technically be over. The teacher just goes until she makes it through ALL the material. Also, there are no clocks ANYWHERE here. And most women don’t wear watches. And then they round up every woman in the ward to squish into the room to sing the 4 verses of “Happy Birthday” to anyone who’s had a birthday this month, or last month, or…ever (so it seems).
1.”Happy Birthday to you (as we know it…..)
2. We wish you success, We wish you success. We wish you success, dear, Happy Birthday to you
3. How old are you? How old are you?…..
4. May God bless you. May God bless you….”
The baptismal font is outside. I have seen one baptism, which was right after church. There have been MANY though. There seems to have been at least one new member being confirmed each Sunday. The missionaries are doing a great job! We have two sets of Elders in our Branch. One companionship is an Elder from Ghana (who also plays the keyboard), and one from Ivory Coast. The other companionship is a couple of white boys from the USA.
Overall, I have been extremely impressed at the knowledge the members have of the scriptures. They love to memorize them as well. Also, hymns are beloved. There isn’t a lot of variety in those chosen, but they LOVE the hymns they do know (And they aren’t just for Sundays either. They are sung and whistled and hummed all through the week by the orphans as chores are done. Someday I’ll try to record our rousing rendition of Secret Prayer during devotional, accompanied by the djembes. It’s a Heartwood Family favorite!).
I love my calling as a seminary teacher. Studying the New Testament and testifying four days a week has really brought peace and light to my soul as I strive to realize my individual “purpose” here.
Is it different attending church here? You betcha! But it is a privilege to worship and serve with the Saints in Liberia. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is true no matter where we are in the world, and I have learned something new each week that I put in the effort to be taught by the spirit and feel closer to my Savior.