Perhaps it wasn’t the right context but I’ll admit to being a little disappointed. I was so looking forward to my first ever African church experience. I’m a strait laced Englishman who likes things orderly and planned. I’ll jig but I don’t dance; not in church (and rarely anywhere else for that matter). It doesn’t matter how emotionally moved I am, I’m just not that expressive. And I’m comfortable with that. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I’m not feeling. But I’ll admit to looking forward to being a little out of my comfort zone in Madagascar. After all, Pete had come back from his ‘rogue’ ordination in Kenya with footage of great exuberance from the assembled congregation and so I had to have a story to match!
I’d been asked to prepare a talk for the staff at the Hospital to give at their weekly Thursday service. There were about 150 of them from the doctors to the maintenance men (many of whom were unconverted). And so it was quite a crowd. I’d written something that I thought would be a simple, clear explanation of the gospel. I’d gone for Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. It was going to be translated into Malagasy and so I needed short sentences that would hang together. I had no real idea what to preach on or where to pitch it. No one had given me a steer. But in the Lord’s kindness, I think it was helpful.
It’s got to be one of the first evangelical churches I’ve been to where the notices lasted longer than the sermon. You must get that all the time in churches that have no respect for the word of God. But this was a Baptist church! Dr Adrien led the meeting and he clearly had lots to pass on. I then cottoned on to the fact that his ‘notices’ were long introductions to an invitation to pray. Nevertheless you can overdo the chat in church meetings!
Now back to that singing. We sang a handful of songs in Malagasy. Wonderfully they’d been written down and so I could attempt to follow and even join in. And though there was no sign of a music group, I was expecting a different praise experience to that of CCB (even evening church). But no. It was tuneful and sincere. But you couldn’t describe it as massively animated. Where was the clapping and the dancing? I felt short-changed! This is Africa. I asked about this afterwards. And though one or two admitted that the Baptistic influence may have restrained the high-spirited, they felt that the Malagasy as a people didn’t go in for massive shows of emotion. Stoic was how one missionary described them. For example, they tend not to weep when a child dies. Go figure, not all Africans are the same! And so when someone tried to tell me, as they did the other day, that Africans don’t think we believe anything because we don’t get as visibly excited as they do about the Lord, I’m going to tell them about the Malagasy. Because not all Africans fit our African stereotype!