11 Hours of Church, Part 3: The Kids

Author’s Note: Please be patient with the spacing of this post? The internet here is very challenging, to say the least! Also, please refer to Part 1 of this series for our team’s
make up in more detail. Five of us from Bongolo made this journey: Dr. Renee Valach, Christine, Emmanuel, Alice, and me. See Part 4 for more about their amazing stories!
Three long hours after leaving at dawn Sunday morning, we finally arrived at M’bigou Alliance Church. Of the 150 or so congregants, we were the only car to drive to church that morning, and we parked about 200 yards away across the road and walked up to the 4-building church complex. The main church dominates the grounds. It is a large concrete block building with a steeply pitched corrugated metalroof. Next to it to the right is the pastor’s home, to the right
of that is a third block building used for meetings. If the vegetation in the back were cut down, the view overlooking the nearby hills would be spectacular! Finally, the kids “shack” of a building is between the road and the other buildings. It seems as if that building was already
there and, as the church grew, it was drafted into service.

Worship had started some time ago, and so the pastor and a couple of other leaders stepped out and warmly greeted us. We were led to the office building, about 100 yards from the main church building. There, we quickly used the fairly modern facilities (translated: an indoor
toilet with a bucket of water next to it to pour in when finished), stretched cramped bodies, and headed across the yard to the church. Thankfully, because M’bigou is at a somewhat higher elevation, it was just enough cooler as well as a bit breezy, relative to Bongolo.

As with other churches I’ve attended here, we were escorted to the front row and seated there (one time last year, much to my surprise, I was seated on the “platform” near the podium, looking out at the congregation!). Worship winded down about ten minutes later, and, after an extended time of “out loud” praying, we were introduced as special guests. Each of us had to stand up, walk up to the platform and stand there until all of us had been introduced. Fortunately, I
was last. Renee leaned over and whispered that I had been introduced as “Dr. Douglas” (“Dooglah” in French). “Cool!” was my quiet response, “As long as nobody actually needs anything medical or calls me "Doogie”, that is!”, which got Renee snickering. After this, there was
a time of greeting each other, and many came up to us, almost in the style of a conga line dance. This part was set to lively music and was more of a dancing hugging greeting than anything in the States. I liked it!

At this point, I followed the others out of the church and we headed to the kid’s building, the main reason for the trip in the first place. We were greeted by about 50 well-behaved children ranging in age from what seemed like 7 to 8 years old up to about 12 years old (after that, they go to big church). Their one-room building’s dimensions are about 25 feet long by 15 feet wide with the double doorway (sans door) located about one third of the way down the side
of the building. The kids were really jammed in there, squished onto wood benches or sitting on rough planks along the wall held by concrete blocks of all heights. The concrete floor was very dusty.

Don’t get me wrong. Kids are kids. There weren’t any true angels in the room. Yes, there were the star students who always put their hand in the air first to answer a question (by the way, every single child who answered a question stood up before speaking, which I thought was
great). Others carried on quietly with each other, and a few looked a little dazed or disinterested. One of my favorites was a much younger girl who kept instigating some little thing – not enough to get her or anybody else into real trouble, but she was moved around a few times
as the teachers tried to settle her down. She had that “look” in her eye that hinted at the leader she will become, and the stress she will cause her parents in the meantime.

Like the adults, they had been worshiping and meeting for well over an hour, but there wasn’t the expected rush of us being a distraction. Their focus and discipline was amazing, actually. Five more adults – two of them white - entering that already crowded room didn’t cause
much of a stir at all. The three teachers somehow greeted us while not losing control of the class. They were singing a simple worship song, but somehow they made it sound grand! I loved their energy and excitement. The only instruments, if you want to call it that, were
three empty rectangular gallon-sized palm oil plastic jugs in the hands of three boys. They held their drums between their knees and were rhythmically pounding away using short tree branches. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

After their song ended, Christine took over and began to teach them a new song. I nearly burst out laughing when Renee leaned over and whispered, “…and Bingo was his Name-O”. The church version spelled out B-I-B-L-E, but the idea is the same: each time through, one of the
letters is dropped until all five are silent. The kids struggled a little bit at first, but soon got the hang of it and were laughing with each other when somebody messed up. The third time through,
nobody made a mistake!

Christine then shared the gospel using five colored squares of felt stapled together. Each color symbolized a major event in the Bible, and clearly told the story of Jesus’s sacrifice, death and
resurrection to save us from our sins. As I am learning is typical here, the story was repeated several times, then Christine got the kids involved to tell it piece by piece. It seemed to be very
effective. Renee had brought a bag of hand-made 5-bead bracelets with them and, at the end of class, each child was given one as a reminder of the lesson. Very cool! I think this will stick with them for some time to come.

Then, we were entertained by a 5 minute skit (“sketch” in French) they had made up demonstrating that without Jesus, everything else – wealth, beauty, education, physical strength – is as nothing. They performed this three times, more and more professionally each time.
After this, they began to work on their next sketch: a hysterical reenactment of the first part of the Prodigal Son story. I’ve never seen any kids act out the partying portion, let alone so effectively! I wish they had gotten to the part with the pigs, but that must be for
another week.

Finally, there was some more singing. At this point, even the Bongolo folks were looking haggard. Renee whispered to me that she dismisses her kids at the Bongolo church at noon as a hint to big church to wrap things up. The opposite was the case here. It was after 1:30 by the
time big church finished. Amazingly, the kids didn’t seem to be in a hurry of any kind, nor were they hungry or thirsty seeming, something I’ve just now thought of.

At the very end, the teachers met with the Christine, Emmanuel and Alice, who gave them feedback and some ideas for what else to do. Overall, while exhausting, the time with the kids was a wonderful experience for me.