"Careful, don't get your flip-flops dirty...and watch out for the pig!"
Not the sort of words you normally expect to say when you're leading a bunch of children by the hand to head to church. I'm sure the pastor behind me, with his shiny shoes and button down shirt (we made him take the suit jacket off-he was already out of place enough!) was feeling somewhat overwhelmed. I was in my element!
Yesterday, the after-school program that we volunteer at held its first church service. There aren't a lot of churches in this favela that don't preach a prosperity gospel, offering cures and promises of security in return for faith offerings. There aren't a lot of churches that don't preach this and still open their doors for people that aren't dressed like "Christians." Apparently, that means men who don't wear shorts or flip flops and women who wear long skirts and shirts with sleeves.
That happens to exclude a lot of people. And the families who live in the shacks, most of whom are headed by single women or families with at least one male member in the grunt work of the drug trade, usually get excluded by the church, except as "evangelism opportunities." But they'd feel hopelessly out of place, BE hopelessly out of place, in most of the churches. And they would rarely be welcomed. "Come as you are" is a really untrue phrase. Most of us don't really want to see someone come shirtless or showerless to our services, in a crowded room without air conditioning.
Anyhow, I digress.
So this service is different. It's not in a church, for starters. It's kind of interdenominational, for seconds. The target group is children from the after-school program and their families. And they come just like they'd come for classes: in their flip-flops, in their best, itsy-bitsy clothes, or shirtless and barefoot. It doesn't matter. I showed up a few minutes early and was sent out to show one of the pastors around and to see if the kids and/or their families were ready. Doors are opened all down this "street"; kids are washing hands and getting braids done and shouting, "Tia Jenna, smell my hands! I'm clean! How do you like my flipflops! They're clean! I took a shower! Do you like my shirt?" And so on....it was a bit of work keeping them all in line and avoiding the mudpuddles, pee puddles and all the other bits of wetness that conspired against all those clean feet but we managed...Feeling a bit like the Pied Piper with a band of children trailing behind and three or four attached to my arms and hands, we tramped into the room.
There was lots of loud singing on the part of the children, and silent giggling on mine as I watched the pastors try to remember how to speak to children...at least, ones that were outspoken and sassy. The lesson of the day was David and Goliath. Kind of. Here's a modified transcript of the service:
Pastor: Who knows the story of David and Goliath?
Child 1: Ohh...I do. David went to visit his brothers at war and saw that this big giant was cursing the Israelites and he said, who's going to fight him. But everyone else was scared so he said okay, God is with me and picked up five stones from the river and then he ran towards the giant and hit him with a stone from his slingshot in the forehead...and he died. And then David cut off his head with his sword and paraded it around the town.
Child 2: Yeah...cut his head off with a sword...paraded it around town on a platter... (Repeat throughout story at two-minute intervals)
Pastor: (Surprised that this can all be said in one breath) Wow. Yes, that's right. Well, does anyone know what David did before he killed Goliath?
Child 1: He was a shepherd. Of sheep.
Pastor: That's right. Now David wasn't a very big guy. (Pointing to one of the boys) Why don't you come up here and stand next to me. David was probably kind of like this little dude here.
Unison of girls: Haha! He's NOTHING like David! There's no giant here!!!
Pastor: (realizing this group isn't ready for play-acting and letting the poor kid go back to his seat) Why do you think David thought he could fight Goliath?
Child 2: Because he was courageous.
Child 3: God was with him!
Pastor: Why was he courageous? (Silence) When David was a shepherd, he killed a bear that was attacking his sheep. And a lion...
Child 2: That's wrong!!! DAVID didn't kill the lion, SAMSON did! Ripped it open with his bare hands and then later honey came out and he ate it...
Child 3: Yeah...and then he married that nasty lady who tricked him and cut off all his hair...
Child 1: God gave Samson GOOD hair!
Child 3: (continuing)...and then she called out "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" and they tied him up and...
Pastor: (trying to regain his composure) Can't there be more than one lion in the Bible???
Unison of children: NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And so forth. It was mirthsome. I loved it! They've invited me back to help with the worship next week. You can bet I'll be there!