We ended up there in Korah the day after we landed - still shell shocked and giddy to be back in Ethiopia. I honestly did not sleep much the night before, but I never do in Ethiopia. I am not sure if it is the time change or just excitement - I don't want to miss a moment in-country.
The church was in the middle of Korah. Korah is a community with 75 plus thousand people who live in the garbage dump of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is where people who are sick with HIV, AIDS, Tuberculosis, Hepatitis, and Leprosy come because they have been made outcasts. There is a large percentage of sick widows in Korah. More often than not, the only way the people survive, is by picking through the garbage dump for their main source of nourishment. Jim was being given the privilege of preaching there. The "church" was a small tin shack with plastic chairs that had been rented for the day for us, and an old sound system turned up as loud as it could go, and little keyboard- also rented for us. Right from the beginning I was humbled and even slightly embarrassed over the fuss being made over us. We had come to serve them, and here they were doing everything possible to serve us.
The worship began almost immediately after we were seated. Worship mingled with prayers of thanksgiving. I understand very little amharic, but one word that I do understand, I heard over and over and over. Ameseginalehu - thank you. The worship and prayer time had hardly begun before I was looking around the tiny, dirt-floored room, at the ragged and dirty men, women, and children who worshiped the One true Creator, arms outstretched, eyes closed, faces relaxed, focused on only One, and radiating joy - in the midst of their bleak circumstances and surroundings - they were worshiping the God Who had not forgotten them. They were not seated on plush pews or chairs - the room was so packed many were not seated at all. There was no pulpit, no cross, no decorations or grand piano, or electric guitar. No glitz, no glamor. No foyer or coffee or donuts or book store. It was just God's people - black and white - Americans and Abyssinians - together - worshipping the God Who had never let go of a single one of us- all created in His image - and in that moment we knew it and recognized it, and we worshiped.
I have probably attended thousand after thousands of worship services in my life time - thousands of Sunday morning services. But this one was different. This time the worship was different. It felt different. It wasn't just the surroundings, or the cultural difference, the language, or the worship-style. This worship was unadulterated - pure, simple - something I am not sure I had ever really experienced before in my kind of church, where there are expectations and unspoken rules - even about worship. There is a sense of duty - obligation - ritual - and emptiness in what I am used to, and I didn't even know it until I walked into worship in Korah - which was none of those things. The Holy Spirit was evident in the people of Korah, and to my kind of church, sometimes the Spirit is over-looked, feared, and made light-of. But I saw what Spirit-filled worship could be. I felt so much gratitude and joy, in that little shack of a church that Sunday morning. It was a feeling I never wanted to lose again in worship. I sat in my plastic chair for the 3 hour plus long service with hot, ugly tears streaming down my checks, a trembling bottom lip that bled from biting it to keep the sobs down (Thanks Roger for pretending to ignore my ugly cry. You are a good man.), and I begged God to let us bring this back home with us. But I have to be honest, two weeks later I returned to my home church, which I dearly love, and walked back into our sanctuary, and back into my comfortable and the unspoken rules of worship, and it's gone. The first Sunday home I also cried during worship, but not the same joyful, humbled cry that rocked my soul in Korah.
We are missing it. Here in America in so many of our churches - we are missing the passionate, unadulterated worship that our Savior, our God longs for from us.
I am missing it.
I am missing it because I am proud, I am fearful of what the person next to me might think, I am calloused, I am comfortable, I am hurried and hardened, and I am selfish.
We are missing out on true worship, and I don't think we even know it. It took a church in Korah to show me what I am missing.
This is the poverty of America - our comfortableness, our ease, and our fear-of-man is destroying us - it's destroying even our intimacy with God and our worship.
I saw Jesus in Korah - in the faces of his children - dirty and scarred - in the the eyes of the Pastor as he rolled up his tattered sleeves and stirred the coffee beans - in the widowed mother who bent to kiss her child's forehead and wipe his little runny nose with her dress. He was there in all of them. He was there in their worship.
He's here too. I know He is. Perhaps I just need to look a little harder.