Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Village Church

This Sunday, we went to the village of Banin (we think that's the spelling) for worship. Pricilla, one of the clerks and translators for the hospital had invited Nykki  and us out for worship. It was a sort (5-10 minute) drive down the highway to the village, only past a couple large potholes. The village was a collection of small houses, similar in construction to the church in the picture. (Roofs are either tin or thatched, but the walls were all a weaved siding.) We were greeted by the pastor and several others when we arrived, about 10-15 minutes early for the service.

Church began with the ringing of the "bell": an old, empty tank of the sort one might store pressurized gases. The service was led by Pricilla, who led us through some worship songs. A pair of other women in the church played guitar. Actually, most of the congregation was female, perhaps a half-dozen men, plus a few young boys being the only men present. (And they apparently asked if I wanted to preach.)

The church had posters and signs all along the walls. Some were from the Church of the Nazarene denomination, some were sign ups and schedules for who was doing what during worship, and others were home-made signs.

The music was vaguely familiar. There were more Tok Pisin songs here than at the church just off station, though there were a number of English songs as well. The songs also seemed to blend a number of familiar tunes into one song. One such song went from the chorus of "Power in the Blood of Jesus" to the chorus of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (with a few words changed). (It's also possible that I'm forgetting how some of the old hymns go.)

They had a time when they would share memorized scripture verses. One member would get up, give the citation. The congregation would repeat it. Then they would give the verse a line a time, the congregation repeating each line after them.(I'm not sure if this is particular to here, but I know I've not seen adults memorizing Scripture for a while when it wasn't part of a class.)

Other than those few things, it reminded me a lot of US worship. It seemed, perhaps, more communal, but a lot of that may also be that the whole village seemed to show up for worship, barring a few of the younger kids.Churches here are very local, each village having one of its own. And usually only one, as decisions tend to be group led. Thus, the village decides to join the church all at once. (See the baptism with 16+ people being baptized.)

The culture is very tribe-based, so there has been some dividing done on denominational lines. Most of the churches I've seen around here as we drove from one place to another were Nazarene. A few others exist: there's a Catholic mission up the hill next to us and a Lutheran church down one of the roads. But that said, most of this "tribe" around here seem to be Nazarene. Some of the literature around here seems to comment about how this may help continue tribal divisions, rather than try to bring the tribes more together.

I will say that everyone seems to be overly welcoming of guests into their church or tribe. If someone is an invited guest, a lot of the suspicion and mistrust seem to vanish. I've seen this when we go to church services and to the singsing the day before. Since Jonathan (our wasman, "watchman" or "guide") was with us and was part of one of the tribes in the singsing, we were welcome with open arms. I'm not sure how they would have greeted us had we just shown up. I know that Mt Hagen seemed particularly less welcoming, though that may be city verses village/town dynamics.

Anyway, before the service started, one of the women (I think Pricilla's aunt, but family relationships get blurred in villages, as everyone a certain age is a mama or papa) gave Nykki and Miriam each a meriblos, one of the traditional dresses. (Traditional at least since contact with Western cultures.) And as we were leaving, they gave us all the fruit off the altar (enough to fill to the brim a reusable shopping bag). The other missionaries tell me they do this every time one of them visit one of the small village churches. In all, a very rewarding experience.

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