Since my previous post was about the congregational singing part of worship, I’d like to share a little story about another part of worship—the offering.
The first time I took a team of students on a short-term mission trip to Africa, we spent the first 6 weeks in the Kenyan bush, east of Nairobi, in a village called Isovya. We spent a Sunday or two working with a little Presbyterian church there, and on other Sundays various subgroups traveled farther out into the bush (if such a thing were possible) to preach, teach, and provide music in other churches.
The churches were typically mud brick, with a metal or thatched roof, a dirt floor, backless benches, and no glass in the windows. The people would trickle in, and when enough were there, the service would start.
The singing was always energetic; I hold a special place in my heart for the a capella (with maybe a plastic jug as a drum) singing out there in the bush. There is a tonal quality to it that I haven’t found anywhere else in the world.
Then there would be preaching, with an interpreter if called for. One of those Sundays I preached in one of those churches. The congregation was responsive, and the whole service was a delight.
After the preaching they would have the offering. Now, sometimes they would get a few coins, but in many churches there are a good many members who don’t have any money to give. So they bring what they have. Bench by bench, they come forward and place their offering—some fruit, some grain, maybe a pair of sandals crafted from worn-out tires (or tyres, as they would spell it there). This time there were even a couple of live chickens.
Now, as a practical matter, the church can’t really use any of these items, so they do the practical African thing: they hold an auction, and the members who do have some money bid on the items until they’re all auctioned off. That bid money then becomes the offering.
At this service there was a small plastic bag of cowpeas. The bidding commenced, and the bids kept coming. I noticed that an old man, sitting in what American Southerners would call the “Amen Corner,” kept bidding. He really wanted those cowpeas.
He persisted, and he succeeded. The cowpeas were his.
He rose stiffly from his bench, walked slowly to the table, picked up the bag, and then continued walking, up the steps to the platform where I was sitting. And he presented the cowpeas to me.
I was stunned.
My immediate reflex was to decline the offer; he needed the cowpeas far more than I did. But this was an offering, a gift to God, whom that man saw me as representing. The worst thing I could possibly do in that moment would be to reject his gift.
So I bowed slightly, looked him the eye, and told him “Thank you” in Kikamba, the local tribal language.
What a profoundly moving experience.
I later learned that he was an elder in the church. We took the cowpeas back to Isovya and gave them to a Kamba family there in the village.
Worship is a profound thing. God’s people bring what they have, and they offer it to God, who has need of nothing, who is in no way enriched by what they give, but who nonetheless “seeks such to worship him,” according to the Son (Jn 4.23). And that worship, in spirit and in truth, causes the Father to rejoice, and supplies the needs of his people, and gives the givers the opportunity to see God supply their needs and bring them peace.
Different people groups worship in different ways, demonstrating the richness and diversity of God’s creative and providential work, but in every place, in every time, that worship demonstrates God’s goodness in multiple ways.