We’ve spent the weekend in Mbarara, a city about two hours from Kamwenge Secondary and Vocational School. Rev. John and his family reside in this area, and Rev. John’s son, Joshua, has been our tour guide and host.
Being a pastor’s kid, Joshua worships at a different a church, St. James Cathedral on the campus of the Diocese of Mbarara. Since he is a leader of the youth worship team—youth is a much broader term here and includes young adults in their early and late 20s, we worshipped at the 9 a.m. English service with youth leadership. On Saturday, we had the delight to sit in the youth worship team music rehearsal and learn many of the songs and dance moves beforehand. Worshipping on Sunday morning, we did wave our hands, sway, and dance under direction of the choir, who had amazing moves. With the music, it was impossible not to move—even the Holy Spirit got Rick to move!
While we worshipped on Sunday, the amount of young children in worship was staggering. Rev. John has repeatedly said to us, “Uganda is a young country.” Uganda is one of the fastest growing countries in the world with such a high birth rate. To give you an idea of this, Uganda’s land area is relatively similar in size to Oregon’s land area; however, the country has over 40 million people. Due to HIV and AIDS, an older generation (or two) seems to be missing. Young adults, youth, and children care deeply for each other. In worship, older children would be holding their young siblings, friends’ siblings, or others’ babies. My heart warmed at the sight of the community’s nurture and love for each other. Back to Sunday worship, the children wandered up and down the aisles, danced, wiggled, fell asleep (at times,) and sang with so much gusto. When the offering came around, a mixture of adults and children around the age of eight or so collected and presented the offering. Old and young felt so comfortable in the formal cathedral with stained glass and had a sense of refuge and belonging there.
A guest preacher, Abraham, spoke about the incidence of youth suicides in Uganda, how we compared and reject ourselves, and that we are beloved by God. While listening, I was surprised by the similarity of issues and challenges in our own culture: the comparisons which we make on social media, dealing with rejection and break-ups of relationships, feeling lost among a sea of people, reminding ourselves that we are children of God, and assuring ourselves that we cannot earn grace from God. When worshipping with the global church, I truly sense the body of Christ and how we need one another. May we—in the Pacific Northwest, in East Africa, and all the world—hear God’s words to Jesus at his baptism: “You are beloved, with you I am well pleased.”