I went to a church service in N’Djamena with Paul Djideti (pronounced gee-debt-ee). The church is on one of the main boulevards of the city and it is a church composed mostly of the thin Chadian middle class. In spite of the middle-class setting, the women and small children sit on the left side of the church and the men on the right.
The service was to start and 10 AM and be followed by a fellowship meal – something that happens only once a year. We arrived at 10:07. There is a semi-permanent shelter for fellowship events next to the church. It is made of pipes permanently planted in the ground to which are attached very colorful tarps, perhaps made of some kind of carpet.
The men are dressed up – some in suits and ties, some in slacks and nice shirts including shirts made of colorful African cloth, some in safari suites and one or two in traditional Chadian robes. The women all have their heads covered, mostly with very colorful cloth matching their clothes which include a full-length skirt and embroidery.
The church building is quite nice. It has a high roof with open metal trusses and metal roofing. There are very big windows all the way around so keep the air flowing in the hot climate. There are ceiling fans too, but there is no electricity. It is a well-conceived sanctuary in an arc around the platform and the seating is sloped with white plastic chairs on each “step” of the slope. The walls are unfinished and unpainted cement and the floor is uncovered and unpainted concrete.
I am told that there will be a communion service and then the meal. It turns out to be a bit different. There is a station for hand washing near the main entry to the church. Most people are washing their hands before entering. I wondered if this was a reflection of a north African influence.
The service started at 10:20 with the pastor and elders around a communion table in front of the platform. The pastor led the communion service with a number of elders praying and leading songs. Because there is no electricity, there is also no PA system. Like many churches in Africa, there is a lot of movement and little noises during the service. Children make a bit of noise and move around. Some adults have little conversations with each other during the service. It is almost impossible for me to hear what is being said.
The singing is mostly traditional French hymns from a hymnbook which has been around for a ♠very long time. But it is almost impossible to recognize the hymns because they are sung with a strong North African flavor. For two, I only recognized the hymn from the words and then afterwards I was able to figure out that the melody was the one I was used to but with very different harmony and a lot of notes changed. They sang a number of songs. At 10:50 the bread is distributed. It is in loaves and each one breaks off a piece. At 10:55 the cup is distributed. They used about six “common cups” with each cup being passed from person to person.
The men are seated on the right and the ladies on the left. Small children are with the ladies. Preteens mostly had an area to themselves among the ladies. Teens sit with the men or women.
At this point, my pen runs out of ink and I can’t take any more notes! When communion is finished the pastor goes to the platform and the elders back into the congregation.
We sing and there is another prayer. It is now 11:12. The song leader gives us a 3-4 minutes exhortation. At 11:25 they ask all visitors to stand. About 20 people stand. We are greeted but not asked to introduce ourselves (relief!). Another man goes to the platform and makes a number of announcements. Then yet another man goes to the platform to report on an evangelism effort. 63 persons were contacted, 15 made commitments to Christ and six were Christians who repented from not following Christ. Four of the new converts were in the service, others had decided to attend other churches closer to where they live. The four are introduced and church members who live in their neighborhood are asked to stand. The man making the announcements announces that the evangelism efforts need some Bibles in Arabic. At 11:36 the sermon starts. The text was Acts 2:43-47. We are exhorted to continue in the same things the early Christians did. At 11:55 the sermon is over. It was clear, to the point and very well presented. At 11:45 they get the PA system working on a battery (still no electricity) and at least I hear all of the last 10 minutes of the sermon.
We sing a hymn while the offering is being taken. The hymn drags and the song leader stops us and insists that we follow his speed. He taps the cadence on the pulpit and we sing at a good rate. The faster rate works – more people are singing and they seem more engaged.
The final prayer is at 12:06. We each pick up our white plastic chair and take it outside. There are a few tables but not nearly enough. The shelter is not big enough for all of us. I sit with Paul under a mango tree. Things move slowly and my little group is asked to join the serving line at 12:55. The food was amazing. I had “boule” – a kind of very thick millet porridge, fish and greens. We all ate with our hands. A young lady came around with a basin and a teapot. She pours the water over our hands as we wash them over the basin.
The ladies are seated with the ladies, the men with the men and children from about 10 years and up are also together. Things break up suddenly. I am told that we are leaving and all of a sudden it looks like half the crowd is leaving. It is 1:40 PM.
(This was originally posted on a different site. It was republished here in March 2012.)