Let’s have a quick survey: Raise your hand if you sung about prostitution and/or murder in your church service yesterday? I’m guessing, if you did raise your hand, that you are probably a missionary serving with OPUM and that I probably sang alongside you yesterday. For the rest of you, I imagine that these subjects are not common themes in your hymnody or worship song selections.
In Nakaale, however, we sing about these things frequently. The reason stems from the fact that a common trope for worship songs here involves giving a list of sins. Perhaps it is a list of evils that the faithful will leave behind in this world when they inhabit the presence of Christ. Perhaps we are remarking on all of the different people that God has brought into his kingdom. Perhaps it is an iteration of activities that the believer forsakes when he or she claims the name of Christ. Examples abound. On one level, these songs are popular because they are easy to learn, easy to follow, and have snappy tunes.
We sang at least one this past Sunday, and it was appropriate because we are currently holding a class for prospective members of our congregation during Sunday School. For the next couple of weeks, we will be discussing a list of activities that an individual must leave behind when he or she claims the name of Christ. Animal Sacrifice, Drunkenness, Violence, Sexual Immorality and Polygamy round out the list of sins most endemic to our area. Yesterday, Pastor Dave led the discussion about animal sacrifice. The issue is complicated because there are many variations on this theme in Karamoja. We have a church member who was approached by a witch-doctor and told that his son would die if he did not give the witch-doctor a goat to sacrifice. This is clearly out of the question. If rain comes late one year, a goat may be killed and its entrails read for guidance on what to do. Again, taboo. Sometimes, the elders of a village will ask you to kill a bull for them to enjoy together. Eating meat with the elders sounds great. What if they then want to give you a blessing? What if the whole community is having a coming-of-age ceremony that involves some or all of the above? Can you give an animal? Can you even attend?
One of our members, a certain Lomilo Paul, asked about this last question. If you are the first son, you are expected to provide the animal for this ceremony, and if you refuse, he explained that the elders will send people to capture and beat you with rods. Dave said that we have two options open to us—we deny the sacrifice of Christ by participating in these animal sacrifices, or we choose to suffer with Christ and look to his sacrifice as our source of blessing and salvation. We had just finished partaking in the Lord’s Supper. Dave reiterated Paul’s words that we cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons together. The crucified body and blood of Christ is either everything to us or it is nothing; there is no middle road.
It was fitting that the sermon had been on the flight into Egypt. Pastor Al’s message focused around two questions, the second of which was—why was Christ spared? So the story goes, when Herod learned of a rival king born in Bethlehem, fearing competition to his rule, he ordered the killing of all male children in Bethlehem under two years of age. Hundreds, if not thousands, of babies were killed. Jesus escaped. Why? The answer to the question is that God had his own timing and plan for the earthly life of his son. And while he escaped from Herod, there came a day when God did not spare him. There came a day when Christ was delivered up to be crucified according to the eternal plan of his father. And it was in this sacrifice that we are called to place our full and complete hope. To look to Christ’s sacrifice is to reject every other.
As happy as we are to sing about prostitution and murder, we sing a song called “Akuwar ŋina Eboŋunio Yesu” (The Day Jesus Returns) with equal relish. The stanza that always gets me says,
Eyakaun akigoro (There will be crying)
Neni a ŋulu eminasi ŋakwapin (By those who love the things of this world)
Igorosi nooi (They will cry much)
Ekerete nooi (They will run much)
Etwakete daadaŋ (They will all die)
Igorosi nooi nooi (They will cry very much)
Ekerete nooi nooi (They will run very much)
Etwakete daadaŋ (They will all die)
Nai emamu nyeanyunete (But they will not see)
Lokoku ŋolo Ituŋanan (The Son of Man)
The tune and the enthusiasm with which we sing it is jarring when one reflects on the words, but the balance comes on the anticipation of the next stanza:
Eyakaun alakara (There will be joy)
Neni a ŋulu epiosi ŋakwapin (Among those who overcome the world)
Elakara nooi (Much joy)
Eosi nooi (Much singing)
Elakara nooi nooi (Very much joy)
Eosi nooi nooi (Very much singing)
Those who face certain persecution (in varying degrees) from their community if they are bold enough to sing with conviction these songs and forsake the sinful culture by which they are surrounded, perhaps find something overwhelmingly joyous in the vision of the Son of Man coming on the clouds. May he find faithfulness in Nakaale when he does.