Watoto Church is an awesome experience. People line up outside waiting for the doors to open. Hundreds of people attend each service, and they very efficiently empty the sanctuary from one side and fill it up again from the other for the next service. Inside, we claim our seats (you can forget about personal space) and wait for the service to begin. The worship team welcomes the crowd and begins singing with grins on their faces like they’ve just won the lottery. No microphone stands here – they hold their mics and dance around the stage. Actually, the atmosphere reminds me of the student section at Texas Tech football games: just as loud and crazy with all the excitement, except subtract the drunk people and add in a bunch of people praising God and dancing and clapping (with rhythm) to the music. In some churches, this behavior is looked down upon. People who act like that in church must be trying to attract attention to themselves, people say. Let me tell you – in Watoto Church, no one cares. They are there to worship God. After a few songs, one of the church leaders gets up and says, “Ok, Church – now it’s time for us to-” [congregation shouts “Give!”] They collect the tithes and offerings while the worship team continues singing their hearts out and dancing around.
The preacher was a guest speaker. Every sermon I’ve heard here has been great. Convicting, encouraging, great for helping the church body refocus on what really matters. The sermon from Sunday #6 of my Mzungu Summer was particularly powerful.
Statistically, Uganda is one of the poorest nations in the world. A large portion of the population lives on $2 or less per day. Of course, not everyone is poor. There are some very wealthy people here as well, but there are very few places in Uganda where you can escape reminders of the poverty around you.
The sermon I heard was about living a productive and effective Christian life, and it focused on three main points: being selfless, being willing to sacrifice, and being extravagantly generous. He said we need to give until it hurts. He talked about the parable of the good Samaritan and the story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac. He talked about the sacrifices made by the Uganda martyrs, for whom Martyrs’ Day was celebrated earlier this month. He talked about the Macedonian church that Paul praised in 2 Corinthians 8, who gave beyond their abilities in the midst of poverty.
Thousands of people heard this sermon. Thousands of people in one of the poorest countries in the world were told to be extravagantly generous and to give until it stretches their abilities.
I looked around. Having grown up attending various churches in the United States, I expected to see hundreds of stone-faced people waiting for the “giving” sermon to end. There is a much greater tendency in developed countries like the US to be doubtful of messages like this. They have seen too many television evangelists promising miracles in return for checks in the mail. Or they are saving up money to redecorate their house or buy a new car and they just can’t spare anything right now.
Two caveats. #1. I don’t mean to insult Christians in developed countries or insinuate that it’s bad to redecorate your house. I will be back in the US soon enough and I look forward to decorating wherever I live next. Not everyone in the US is miserly and unwilling to give, and some people truly are extravagantly generous. The truth is, though, that it is much easier to become materialistic and stingy when you are blessed with so much. It’s easier to want to hold on to whatever you have with a tight fist. #2. Not all giving happens in dollars or shillings. You have talents and expertise that many other people do not have. You have time. (Don’t tell me you don’t have time – you have 24 hours in each day just like everyone else on the planet. How do you use it?)
With those disclaimers out of the way, I want to point out that what I expected to see is in the audience was very different from what I saw. The congregation was smiling and nodding, saying “Amen” and interacting with the preacher when he asked questions. Some of them live on very little, but they thank God for what they have and they are not afraid to give until it hurts.
I pray that wherever I go and however much I have, God will teach me to be extravagantly generous – giving more than I think I can and trusting Him to provide for my needs. After all, everything belongs to Him anyway.