I squeeze into the car with 6 or 7 other pastors. We zoom down the highway until the pavement ends, then continue on the dirt road. On the side of the road, women are washing clothes in a muddy creek. One man is washing his hair. We pass flocks of goats being led by children. We stop to drop a group of pastors off at Mika, the newest church plant of the Mara District of the UMC.
As we get farther away from Tarime, the road gets bumpier. Now, in addition to the cinder block houses, we’re seeing houses built with homemade bricks, and mud huts with thatched roofs. We come to Ingrichini Primary School. From here the “road” to the church is literally a path. Imagine driving your car on a mountain bike trail. Keep your hands inside the windows, or thorn bushes will scratch you. And hold on to the dashboard or you’ll hit your head on the ceiling when the car hits the big bumps.
Finally we arrive at the church. It was built by the church members, out of bricks that they made themselves. Before this building, they worshipped under a large tree (which they were proud to show me). The pastor’s house was nearby. Houses, really. One for him and his wife, and several for his children. Oh, and a building just for cooking and washing dishes. A whole compound! But don’t get too impressed. They’re all mud huts.
Bible Study (what some would call Sunday School) is starting soon. But first, the pastor’s wife stands in the door of their house and says (in Swahili), “Welcome inside.” It’s an invitation we must not refuse. We enter through the low door and sit down at a small table with pastor Jacob Korinda. His wife brings around a pitcher of warm water and pours it over our hands so we can wash them. Then she pours us all cups of tea. It’s made with milk and flavored with ginger, lemon, and honey. In Asheville, this cup of tea would be a chai latte that would sell for three dollars at Starbucks. The pastor’s wife also puts a plate of white loaf bread on the table. A blessing is said, and we guests enjoy our second breakfast of the day. Now that tea is over, we gather in the small church for Bible Study. After some singing, the pastor speaks on the story of the hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5. I’m asked to pray, then there is more singing, and then at some point (I’m not sure where) church begins. More singing, more praying, and more singing—and then I’m being introduced. With Eric translating, I tell the people how happy I am to be there, and how much I’ve enjoyed being with their pastor all week in Tarime. Then Eric reads my sermon text—Matthew 14:22-33—the story where Jesus walks on the water, and then Peter tries to do it and sinks. My sermon is “Keep Your Eyes on Jesus.” To be successful in the Christian life, we have to keep our eyes on Jesus. When we take our eyes off Jesus, like Peter did, we sink. The service ends, as all services here do, with the congregation processing out the door of the church. There we greet each other one-by-one in a circle. Then the pastor pronounces the same closing blessing that I often use myself: “The grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all and give you peace.”
After church, Eric and I shoot some video of him talking about missions, with the pastor’s houses as a backdrop. Then it’s lunchtime. This time we gather in the church itself. The white cloth is removed from the simple altar table, and it becomes our lunch table. Two of the church’s leaders join Eric, Jacob, and me at the table. Again, Jacob’s wife comes around with a pitcher for hand washing. Then she and another wife serve lunch—heaping bowls of rice, each with two bite-size chunks of beef stewed in tomato sauce. As spare as this may sound, I am full before I reach the bottom of my bowl. We linger at the table for a long time. Finally, we exit the church and begin saying goodbye. We load the car up with church members and children who want to go to the village center to do some business. One church member has a bicycle, which Eric straps to the top. We travel up the mountain bike path, slowly, avoiding the tree stumps, the big ruts, and the mud holes where we could literally get stuck. Finally we reach the primary school and the dirt road, which now feels like a brand new Interstate highway. On the way back to Tarime, we drop off church members and pick up pastors. Before long we’re back at the Soards. The ladies are cooking and a crowd of people is socializing in the front yard. I pop into my room where I shed the dress clothes that I’m so not used to wearing, and ease into shorts and a UNC T-shirt.