Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Prayers of the people

“Let’s pray,” invited the worship leader, microphone in hand. 

It was about half way through the service on Sunday morning at a Haitian youth church.  A couple hundred older children, teens, and young adults had gathered under a sturdy white tent—the smaller children were in Sunday school classes in a nearby building.  The teens had already sang worship songs—not hymns from the traditional Chant D’Esperans which is used in many Haitian protestant churches, but contemporary songs with keyboard, drums and guitar.  There was no projector or songbook, but the young congregants knew all of the words by heart, many singing out with eyes closed and hands raised in praise.

The church had also already listened to the testimony of a young medical student named Nixon.  He looked sharp in a purple shirt and matching sweater vest as he delivered his impromptu talk.  The kids sat up with focused attention as he spoke, seemingly right to each of them.  “You might think that because you come from a poor family, you will not be able to succeed.  But I am here to tell you that no matter where you come from, or how poor your family is, God can accomplish great things in your life.”  He went on to tell his story of being the oldest child in a family in which, even with all the adults working, the kids often went without food and had little hope of attending school.  But, by the grace of God, his church found someone who could sponsor his basic schooling, and then, astonishingly, also his university and medical school.  He shared time after time of God’s provision for him, even in situations that seemed nearly impossible.  That Sunday morning, he stood before the congregation of kids who had just started school, just as he prepared to start his internship as a doctor, testifying to God’s providence and encouraging the kids to do their part by studying hard.

Now, having worshiped God in song and listened to Nixon’s story, it was time to pray.  The children and youth shifted positions—some sat down, others knelt with their face burrowed into their metal folding chair, others stood tall with their hands outstretched or on their face.  I sat with head bowed and eyes closed.  The two worship leaders, each with a microphone, started to call out to God in rapid and melodic Creole.  Each sentence started with high pitched tone that pushed forward towards an accented word, then descended like a left-ward swipe of a finger down the white keys of a piano.  Within moments, the voices of all of the youth joined in, each one calling out their own prayers to God.  The noise rose like an orchestra warming up before a concert—every musician tuning, practicing, and running through hard passages on their own.  Each person so focused on their own words that they seemed unaware of the chaotic din that the group created in total.

Surprised by the sheer volume of prayers that inundated the tent and surrounded me, I opened my eyes with a jolt—disoriented, blinking.  No one voice was discernible to me.  Even the words of the two worship leaders, whose competing simultaneous prayers were blasting through speakers, were much too fast for me to understand in Creole.  I was baffled.  How does God even make sense of this?  There are so many voices.  So many people.  So many prayers.  Just this crowd of a couple hundred sounds like cacophony to me.  What about all the prayers at other churches?  Cities?  Countries?  Across the world?  And across all of human history?  How could God keep listening to us?  Doesn’t he get, well, annoyed?  Or frustrated?  Or just tired?  Doesn’t the crowd pressing in around him get to be too much? Too many?  Too needy?

And intellectually, I know the answers.  I know that God loves us.  That we’re his kids.  That he loves to talk to us, listen to us, and be friends with us (incidentally, the sermon topic for the morning).  That he even loves giving us good gifts, like a caring mother or father.  That he calls us by name.  And I deeply believe that it’s true.  I have tasted and seen this love in my own life.  My questions, my confused disbelief—I think they have less to do with head knowledge of who God is, and more to do with the humbling gut-level knowledge of who I am.  My limits.  My frustrations.  The smallness of my love for others.  How quickly I want to put up walls to block out others’ needs.  So when I look at the vastness of the love of God in comparison to the littleness of my own, it takes my breath away.  It brings me to my knees.  It’s hard to even come up with words.  But even so, as I sat marveling at a God who lovingly listens to every voice around me, I found myself adding my own voice to the noisy mix—haltingly, with someone else’s words, trembling...

“Indescribable.  Uncontainable.  You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.  You are amazing God.  All powerful.  Untameable.  Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim,
You are amazing God.” 

So amazing, God.

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