Jayne goes out every night to her friend Odette's house from 9-10 for Bible study and prayer with Odette's family... where I come from, it's called Family Bible Hour. She wanted me to get to participate, and since their house isn't really accessible, they decided to move it to Jayne's house next door to mine last night. I didn't really know what to expect, but I figured it would be safe to take my Bible and leave my shoes at home... I was right - I'm learning!
Odette and her husband, Jean Baptiste (yes, really) came in with their two youngest children, who are two of the most confident, approachable, and spiritually strong teenagers I've ever met (they remind me of the Malchuk kids, actually). I realized during our time together why they are like that.
Jayne got out her djembe and Odette grabbed a tambourine, and with that the band was assembled. You see, Odette and Jean Baptiste are Congolese, and moved here five years ago as refugees. Yes, this was African Family Bible Hour!
It began with the reading of Psalm 100... in French, then in English. And then, after a prayer filled with Hallelujahs and Merci Jésus, we did as the Psalm said - we made un bruit joyeux - a joyful noise! We sang in French and some African language or Congolese dialect... Jayne, the brilliant linguist, was faithful to translate for me, and thankfully most of the songs were simple and repetitive enough that I could pick it up and sing along. I didn't even care if I understood the full translation though, or if I could keep up with all the unfamiliar sounds, because I knew it was worship that was for the ears of our King, who can understand every tongue. The teenagers stood and clapped and stepped to the rhythm and even took turns leading the songs. I played with harmonies, rolled the beautiful words around on my lips, and tapped my fingers on my knee to the rhythm of the djembe.
The last song we sang had words in French that I could actually translate for myself - words like la victoire, ne sépare, and l'amour de Dieu - words from the beloved and familiar passage in Romans 8. Since it was a rather wordy song, I flipped in my Bible to the verses and read them silently. When the song was over (and all the songs were extremely long, with improvised harmonies and Spirit-led prayers throughout), Odette opened her Bible and asked us to turn to "Les Romains huit, vingt-huit à trente-neuf," which, much to my delight, I understood to be the passage I already had opened in my lap. Again, it was read in French, and then Odette asked me to read it in English. Then we all spent some time studying and meditating on it, and then we were all asked to share what we learned.
Every person had incredible and encouraging and challenging things to share, and I had tears in my eyes as Jean Baptiste told about his time in a dark and terrible prison in Congo. "I was separated from my family," he said in broken English, "but I knew nothing could separate me from the love of my Lord." Because of this promise and hope, he was able to share the gospel with many of his fellow prisoners... I will never be able to read these verses the same way again, I thought.
"Can we sing an English song to close?" Odette asked me. Part of me wanted to say, "No, more French!" but I realized they wanted to honor my language too, so I sang the most beautiful simple chorus I could think of, "God is so good... God is so good... God is so good, He's so good to me..." Amens, Hallelujahs, and Merci Jesus! filled the air as they picked up the chorus too. We held hands and prayed and sang it again and again, in at least three languages. I was overwhelmed by the powerful sense of the presence of the Father, his Word, and his Spirit in that room. All the heaviness that had been so dark on me all day was lifted and I felt so richly blessed.
And now I can't wait to join African Family Bible Hour again next Wednesday!