Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Out of Africa: The Festivals

One of the main elements of our trip was putting on daily festivals in various locations around Gulu. I was responsible for the music portion of these festivals. Not having ever gone on an RSA mission trip before, I was not quite sure what to expect and how the worship would go, seeing as how our cultures worship in such different ways. This is what I was most nervous about as I prepared for this trip, not wanting to disappoint those that had asked me to oversee this aspect of the ministry.

I had prepared as best as I could and had met with the team members who would make up my new little band in Uganda. They quickly became good friends of mine and I thoroughly enjoyed working with every single one of them. We brought two guitars, a bass guitar, a keyboard and all the music we thought we'd need to do the job, not really knowing what we were in for.

Rain dampened the first festival, so I opted to cancel the American worship set for that evening, not wanting all our instruments to be soaked and damaged. Most everything else that evening went on as planned, however, and I was thankful for the opportunity to literally get my feet wet with what the rest of the festivals would look like so that I could be better prepared for how I should be going about this.

I assembled my band the next morning and we enjoyed a nice two hour rehearsal on the patio of the hotel in the warm sunshine. We were able to plan out music for the next few days, which felt just wonderful. I wish I had a picture of this, it was such a gorgeous setting. And I would have loved to have had a video of when the old Russian U.N. representative interrupted our practice and kissed my hand and arm while trying to steal my ring watch. It was gross. Never have I been more thankful for soap--and friends to laugh about it with.

We met a second time a few days later to go over the music for the second half of the trip. This time we met in the comfort and shade of one of the hotel buildings.

Everyday, I would find that I would be nervous as we traveled the long, dusty, bumpy roads to the festivals. Yet every night as we would return, I would feel so energized and thankful to God for His hand in what had just happened. They were definitely the highlight of my trip.

We would arrive at the different sites around 3pm everyday and there would already be a crew of Ugandan volunteers setting up a makeshift stage and wiring a complete sound system. I was always in awe of this enormous undertaking and the primitive conditions in which they were able to make it all work. A generator would power everything up and we were usually ready to begin around 4:30pm or so.

Our locations were always in the middle of these government formed displacement camps, which were the result of years of war. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of orphaned children, widows and other adults. It was quite a sight to behold. Mud huts as far as the eye could see and little children running to you with clothes that barely hold any resemblance of their original shape and color, yet they smile from ear to ear. They are beautiful.

We would usually begin with a puppet show, which really helped to draw in the crowd, especially the children. They thought this was the funniest thing they'd ever seen.

The African choir would then take the stage and sing African praise for about 45 minutes. They were absolutely amazing, both for the amount of energy they possessed and for their passion in which they did so. One song would last about 15 minutes, repeating a chorus over and over again but to different dance moves. It was just awesome, and us white folk tried out best to keep up!

My American band had to follow that! Fortunately, I became fast friends with the African choir and usually recruited them to stay on stage with us to dance and sing right along, it was great! They knew so many of our songs and I thoroughly enjoyed singing and praising with them. Ben was my rock on the guitar. I could not have done this without him. Nick also added so much personality on his guitar, and Sagen did a great job on the bass. The keyboard could never be on stage because all the dancing would send it flying off, so Leanna would have to do her best beneath the dancing. She did awesome!

I would recruit one of the RSA team members to share their testimony after my band was finished. The testimony times were always very special, each one sharing how Jesus had changed their lives in unique ways.

The drama team would then take the stage and act out various skits set to music, all pantomimed so that they are universally understood with no need for interpretation. They were all extremely powerful and every night the crowds of people would be just riveted to the performance and message of it.

Finally, the speaker would take the stage, which was usually Reid, but earlier in the week he had some others give the message and Ben was privileged to be able to do so one night. He did an phenomenal job.

Reid's messages were just awesome. This is his absolute calling in life and it is so incredible to see him use the gifts that God has given him for the exact purpose that they were intended.

The messages always ended with a call for anyone to accept Jesus as their Savior. The call was always met with hundreds of hands reaching toward the sky. During this time, I would be under the stage at the keyboard playing "Come Just as You Are." These were some of the most incredible moments for me. I would usually have children pressing up all around me, listening to Reid, above me on the stage, cry out for them to follow Jesus, while in front of me all I could see was a sea of people choosing to follow. They would pray aloud and then be met by local pastors who would be responsible for follow up. It was simply amazing, I cannot do it justice.

Most every festival ended with a brilliant lightning storm. I will never forget these nights for as long as I live and I thank God so much for this opportunity.


Joshua & Valerie said...

What an incredible opportunity! You don't know how many of us wish we could be a part of such a thing. What an amazing experience. To be a part of something so much bigger than ourselves. To be used as an instrument of God in such an impoverished country which has seen so much torment, so much injustice. To see them still filled with hope and joy. To see them turn to the Lord. To be a part of this...what an experience!! (Can you tell them I'm on the brink of a loss for words??)

Oh, maybe one day...one day.

Joshua & Valerie said...

Looking at these pics I'm wondering what they must be thinking of you. Tall, white, and blonde (to them, your hair might as well be bleach blonde!). Did you get any questions or comments on your appearance?

mcmom said...

I Love the pictures with the clouds in the sky, raised hands and everyones eyes towards heaven. I loved on Sunday when Ben told the church how boring we are in our worship compared to others. It's so true, and very humbling.

Hosmerita said...

Wow Sharon,I have goosebumps. What a life changing experience. Thank you for just giving me a taste of your experience.

Angela said...

All I can say is I am going with you next time. You are doing such a great job of sharing everything with us!!!

Julie said...

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the pictures in this post... I would have loved to have seen that!

I absolutely love it when you lead worship here in Salem... I can't even imagine the energy over there, praising the LORD with all those eager, new Christians!

Do you have any video of this???

Lindsay said...

~ the pictures are AMAZING!
~ the hands raised in the air bring tears to my eyes!
~ the impact you made on their lives... priceless!! and worth every ounce of energy it required!

Blessings to you this Thanksgiving... for all that you GIVE to others!!

Stefanie said...

I'm so thankful you are home safe. It is just awesome to see all these pictures and you in worship too. Love the one of Reid with his hands lifted high!

Team Johnston said...

Truly amazing Sharon! :) All of the lives that you helped changed is something that will remain with you forever! God did amazing things through you Sharon! You are a blessing from GOD!
~Danielle :)
I'm with Julie, do you have any videos?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting all of those pictures and sharing another aspect of the trip. I see that you found the long skirts you were looking for :)


Ona said...

Love the pictures...especially the one with you and the others worshiping with all the clouds in the background. It's as if you all are being lead to heaven. Well, I know you are but you know what I mean :)

LizzyG said...

Amazing...simply amazing. I just want to thank you for taking the time to share with us. Your writing and the pictures together are so detailed and captivating, it's wonderful. Praise God for the work He did during those two weeks, and what a privilege for you to be apart of it...what a great God we serve.

Rachel said...

You have done a wonderful job recreating your journey. I love that the music was so inspiring and that you could entertain people whose lives are a day to day struggle. To help other enjoy all that life has to offer, even to help them smile when they may not have woken up ready to. It took you a lot of work to get there and it sounds like you made a difference...even if it was only for that day! You are wonderful!!

priscilla tilgner said...