Samfya Chapel – Christmas Day
December 26, 2012
I trust you are enjoying your well deserved Christmas break. All is well here. We visited one of the local churches, Samfya Chapel, on Christmas Day. This is what many would call a Plymouth Brethren assembly. Here they are called Christian Brethren churches or CMML churches. The CMML designation is interesting since in the states CMML is anything but a denominational label. Christian Missions in Many Lands (CMML) is the missionary support organization that helped the early missionaries in this area. The churches they started took the CMML name as a way to distinguish themselves from other Christian groups. Samfya Chapel is an English speaking church. There are other assemblies in town but their services are conducted in Bemba, the dominant local language.
The Christmas Day service was not as different as I would have expected. The traditional Christmas carols were sung, there was a children’s program and a sermon. What was surprising was that a few of the song were sung three times in the during the morning! Not in a row, of course, but it seemed we just kept coming back to the same song when there was a break in the program. Speaking of the program, the order of services indicated that we were going to be there from 9:00am-12:30pm!
Now before you roll your eyes and say, “ok here comes the obligatory they-started-late comment,” let me note that they printed a program which included start and end times for every single element of the program. Nevertheless the service did start 40 minutes late. By the end however, we had caught back up and finished right on time. I guess the Holy Spirit works the same way here as he does in the States. The program included a Christmas pageant performed by the small children. The youth group or “the youths” as they are referred to here, performed a skit of the Christmas story and recited verses: some of these youths recited 20 verses without a hitch!
I was scheduled to preach the Christmas message and as I sat there listening and watching I immediately felt the burden of trying to communicate to a large mixed group of people who are from a different culture and who will not understand any of my stock illustrations. This is typical. In addition, although everyone can speak English they do so with varying degrees of fluency and with enough pronunciation differences that at times communication is hampered: Accents wreak havoc on understanding. At one point Nathan turned to me and asked, “Why do they call him Jesus Crust?!” Answer: that’s how they pronounce Christ, I guess.
Now I am a fast talker and over time, because I teach college students, have come to rely on a fairly technical theological vocabulary. Furthermore, much of the speaking I do is to audiences who are biblically literate. Not so in Samfya. It was a real challenge to use a less technical vocabulary in my effort to be understood. Most of the audience was stoic. Not a smile in the place. I am thankful for one older gentleman who seemed to be following me and whose facial expressions indicated that I had not lost him. If you teach children’s Sunday School, kids camp, AWANA, youth group, etc. I salute you. You have a hard job. May God enable you as you take all you have learned and try to communicate it to an audience that seems to speak English but with an almost unintelligible accent! Pray for me too. This will not be the last time I will preach here. Eventually it will be through a translator.