No rain this morning, but we still started an hour later than planned. “Liberian time,” they call it, but we all know it’s the case in so many places in the world! I especially enjoy being in a place where lateness is not a sign of incompetence or rudeness. In our household, we call it TDD (time deficit disorder) but by Liberian standards, I’m downright Swiss in my time-keeping.
Action Faith member Nancy led worship this morning and evening with her beaming smile, lovely alto voice, and abandonment to the rhythm. For Americans, the rhythm is the most direct way into worship because the lyrics are often difficult to decipher. Two other young women and a young man played beaded gourds. The amount of sound produced by these “stringed” hand drums is startling, but the greatest magic comes from watching the elegant hand and body movements with which the gourd-players keep the beat.
The day consisted of a bible study and two talks with a lunch break in the middle. After worship came Genesis 37, 39 & 40 with some fun playback moments dramatizing the auctioning off of Joseph (played by the pastor’s young son of the same name) to the crowd of Ishmaelites (the rest of the attenders of the retreat), and Joseph’s dejection after being forgotten by the cupbearer after successfully interpreting his dream. A local youth pastor presented a thorough gospel message from Genesis 3 and several passages in Romans about the fall and our need for a savior. He continues tomorrow to explore what it really means to be a Christian. Finally, Kate and Anthony spoke about the role of the Holy Spirit and its manifestations in gifts and fruit (the “rice” of the Spirit, Kate referred to it, as she was trying to explain that we gain daily nourishment from the presence of the Spirit in our lives and Liberians eat more rice than they do fruit). We had a makeshift ministry time during which we invited anybody who wanted more of the Holy Spirit to come forward. Four young people came forward (2 male, 2 female), and we laid hands on them. Then we invited any others who wanted more of the Holy Spirit to come forward to pray, and these first four then prayed for the next 8 or so who came forward. The number of those receiving and extending hands in prayer eventually doubled, and then we spent some time praying for those who felt a desire for the gift of healing to be at work in their lives. We then prayed for those who wanted to move in the gift of prophecy. And lastly we prayed for those who wanted to move in the less public gifts of mercy and service. These young people were hungry for more of God, and though there was some uncertainty on their faces, there was no uncertainty in their faith!
In the evening, three of the four who had asked for the gift of healing were invited forward, after the talk, to pray for about 5 people who expressed that they were ill or in pain and wanted healing. This being Africa and not suburban USA, these young people prayed loudly and with physical forcefulness. (Thankfully, there were no healing prayer injuries!) We hope to spend more time later in the week adding more tools to their repertoire when it comes to praying for other people, such as the pre-prayer interview and the mid-prayer check-in.
The highlight of the evening was a rousing talk by Alfreda from Ecclesiastes 12:1, in which Solomon exhorts his readers to remember their Creator while they are in their youth. Alfreda commanded our full attention and called us to live a life worth living and without regret: follow the Lord now, do not delay!
Attendance during the day was about 75, and about half that tonight. Those who are coming are very invested, and we are getting to know several of these young people in a deeper way. So much promise!
I was struck by passing interactions with a 12-year-old boy whose name, it turns out, is the same as my 3rd son, Matthew. He stared at me through most of the morning worship; I assume because he doesn’t get to watch many white men up close. (He need not know how unlike most white men I may be!) He asked to have his picture taken with me in the afternoon and also with Anthony and Kate. For this boy, and for many of the young men and women, there is a vulnerability toward those who visit from the US because they realize that their future may be somewhat dependent upon the “kindness of strangers” to quote Tennessee Williams. The truth is that their access to education may be limited unless they find some “sponsor” to financially support them. Rebuild Africa seeks to redirect the focus of young people in this situation onto the Lord and onto their own desire for self-development. It is easy for a Liberian young person to get fixed on the outsider and to become discouraged or dejected if they cannot find someone to “sponsor” them. A dilemma for all of us.
In Jesus’ words, the harvest is ripe for the picking, but the workers are few.