Yesterday was my first Sunday here. I didn’t expect it to be like church in America, and it definitely wasn’t! Asau Baptist Church is an absolutely beautiful facility with a breath-taking view of the ocean and the steep hills that surround Asau. In the category of ‘Churches with a View’, you would find it hard to beat. It’s also the first church I’ve been to that does not have air-conditioning, or glass windows, even. Like a lot of the buildings here, the windows are sort of like clear blinds that let in the air, sunlight, and wildlife.
There was no Sunday School, so I walked down to the church ten minutes before the service was supposed to start. Hannah was playing a lovely prelude, but there was none of the fellowship beforehand that characterizes our church—the church members sat on the wooden benches with their heads reverently lowered. Many brought woven fans that served to keep them cool and keep any flies at bay; I was grateful for mine during the course of the day! The ladies were dressed colorfully in the elegant, traditional Samoan dress that has a special name which I’ve forgotten, and the men wore dress shirts, ties, and the formal ‘skirt’ which is menswear here. Fresh flowers, whole baskets of exotic blooms, were lovingly placed at the front of the church, near the pulpit. In the States, it would probably cost into the hundreds of dollars to get that kind of quality and quantity of fresh decoration, but here, the women merely pick them off the roadside and arrange them!
Then the service began. The singing is very fervent and melodious. The Samoans seem to have a natural ability to harmonize, and the high ceiling of the edifice made for an acoustical paradise. The sounds of joyful singing can be heard up and down the village. Some of the songs I knew (at least the tune, though the words were in Samoan), including Hannah’s favorite, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’. I couldn’t enjoy the harmonies as much as I would have liked to, since I was trying to read and sing the Samoan words that were projected onto the platform wall.
One thing I’ve noted—the Samoans pray for a very long time. Ten minutes of prayer doesn’t seem to phase anyone in the least.
Then came the message. Pastor Jim preached on Jeremiah 18, the Bible passage about God molding us as a potter molds his pots. I knew this because I had helped make the sermon illustration! The Samoans don’t really do the whole pottery-thing, so Pastor Jim wanted to show them what clay looks like. Hannah found a recipe for homemade play-dough online, and she and I made it that morning. It was just flour, water, and salt that we cooked on the stove and then refrigerated until I smuggled it down to the church. Although it was a little rubbery, I believe it served its purpose and illustrated the point! I couldn’t understand any of the message, although I know it was a good one, because it was all in Samoan. I’ve learned a few Samoan words, but my ignorance of the language is still almost total.
The wildlife soon claimed my attention in an unexpected way. The side-doors were left open to allow more air inside the building; a few inquisitive pigs and dogs had sniffed around the outside, but we managed to shoo them away before they could investigate further. However, a bird with a long, nectar-sucking beak and a red head had flown into the church at the beginning of the service and had been unable to find its way out, much to the amusement of the kids sitting behind me. Now it perched right above me on the light fixture, took aim, and fired! My Bible took a direct hit on Jeremiah 19! Thankfully, I was able to surreptitiously clean up the small mess with no one else the wiser. There were also two enormous (eight-inch long) geckos fighting over a cockroach right over the cross on the wall by the pulpit. Birds and lizards in church! I’ve been attending church faithfully every Sunday and Wednesday for the past twenty-two years of my life, and this was the first time I’d ever seen anything like it! But it was certainly entertaining.
Evening service was virtually the same, except that my Bible escaped unscathed and there was a long testimony time at the end of the service. I wish I could have understood what they were saying!
The church people were all very welcoming and excited to see Hannah and me. I can’t say much to them in their own language, but they’re gracious enough to be delighted by the bits and pieces I can speak. Everybody loves Hannah. It’s remarkable to me how well she fits in here—she even looks marvelous in the clothes! How she managed to keep her cream and gold outfit clean during the course of the day is a mystery to me.
I’ll try to continue to keep you all updated; I’m helping out a lot in the school, and I’ve finally got the medical stuff unpacked….But I’ll save that for another post. I hope you’ll write to me and tell me what’s happening in other corners of the world—I’ve only gotten a few emails since I’ve been here! J