Last Sunday Ely Band visited a Girls’ Rehabilitation Center in Kirigiti, Kiambu. I was the Designated Survivor, sorry Preacher, but I did not expect to survive without massive emotional hemorrhage. See, I am not exactly a fiery preacher who works up crowds and has them jumping up and screaming Amen! Amen! throughout the sermon. No. I grew up in the PCEA church, where you were expected to behave yourself in a manner that Scottish gentlemen of the 19th Century would have approved.
In other words, I preach with a monotonous drawl, poorly punctuated, that quickly sends old women to sleep and sends young men and women to their phones under the guise of using Bible apps and phone notebooks. Old men on the other hand, stare blankly in a way that leaves no doubt that they are agonizing over whether to call the veterinary to treat Gacau the heifer or to just butcher her and cut losses. So preaching to teenagers in a rehabilitation center would be a challenging task.
But the first indication that things were not going to go that way came when we first arrived. Our host, Mrs Chavangi, had been unwell for a well. She had spent days in the ICU and HDU and had just been discharged the previous week. So when we arrived, many girls poured out of the hall where they had assembled shouting teacher amepona! Teacher amepona! They took turns hugging her.
I was taken aback by the enthusiasm. I was expecting to find a bunch of moody teenagers, angry at God and angry at the society. But I had not seen it all. Another teacher asked them to welcome us with a song, and they broke into song and dance with so much energy that it was almost overwhelming. They clapped and cheered at introductions, with a few shouting namesake! whenever one of our girls said a name that they shared.
My sermon was punctuated by claps and cheers. For a moment, I almost imagined myself as Barack Obama on the campaign trail. I almost started to use an American accent but I pinched myself on time and reminded myself that I am still short, bald, and needing to go to the gym a bit more regularly. Nothing close to Barack. But the point is, these girls were so lively, they could have made even the flattest, driest speech sound like Martin Luther King Jnr’s I have a Dream.
After my sermon, I stepped out with my deputy, Susan, and our BS coordinator, another Susan to sort out a few things with the school administration. Coming back, I found that our music director, Davies, who was the MC of the day, had rallied the girls into singing. And they were singing and dancing as if they were already in heaven. When we left they stood waving until we were out of the gate.
This experience gave me a lot to think about. There was an unmistakable joy and enthusiasm for life in most of these girls. Most of their faces were glowing. Yet these were girls who had every reason to be angry at God, and angry at the society. While taking tea at her place, Mrs Chavangi explained that while officially they were deviants under the custody of the law, most of them had been given a raw deal by the society, hence their behavior. Abandoned or abused by parents. Most of them were from poor backgrounds. Name it. Yet, they are still excited about life.
I was embarrassed at the way we conduct life. We are often easily irritable, even though we have more than enough reasons to be grateful. Take worship for instance. If you go to most of the elite, urban churches, worship is a well drilled musical performance. We say the Lord has moved only when the performance has gone according to the script, and all the tenors, sopranos, altos and bass have sang in a beautiful harmony, the instrumentalists given a class performance and the sound system worked as any state of the art machine should.
Wait until mistakes occur. Then the thin layer of pleasure, masquerading as happiness, disappears. If an instrumentalist plays the wrong key, or a vocalist sings off key, or a microphone screeches, we get angry at each other. The congregation scowls and murmurs, and the mood of worship (whatever that is) is broken. We could blame Satan, but often Satan has nothing to do with it. Thing is, we live in an imperfect world where mistakes happen and machines fail. In fact, by twist of irony, there was a three hour electricity black-out just as I was typing this paragraph.
The truth is, if we truly delight in worship, technical hitches and vocal imperfections cannot prevent us from continuing to delight in Him. We get angry because instead of seeking Yahweh, we are busy chasing the god called perfection. So we say mean words to each other, gossip each other, play the blame game and do many other things that should not even be mentioned in the same sentence as worship.
But the god of perfection is not just manifest in worship. He manifests himself in every aspect of our lives. We want to be the stars in everything. We want to have the finest of everything. Careers, spouses, social life etc. Unfortunately, the god called perfection is rarely satisfied. He has standards that no human being can attain.
Often, the standards of perfection are based on other people’s lives and opinions. That is why we compare ourselves with others. Inevitably, we are a people that are constantly dissatisfied with our lives because the god of perfection makes us feel like we have a point to prove. For this reason, we lead unhappy lives. Because we are constantly in pursuit of perfection, we do not pause to enjoy the good things that we have today.
There is nothing wrong in pursuing excellence. In fact, I am constantly seeking ways to improve myself. But I also know that if the pursuit of perfection is my sole earthly goal, then I will never be truly happy. Because I am an imperfect person, living in an imperfect world, with imperfect people. So I choose to be grateful for what I have, and derive pleasure in the simple joys of life. Like being able to make ugali with mung’aro (the brown, removable layer that sticks on the sufuria). And oh, you do not know what life is if you have not eaten mung’aro with sukuma wiki and avocado.