Cicadas, a crowing rooster, a misguided moth trying to find an opening in the porch screens. I am at home and otherwise alone with time to reflect for the first time in a month. Time, but little mental clarity. It has been quite a month.
On June 25 four friends arrived from DR Congo to spend three and a half weeks in our community, doing volunteer work with members of my congregation, cementing our congregational partnership. And then we attended the global assembly of Mennonites/Anabaptists that takes place somewhere in the world once every six years, this time in Harrisburg, PA. In the last time slot of the last day of the assembly, three of us presented a workshop on church-to-church partnerships.
It was a fabulous experience. As the principal organizer of the pre-assembly visit of our friends from Congo, I felt like I was executing an international tour without leaving the country, in which I was both tour guide and traveler, host and guest, interpreter and communicator. With the help of a great committee I planned a wonderful visit for our friends, a great experience for our church. I expect to enjoy a sense of accomplishment sometime soon.
But I am not quite there yet. For now it is a bit like the experience of the global assembly that culminated our program: intense, exhausting, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes difficult, and fleeting. Here is a six-and-a-half-minute highlight video of that gathering. The Mennonite world music was most awesome. What you’ll hear on the video are snippets from the fine performers, but all 7,500 of us sang along and raised the rafters.
What I am remembering today, however, is a quiet encounter with one person from the global Anabaptist village that gathered at the huge, rambling farm show complex in the Pennsylvania capital. If my theme of the last month has been global spiritual partnerships and why they are important, this story embodies it.
By the middle of the week in Harrisburg, after the busyness of the previous weeks, I was overstimulated and on mental overload. I hadn’t been sleeping well. And I was worried about our upcoming workshop, which hadn’t quite come together yet. So I skipped a morning of heart-throbbing music and what friends told me later was one of the best speakers of the week and instead made my way to the space set aside for prayer, an upper room in the middle of the arenas and concrete corridors laid out to move people or animals, whichever happened to be using the block-spanning complex. The prayer room was silent and nearly empty. I sat down to meditate and find my way to the inner silence I needed. Nearby, someone was whispering a prayer. I whispered my own prayer.
I had been sitting for a half hour or so, eyes closed, when someone sat down beside me and put her hands over mine. She began whispering a prayer, so quietly that I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but I could feel the power and the love that was flowing through her. I began weeping. She kept praying. I don’t know how people are able to pray continuously in this way, but this woman was African, and I have observed this about African prayer, that it goes on and on in a flow of words that come from somewhere deeper than thought.
After a while she said, “Amen,” and I wiped my eyes and thanked her. Then she handed me a card and invited me, if I wished, to write down the thing on my heart that needed prayer. I wrote about my disturbed state of mind and hopes for our upcoming workshop. And then she prayed again, still quietly, as if it was not for me to hear, but only directed to God. By the time she stopped I felt cleansed and peaceful. We introduced ourselves and talked for a while. She was a pastor from Zimbabwe.
It is one thing to say that two days later our workshop went well, that presenting it was a total joy, and that this prayer encounter was directly responsible for my part in that. But I am on the verge of declaring that such encounters, across cultural and often language barriers, are necessary to the life of the Christian church. And that grace in these times could flow even more abundantly from South to North, to use geopolitical terms, than the other way around, because Christians in the global South are really good at praying.
And together, we global Anabaptists are really good at singing.