“Three miles to the world.”
That’s a catchphrase my church likes to use. You see, Dallas is one of the main hubs where the US government likes to dump refugees. People from places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Burma, Somalia, and many other countries (some of which I’ve never heard of) find themselves in my illustrious Southern city. The government pays their way for six months, and then they are expected to have life figured out.
One of the opportunities that this allows me is the privilege of working with an African refugee church that meets at my church on Sunday afternoons. It is made up of refugees from Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda. Their services are taught in Kirundi, and the people sure know how to sing and dance and worship God! Even though I don’t speak the language of most of the adults, joy spills out no matter what language is being spoken.
Of course, since I’m typically the only white, English-speaking, American adult there and only come every other week, I don’t always know what is going on. This can create some interesting situations.
On this particular Sunday, the church was hosting a conference. Other African churches were meeting together, and each group had brought over their choirs to join in the festivities.
For the conference, I was told that the children’s choir was going to perform one of the English songs I had taught them. The song was a lovely repeat-after-me song, and I had purposely picked out half of the kids to lead the song and the other half to repeat. I arrived when I thought I was supposed to so I could practice with my kiddos, but something was lost in translation. I was given a “Glory Choir” T-shirt and rushed into the main auditorium. A quick whispered conversation let the kids know which song we were going to do, and I took my seat with a sense that everything would be fine.
As the service progressed, I began to wonder how I was going to pull this off. The children were going to sing a couple of songs in their native language, and then we were going to close with mine. Because of the hand motions and the lack of practicing, I figured that I would do what I’ve seen my choir directors do: I would simply go to the front of the room, kneel down facing the kids, and lead the song. That way they could watch me if they forgot anything.
Things didn’t go quite as planned.
As I waited, the kids who were supposed to start the song didn’t.
Perhaps if I start singing, they’ll join in, I thought to myself. Taking a deep breath, I burst forth into song.
Unfortunately, instead of joining in, all of the children decided to echo.
Now, I’ll pause right here and make this confession: I am not a singer. While I may be able to hold a tune in a limited range, I’ll make my mark on the musical world playing the piano way before I win American Idol.
So, sitting on my knees, with about a 100 African refugees staring at the back of my head, I began belting out this song while flailing about doing hand motions, desperately hoping that the children would join me rather than repeat me. After the first verse, a very friendly African fellow hunkered down beside me with a microphone. He proceeded to hold the microphone for me while I continued waving my arms and singing slightly off-key for the remainder of the song.
I don’t know what the African refugees thought of the crazy girl teaching their children that day. I’m not sure if they understood why I was sitting perched in the front of the room with my back to them. Perhaps they wondered why I was waving my arms like a wild woman at their children. But at least they had no idea what the song was supposed to sound like in the first place so perhaps they’ll think it sounded like it was supposed to.
I didn’t get any compliments on my singing that day, but I’m chalking that up the to the fact that most of the adults don’t speak English.
Working with the African church is such a fun blessing! I never know quite what to expect!