The first time I met you was at the pastor’s house for dinner. A full meal of potatoes, pastas, matoke with g-nut sauce, pork and fruit. I didn’t see you until the very end… you were busy cooking and cleaning.
You came out of the kitchen as we were about to leave. Wiping your hands on your apron, you carefully pulled out a little packet of golden colored earrings from a plastic bag. I felt so surprised and honored, and I could tell it was no small gift from you. You carefully unsnapped each earring from the cardboard, examining each with care as you did. You noticed they weren’t snapping as you thought they should, so you held up your finger as you ran to the kitchen to adjust the little details. A few moments later, you came from the kitchen and with a satisfied smile, you placed the earrings in my hand. I was moved, and I gave you a big hug and said a heartfelt “Thank you.” I tried to share a few more words to express my gratitude, but I could tell by the expression on your face you knew very little English. I just hoped my hugs and big smiles showed you how grateful I was.
I mentioned the gift in the car as me and my team were driving back the road to home. She has gifted each the other two women in our group with a similar treasure. I told them how much it touched me, how I know she must not have had much money but she thought to buy such a thing for guests–two of whom she had never even met. As it turns out, I was correct in assuming she didn’t have much. Her name was Juliette, she was a Congolese refugee who moved here with her husband and five children to escape the dangerous situation back home. A few days later, I found out we were invited to have dinner at her home.
Later that week, we piled her kids in the back of our van after a long, successful day at the kid’s camp we were helping the church run. They look out the windows excitedly, I could tell they hadn’t spent much time seeing the roads to their house from within a car. I thoroughly enjoyed watching their eager smiles and a view out the window that was new to me as well. I looked forward to seeing Juliette again, and wondered what the evening would look like as we slowly made our way down the pothole ridden roads.
When we finally got to the house, the gatekeeper opened up just enough room for us to come through. As we got out of the van, we were met with a whole line up of family eagerly greeting us with smiles, embraces, and “you’re welcomes.” I got to the porch and took off my shoes, as they led me into a small, poorly lit room while continuing with heart felt, “You’re welcome. You’re very welcome!”
Inside the room laid two worn, tattered couches, a small coffee table, and a standing table in the corner of the room stacked full of enormous bowls filled with rice, pork, mitoke, boiled plantain leaves, potatoes and fruit. I could only imagine how much time, effort, planning and money must have gone into such a dinner.
We began getting our food, and you insisted we sit on the couch while you and your family found seats on the floor. Juliette made sure each of us had gotten our food before she and her family began eating. She noticed me and my teammate thoroughly enjoying the sliced mango, (It’s outstandingly better when it’s grown in the tropics.), and she passed along the whole plate to us. She continued to serve us food, lemon tea and juice as we finished our plates and conversed.
When the meal came to an end, Juliette’s husband, and most proficient English speaker, announced he had a “formal speech” to share with the group. He gave an incredibly heartwarming speech to our group leaders about his gratitude to them for all they had done in the past for him when they lived there. He was grateful for the classes they taught, and for the English they taught him. Once he was done speaking, Juliette also wanted to share a few words.
She started speaking, as our driver and friend translated along. She sat on her knees next to her husbands chair as she spoke. Gratitude was also expressed to the group leaders from her, and how honored she was to have us in her home. Her sincerity, vulnerability and humility was so apparent with each word she spoke, and I began seeing even more clearly all the beauty and depth in her heart. I won’t try and remember everything that was said, as I’d never be able to articulate it as pure and as meaningful as she delivered it. However, at one point, she expressed to the two veteran members of our group how much they meant to her. How it showed how good God is that they were able to come back to the country, and to bless her by being in her home. She said she wished she could give her something close to what had been given to her, but she didn’t have anything to give. At this point, she reached into the little fruit bowl on the middle of the coffee table, and handed them each a small, green apple. She explained the could take this and eat, as it would symbolize their friendship in Christ and her gratitude for everything.
At this point it was all I could to keep from bursting into tears. (I failed at doing so.) She followed her speech with a song of praise to God. She sat back on her knees, closed her eyes and raised her hands to her sides, and bursted out in a song of worship in her language.
I had never experienced anything like it.
God’s love was so present in that tiny, dark room. I thought to myself as I attempted to hold back the tears, this is what real worship is. This is what real religion is. This is the heart of God.
She gave me golden earrings though she hardly had the means to do so. She and her family welcomed in old friends and a few perfect strangers into her home and gave them all she had. She served with such care and humility, everything she did came from such a beautiful place within her heart. All she did was to honor God, and her gratitude to Him for the few things she had was overwhelming. When she worshiped, her purpose was clear. Simple gratitude.
There was a lot of touching things in this experience, but the biggest thing that touched me was being in the presence of the purest form of worship I think I’ve ever witnessed. And I wont soon forget it.
I hope I too can look at the things in my life as blessings from God, and that my goal would be to bless others with it somehow. That I too would live with open hands and an open heart. That I too would never forget what the heart of worship looks like, what it feels like. That pure worship, and pure religion, is simple.
That doesn’t mean technology and lights and teams and talent is a bad thing. It doesn’t mean having comforts and clothes and nice things is a bad thing. It does mean that no matter what part of the world I am in, my life is not my own. It does mean that what little or what abundance God blesses me with, are all opportunities to bless others. That all I have and all I am are not so my name can be greater, but his name can be greater. That as I reveal my heart to others, I should reveal His heart to others. That gratitude should never leave my heart, because God is good. And God is good. In the scarce, and in the plentiful. God is good. And that is worship.