Was it four weeks ago that I described a place of dirt, mountains, truckers, and children? Time has gotten the better of me, but I believe it was. It was. I miss the laughter and proud smiles of the aunties; the smelly food and little fingers curled around mine. O, the heavy love I carry for them. It is daily hoisted onto my shoulders by remembrance. It presses down on me every time I hear the chorus of high-pitched questions in the streets:
“How are you!?”
“Mzungu! How are you?”
I turn to see smaller children shying behind others, smiling next to the pile of trash littered on the side of the street. It is just there and I can’t rid myself of it. The weight, oh, the weight.
I am no longer surrounded by dirt, truckers, or orphaned children, but I am still surrounded by mountains. I now stare from my new home, over the rocky path, to the mountains that stare back, perfectly adjacent to Lake Victoria. The sun spreads orange on the horizon as it sinks into the water. Welcome to Kandaria.
I would love to paint in your mind a perfect picture of Kandaria but I am not an artist; I am certainly not masterful enough with this brush. If I attempted the endeavor, my words would turn a perfectly good canvas into a children’s coloring book. My hills would be perfectly smooth lines filled in green below and blue above, where a cotton cloud would squiggle next to a yellow, circular sun. The chickens would smile and the people would smile back. It would lack dimensions, shadows, and true emotion. It would be a cheap charade. And if you had any true experience, any masterpiece to compare, you would see the lack of coordination in my hand. So instead, I am going to simply tell you a story. I am going to share with you a recent experience. I am simply going to trace and pray that I am tracing a masterpiece.
What is worship? I think worship is following Jesus. Too general for you? Too obvious? It seemed that way for me and still does at times. But that is what this story has transformed into. Worship. What you worship will stop you from following Jesus. It will take your life because you will gladly give your life to it. These thoughts were replaying in my head as I bounced up and down, left and right, pulling against the seat belt that, every so often, would tighten right underneath my ribs. We were bouncing through the Kandarian hills in a Land Cruiser we call The Beast. Myself, David (the man, no, friend, who I am living with), and six strangers in the back, one of which was not moving anymore, except to the bumps. Nor was he breathing. It was early and it was grave. I do not know which of the two was the cause, but I was at a loss for words. I could only breathe and think.
How did I wake up to this?
What is going on?
Is this happening?
We are going to run out of gas, I know it. We are going to run out of gas driving to the mortuary.
The silence was broken by clanging of metal against metal and a chorus in a foreign language. The five strangers were family; the one lifted into the back of The Beast that morning was the sixty-something father, brother, and uncle to the rest. They were singing. No, they were worshipping as we drove over the unpaved roads, avoiding ditches and potholes. They had no idea it was killing me. The song mixed with the repetitive metal clang reminded me of a montage at the end of a movie, where you watch multiple scenes at once in their own little squares. And in this movie, people were dying in those squares. Others were crying. In the last square I was sitting in a passenger seat, still bouncing, confused. I would have never picked this soundtrack. The repetitive clang made me flinch more than the rocks that jutted into the tires. If I was forced to pick a song for that moment, if I was completely true to the gravity, no worship song ever played on my iPod, iTunes, cd player in the car, or guitar would have amounted. I do not know what that means but it was what I was thinking.
There was gladness mixed with grief. Gladness in celebrating their relative coming into Polo (Heaven) and meeting Him for the first time. Face to face. There was grief. That was plain in the way they sang and wholly evident in the repetitive metal clash, and even more apparent by the tears swelling in the men’s eyes. They had a song for this moment. I did not. What is worship now? Obviously it was more than the song or the terrible instrument. It must, then, be them just singing to God, at that moment. Right then. That was how they were following Jesus. It has to be. Right?
“Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
That is not just a saying when your flying 100kph down an African rode with a mourning family and a corpse in the back. It is offensive. If they were following Jesus right then, that was the most heart-wrenching worship I had ever experienced. That was Job in real life. But if that was just part of the culture or tradition, rapid fire songs to relieve despair and grief, stopping short of truly honoring the real God; what would it look like if I turned around and said, “Stop that. Let the dead bury the dead. Focus on Jesus and what He has done for you, what He is doing for you.”? What if I called them dead, in that moment? What if.
But then it struck me. The obvious hit me square and knocked the breath out of me. That verse was not for them. It was completely for me. What if that was my father in the back? Or worse, what if that was my younger sister in the back? I felt sick to my stomach. It felt so real. I knew it was not my sister back there, but at the same time I did not want to turn around and look. I did not want to see that pain, and I certainly did not want to turn around to see that same pain singing to God. Hearing it was enough to tear into my gut. They were worshipping! That verse was for me. That verse hurt. What a terrible instrument! I know if I ever am forced to carry a loved one unexpectedly to the mortuary, as I bounce over those unpaved roads, I will want a Reece moment. I will want a second to pity myself. I will want God pause for a moment and focus on me. I might not voice it, but I knew it to be true. Oh God, am I really worshipping you?
That is all I could think about. I wanted that possibility out of my head, but the singing persisted and the terrible instrument would not end.
I came to Africa! I am living among the impoverished day to day! I have seen it! I am doing it! This is ridiculous! This has got be fruits of the life of a disciple! This has got to be enough!
What if it is not though? What if it is not enough? What if I am not giving everything? Could I go further? I think I could. I think I could give more, and if I can give more, I must give more. Everything. Everything must go to Christ. All those really strict parts, those impossible parts, must become evident. I must take all my thoughts and capture them for His control. I must work my mind to know His Word so that I can yield it like a weapon. I must not forsake any part. I must do this so that I do not crumble when the torrent comes. I must give up on attempting to add to the foundation. He is taking everything, in every moment, and it is more difficult than I ever imagined. I am going to lose myself in it, but it will be worship. It will be obedience. It will be following. And I will not be among the dead.
So that is where I leave you. There truly is no ending. I was sickened by Christ’s words when they became more than philosophy, as so many have been. I officially had the intellectualism slapped out of me by realism. Those words are life and I know that. They are joy as I have been so adamantly proclaiming. They take away any excuse, any plea, any justification, and leave us with an offer to worship Him or something else. I am not choosing something else. I am going to sing. I am going to dance. I am going to labor. And just as that mourning family did, I am going to worship!