Thursday, May 3, 2012

One God, Two Sanctuaries, Lives Changed

April 29, 2012

Today is our last day in Ethiopia. Tonight we begin our long flight home, back to a culture that may now seem foreign to us after a week immersed in a different country. This week we will go back to our families, our jobs, our friends, and the daily hub bub that constitutes our American lives. We'll have to take the kids to their activities, help them with homework, shop for food, catch up on our television shows, learn what's going on in the world since we left, pay bills, all while doing our best not to forget what we experienced here. We vow not to forget what we experienced, while acclimating to our new sense of self after these life changing events.

For some of us, that reacclimation started today. After buying coffee and making sure one of our team members finally got her ice cream fix, half of our group went to a church service in Addis Ababa. It was remarkable how much the service felt like those at our home churches. The service was conducted in English. The pastor and worship team leader are both from North Carolina, without the strong accent possessed by some of the North Carolinians in our group. Familiar contemporary songs such as "Better Is One Day" as well as traditional hymns like "Amazing Grace" were sung. The sermon, in English, focused on how our world views can forever change once we've experienced a new perspective (how appropriate was that sermon to what we've been through this week?). "Amazing Grace", already an emotional song, seemed to have extra relevance today as we prepare to return to America, especially the line "'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home." I must confess to getting a little misty-eyed during this hymn.

The beauty of the inside of the church was in sharp contrast to the service we'd attended earlier in the week. While this church had polished marble floors, stone walls, and beautiful wood ceilings, we had all attended a prayer service at the drop in center on Wednesday evening. This service was in a facility with tin walls and roof, torn screens, dirt floor covered with grass, and wooden benches. The songs were sung in Amharic. The prayers were also in Amharic, but were (for the most part) translated for us. During the songs, women would uvulate loudly. If you're not familiar with uvulating, do a Google search. It's quite interesting. I'll also say that one of our team members is a natural at this. She couldn't explain how she could do it, nor could she teach anyone else, but the sounds came out of her like she'd been doing it all of her life. Rob was asked to give a brief message, which he did quite well. Both Rob and Greg did closing prayers.

While the two services were in sharp contrast to one another, the common denominator was the unmistakable presence of God. Whether we were in a hastily constructed metal building, or an elaborately constructed, beautifully adorned church complex; whether we were worshipping in Amharic or English; whether we were singing songs we've been singing for years or listening to songs sung in a language that we don't understand; whether we were participating in a service that had a familiar flow or one that was very unfamiliar to us, we were all celebrating, worshipping, and praising one God. Quakers believe that God exists in each of us. Looking around at the people during each of the two services, and knowing that millions of people around the world were also worshipping in their own churches, in their own traditions, and their own languages, magnified the significance of what we were experiencing.

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home."

After this week, these few lines, always so familiar to me, have extra significance. How great is a God that allows us to break through the complexities of language, culture, and environment to bring us together from miles apart for a short period of time while impacting our lives forever.

Tonight we return to America, but we will never be the same.

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