Yesterday I had an experience of a life time
(haha, each day here in Africa is an experience of a life time!)
But this was a really great experience!
I joined Jake and Jenn (my housemates) on a trip to Dzaleka - the refugee camp (yes, Malawi has a refugee camp) - to attend a Graduation Ceremony. The students were graduating from a one year Bible College program that has been started by one of the churches in the camp.
Jake was one of the teachers.
There were 32 students. Most were refugees. In fact, the only people not refugees at the ceremony were myself, Jake, Jenn and Flo (There Is Hope)
When we arrived, we were told the ceremony wasn't scheduled to start til half one (1:30pm). We'd arrived for a 1pm start. No biggy really, except that nothing starts on time to begin with, so I figured we had an hour to kill.
Shocker, we actually started early - ish.
Jake was already on the platform in his academic gear, and the three of us ladies were escorted right up beside him. Front and center. To Flo's surprise, there was a speech from There is Hope in the schedule of the day. Good thing she joined us or Jenn would have been making the speech on their behalf!
I had a quick look at the schedule and inwardly groaned. It was not yet 1:30pm, and the schedule went until 5:10pm. That's nearly four hours sitting up on stage in front of an auditorium full of strangers. I was not wearing an appropriate dress, so I constantly had to be covering my knees.
Also, I already had to go to the washroom...opps, it was a HOT day.
How long could I hold off I wondered? I doubt there is a toilet handy....or even a simple hole with a seat!
The music that was already playing was LOUD. So loud in fact, that I could not make out one single word being sung. Mind you, the music was sung in various languages, but when Flo leaned over and told me, "this song is French, can you understand what it says?" I laughed out loud (not that is mattered). I could make nothing out at all. And what a shame, African music is so beautiful...when it can be heard!
So, pounding headache added to platform seating, when the choirs started their specials, spot lights showed up! This was done to amplify the lighting so that those who didn't have flash photography could still get good pictures.
Guess where the lights were aimed for the whole ceremony? Yup, that's right. UP FRONT! And who, might I remind you was sitting on stage, up front? US!
Add blinding light to the sensory overload!
An hour of specials from various choirs. Amazing singing and dancing and fantastic energy. I would have LOVED every single second of it if I could concentrate. I was just enthralled by the diversity of each dance, of each singing group. Though most of these particular refugees were Congolese, within that one nationality, there are many tribes. And so each choir represented a variance of their heritage and culture. Colors, dances, music, instruments, you name it. The energy in the room was contagious!
Time for speeches.... Flo was up first, and for someone who had not come prepared to say anything, she certainly had me in tears.
I would hands down say her words were the most inspiring, but that is an unfair assessment. Her words were pretty much the only thing I understood for the duration of the ceremony!
BUT, she did say one thing so powerful that I wrote it down and pondered for the remainder of the day: "Dzaleka can not separate you from the destiny God has planned for you"
Not even being a third generation born refugee can separate you from the DESTINY God has planned for you!
If a refugee camp can not take away that destiny, may I encourage you to consider that there is NOTHING in your current or future circumstance that would ever be able to either!
Romans 8:37-39 -- "I am convinced...there is NOTHING...in Heaven above or earth below...that can separate us from the love of God through Jesus Christ"
Its almost humbling to admit just how REAL that passage became to me in those few moments.
I am sitting in a graduation ceremony. The joy, and the enthusiasm, and the sheer love is greater than almost any other function I've ever been to in my life.
And its taking place in a REFUGEE camp!
These people have no homes of their own. No identity on the world stage. They have no homeland, they are not entitled to leave the refugee camp and receive any services from Malawi. They have no passport, and very very few are ever granted sponsorship to leave the hopelessness that is served before them.
They have only their lives and their families.
And in the midst of it all, FLOURISHES JOY UNSPEAKABLE!
The entire ceremony - speech after speech, dance after dance, song after song, was inspired by that same joy. The joy that I have long heard of, and occasionally touched myself. A joy that all too often has become a icon of our faith, but rarely an embraced lifestyle.
That joy; THIS JOY that I was sitting in the midst of, was that of Christ Jesus alone. The joy that is not a result of circumstances or achievement of oneself, but of the circumstances of the cross and the achievement of life bought there.
If you know me well, you will know Im not usually this flowery. My faith is real, and its solid. I dont spout Christian ease or jargon with fluidity, and if I am caught in a conversation that offers it, I try to exist quickly. But yesterday it was like I was suddenly given a new color to add to my pallet.
I can't possibly explain to you the profound experience of yesterday.
There are no words.
It was humbling.
Embarrassing - because I know how frivolous and superficial I am. Compared to these people, I am rich with wealth. And yet, I am so poor in Heaven's currency.
And as the ceremony progressed in a language I could not understand and a translation too distorted to comprehend, I just bathed in this new discovery.
The richness of having ONLY CHRIST!
When the leading pastor and director of the Bible College began to call out the names of the graduates, it was like all Heaven rejoiced. I have never seen such a display.
Granted, our graduation ceremonies are sophisticated and appropriate. We are well behaved, staying in our seat, allowing others to see and hear what is going on around. If we must, we politely excuse ourselves to go to the front and take a picture of our loved one, never wanting to interfere with the procession of the event, never wanting to draw attention to ourselves intentionally.
I've been at ceremonies where the applause is held off until the end, just to save time. The mere five seconds of clapping our culture would deem respectable for each individual is stored up for the end, so that all participants receive equal recognition.
Not so here. The fact that there was any sort of organization at all was an anomaly in itself.
Each name that was called was a five minute party of honor.
The graduate would barely be able to make his or her way to the front of the auditorium without being "moshed"
Confetti, garland, noise makers, whistles, clapping, screaming, perfume, whatever one could think of was donned upon the individual.
The hugs were finally redirected to the end of the line, but the pictures took place all across the stage. This pastor, that teacher, this friend, now all three. It did not seem to matter how long it took. There was no usher pushing people along or asking the audience to take their seats.
This was a time of celebration. And love. And pride.
The mothers who watched their sons or daughters. The children who came to support their moms or dads. Even the widows who joined around a fellow widow who had joined ranks with her nephews.
Not one single person was forgotten.
And I stood at the front, finally feeling the release of the eyes upon me, and laughed aloud at the party animals in front of me. No one there would ever believe the thrill in my heart.
If only time had no restrictions in our culture and formalities went out the window. How would we celebrate? How we would ensure that those we loved knew we were proud of their accomplishments and achievements?
Or have we too taken even THAT for granted? Have accomplishments of any sort and achievements of any nature become so common place and expected that we dont even allow for honor to be shared when it is due? Or are we too focused on the status gained by said achievement that it matters not how we celebrate and only more what we gain from our completion?
Oh, the thoughts that go through one's mind when sitting in a five hour graduation ceremony for 32 strangers speaking a foreign language....
DON'T ever miss your chance when your turn comes!