During the Easter weekend I was invited to preach in a certain church in my village. You see, when I announced that I intended to visit the village for the Easter weekend, my mum appointed herself to be my official scheduler. That is to say, she would decide who I was to visit during that weekend and when. I didn’t mind. In any case, it gave me a false sense of importance. Important people have schedulers. Not boarding Nairobi Matatus recklessly and thoughtlessly like I am used to. In performing her self-allocated duties, she had mentioned to her pastor that I would be around and I found myself on the program as the main speaker for the Easter Service. I do enjoy preaching in the village. It helps me to test whether my Kimeru is still up to scratch. Reading the Bible in English and making a message in Kimeru helps me know whether I can still communicate effectively in my mother tongue.
I appeared at the Church way before the service began. I do this for two reasons. First, the worship session is usually my favorite part of any service and I wouldn’t miss it for any reason whatsoever-including being the preacher of the day. But second, and equally important, I have been a Christian leader for the better part of my life and I know the nerves that set in when the guest preacher runs late. I do remember one such incident that happened when I was in college.
When I was in first year in college, I served as our class fellowship chairman. That means I headed the committee that organized Christian union activities in my class. The main activity was our weekly class fellowship, which we used to hold at the main Lecture Theater. It used to run from 12.15pm to 1.45pm. There used to be a class in that hall from 2pm so we had to give ourselves that 15 minute allowance. Normally one of the students preached but once in a while we would get an external preacher. So this day we had invited a certain gentleman. I naturally expected the guy to show up at least by the time the worship session was ending. But he was nowhere to be seen. So I instructed the facilitator to call for as many testimonies as possible as I tried to make a call to the speaker.
The guy was not picking my calls. Soon people got tired of the testimony idea. The facilitator tried to cajole them with that scripture that says “He who has the Son has a testimony” but they remained unmoved. No one was volunteering anymore. She tried to invite people to make presentations. Nothing. My friend, you don’t want to be in such a situation. You are clueless on how to keep a crowd busy and they are just sitting there looking at you like a clown who has ran out of jokes. Luckily, the facilitator that day was a sharp girl. Those girls who seem to have multiple processors in their brains that spew out several unrelated ideas simultaneously. I am pretty sure you have at least one in one of your WhatsApp groups. That girl who can send seven messages on unrelated subjects in the space of less than a minute. So this girl decided we should play bonding games. The only one I remember is that “Mickey Mickey Mouse Mouse” one that people clap and mention other people’s names in a rhythm.
My preacher guy still hadn’t shown up. I had to make a decision on what would happen next. The problem with being a leader is that people expect you to have answers. And that day I was clueless. My hairline was still intact so I wasn’t as wise as I am today. In case you missed the memo, God has in recent years been in the business of exposing my immense wisdom for the world to see by phasing out the rolls of ignorance that have been camouflaged as hair at the top of my head since I was born. The day you meet me and I am completely bald please stay silent and let me stun you with wisdom. Not that you will struggle to stay silent: the glorious beauty of a short hairless man will have rendered you speechless.
Anyway I made a short prayer and stepped onto the podium clutching my Bible. I opened it and the first book to open was the book of Esther.
“Brothers and Sisters, the story of Esther is the story of a Hebrew girl who humbled herself in order to be used of God” I began smoothly even though I had no clue what I wanted to say next.
Prayer works. I managed to string a sermon on the subject of submission based on that story of Esther. As I concluded, my preacher guy showed up. 1.40pm. Well, he apologized. Ok fine, he said that God had intended me to preach. That’s a Christianese idiom meaning “I am sorry”, no? But at least he taught me to always have a stand by preacher. Just in case.
For these reasons, I tend to be early when I am invited to speak. I think if God doesn’t want me to preach He has ways of making that happen and it is not up to me to help Him by dilly dallying at my house and getting late. So this day I was there way before time. I really enjoyed their worship session. Their worship team is made up of energetic middle aged mamas. The only young people were the guys at the piano and guitar. These mamas radiated the joy of salvation. You could see it on their faces as they sang. They sang with so much energy that we all got caught up in the music and the energy. The fact that they were singing largely off tune and off beat didn’t seem to bother them. In fact they would get offended if the pianist paused as he tried to catch up with them. At some point the lead vocalist stopped the music to let the guy get his act together. But the guy proved to have been born with a calabash of wisdom tied behind his left ear. He pretended to punch some buttons then started playing again. The mamas happily resumed.
The only problem with energized congregations is that they tire easily during the sermon. They need fiery preachers to keep them fired up through and through. I happen not to be one of such. I preach in a composed conversational style. That is a fancy way of saying that I speak in a drab monotone that will make even the most alert congregant start thinking about their cow that is expected to calf in a couple of months. Blame it on my Presbyterian upbringing. Theatrics are frowned upon there. In fact, in my local church, the pulpit is a built up enclosure that makes sure you don’t move about. Say what you are saying and sit down.
The facilitator did not make my situation any easier. She started by giving a power-packed mini-sermon before welcoming visitors. She started on a high tempo and with a high pitched voice that went on crescendo as she progressed. She would then dramatically pause to let the effect sink before hitting the rhythm again. All the while the congregation was shouting, clapping and screaming. I knew I was in a bad spot. I would be preaching to a dozing or absent-minded congregation. I made a short prayer to God. If He really wanted me to deliver the message he would have to uproot my Presbyterian configuration and give me some instant Pentecostal fire. And do it fast.
They say God answers us in ways we do not expect. The lady who was invited to make a sermonette for the offering had a conversational style like mine. I watched keenly to see how she would pull it off. She started very well and the congregation was nodding in agreement. When they looked like they were tiring she broke into a song. Wow! You could do that? Brilliant! I knew a couple of Kikuyu songs that would blend so well with my message while keeping my audience with me. By now I was leaning forward watching her keenly because I believed God has sent her to show me how to do it. Then she broke down and started sobbing. That jolted me to an upright position. I was horrified. Surely that was not meant for me, I thought. There was no way I was going to start wailing in the middle of the sermon. No way. I made another prayer. I begged God to amend that template and make it friendlier.
Finally the Pastor invited me to the pulpit. He is a likeable elderly gentleman who has been a family friend for a long time. His wife was my favorite teacher in primary school. He introduced me as a city lawyer who could make their problems disappear with a wave of my index finger. I hope he read my last blog post on flunking bar exams. He also told them that I am a God-fearing son of the village that they should be proud to be associated with. I felt my humility ooze out of my ears and take flight-and at that moment I did not exactly feel like chasing it.
I ended up doing two things: Keeping it short and including my two songs. I would not over-emphasize what I had said. The songs would help them remember. That way they listened and by the time they remembered they had expectant cows I was through. In fact, as I made my concluding remarks, I saw a few surprised souls look at the clock: I had hived off 30 minutes from my allocated 1 hour 15 minutes and clocked just 45 minutes. Well, the idea is to pass a message, and not really to ensure that the allocated time is spent, isn’t? At least that’s what I think.