I breathed a sigh of relief when we walked inside and the tin-roofed church was packed with 200+ people. I had a much better chance of successfully hiding in the back this time.
The church was shaped like an uppercase L with the stage, swathed in green and maroon cloth, situated at the outer corner. People sitting in the back of one length of the L couldn't see those on the other. It was a nice service about the three steps to handling success.
"Small people think only of themselves. Great people, no matter what they have, think of others."
It was all about how you should share your success with other people. After a while it became evident that the focus was on financial success and measuring success by how much money you have. He told a story about a millionaire in the United States who, when asked for the key to his success, said he spends 3 hours every morning with God. Afterward, everyone was instructed to stand up and repeat "I feel all forms of financial stagnation broken."
I agree that success, including that in monetary form, should be shared with others, but I disagree that success should be measured solely in terms of how much money someone has.
Envelopes were passed around for each person to put their offering in and then we were asked to hold up our envelope in the air to say a prayer. I couldn't help but feel like this was a tactic to make those who didn't have an envelope feel uncomfortable and to compel them to bring an offering next week.
At the end we were asked for a few more minutes of our time while people were asked to contribute to an upcoming convention about "Divine Intervention". People were asked to come up to the stage one at a time to collect an envelope as a reminder of their pledge.
"20,000. Who can pledge 20,000 to serve the Lord? We need 10 people to pledge 20,000...That's only 6 people, we need 4 more. 20,000 to serve the Lord!"
The numerical amounts got smaller and smaller and with each successive amount the people walking up to the front looked a little less proud and held their head a little less high.
The pledges came to an end after much cajoling. Just when I thought I was safe, the visitors were asked to come to the front. There was no escaping. Alexia grabbed my hand and practically dragged me to the stage. We were the last to join a group of ten or so people which stood in two rows in front of the pastor. He said a prayer for us then blessed each of us individually, putting his hand on our foreheads. The service was over and I was ready to leave. It was already noon and we'd been there for over two and a half hours.
"Will the visitors please join us. We would like to talk to you."
Oh no. I tried to sneak off of the stage. Walk this way, said one of the ushers, practically pushing me towards the side door. Once inside the adjacent building marked "Visitors" we were told to sit and given pink pamphlets about the church and forms to fill out about ourselves. I felt uncomfortable filling out the form and giving out my personal information so I folded it up and stuck it inside my pamphlet. Someone came by and handed me a pen so I filled out the date then hid the form again after she'd passed.
A man walked over to me, "Where is your form?"
"I'm going to turn it in later."
Pulling it out, "You write your address here."
Wanting to appease him so he'd leave me alone I wrote "Meru Maua Road". It's a long road that connects the towns of Meru and Maua so they had no way of knowing where along it I lived.
"But what is your address?"
"I don't know." I really don't. It's not like there are mailboxes with house numbers at the end of each driveway here. People use PO Boxes.
"You don't know where you live?"
"No, I've only been here 2 weeks."
"What about the area?"
"No." Man was he persistent.
Moving on I came across the question "Are you born again?". Not wanting to lie and get caught in an even more awkward situation I replied "No". Next was "Do you have a prayer request?". "No" I again replied.
"What do you mean 'no'? There is nothing that you want to ask God for?"
"There must be something you want" he said listing off examples.
"No, I'm good. I don't want to ask for too much."
Realizing I wasn't going to budge, "Write your phone number here."
"X" Was all I wrote.
"You don't have a phone number?"
"No, I don't have a phone" I lied. Why did they need my number?
"You don't have a friend with a phone or a phone where you are staying?"
"No. I've only been here for 2 weeks."
He finally gave up and walked away. A woman grabbed my form from me before I could stash it inside of my pamphlet again.
Someone new walked in and asked if anyone in the group wasn't born again so he could pray over them and they could at the end say that they were. There was no way I was going up there. I was worried the man who'd been reading my form over my shoulder would call me out, but he didn't. The group was asked multiple times who hadn't been born again but only one man raised his hand. He was brought to the front and the man placed his head on his shoulder and whispered a prayer in his ear.
I thought it was over and we were free to go until I heard, "Please wait one minute and join us for a cup of tea."
Barita asked if I wanted to leave and we got up to go. A man literally barricaded the door with his body, "Please just one minute. Join us for some tea."
We were ushered back to our seats and given mugs of hot tea and the standard slice of white bread. Another woman came by and offered me a doughnut. I said "No thank you" and motioned to my two full hands. She continued to hold it in my face so I took one and put it on my lap. She insisted I take the second one in the plastic bag as well. I gave it to Alexia.
We left and drove to the local supermarket, Nakumatt, where I bought some cheddar cheese to make grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup for Barita and Alexia. They'd never had it before! After being sick all week I was craving some good old American comfort food.
I really appreciated being invited to Barita's church because I know the services are very important to her. It was nice that she wanted to share that experience with us. I agreed with much of the service and enjoyed how lively and exciting it was. I guess I've just got a knack for getting myself into awkward situations...
Note: I've been hesitant about posting this for the past couple of days because it focuses on an oftentimes touchy subject, religion. However, I intentionally tried to make the post more of an account of the events I experienced and less of a commentary on religion. I sent the post to some family members and friends for their opinions and made some of the edits they suggested before publishing it. I tried to leave out most of my personal opinions so readers can have their own reactions to the events as they unfold before them. I sincerely hope no one is offended by this post. I tried to write it honestly as I perceived it.