Last Sunday, I stood in a huge white tent with hundreds of Kenyans.
Listening to an angelic chorus of, “Umeniweza Baba,” (Swahili-You have overwhelmed me Father), I was once again stricken with the power of religion. Back in April, I wrote a story on the high religiosity in Africa. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life had just released a study that showed sub-Saharan Africa is the most religious place on earth, according to the researchers. Read the full story: http://pewforum.org/Press-Room/Pew-Forum-in-the-News/Survey-finds-Africa-is-most-religious-part-of-world.aspx
I wrote that story in the United States, drawing upon what I had seen while attending churches of predominantly African congregations and interviewing pastors and other religious Africans.
But, I wrote that story in the United States.
Seeing the religiosity with my own eyes on the continent of Africa was another experience entirely. The study only confirmed what many already know, that Africans tend to be strongly affiliated with religion, be it Muslim, Christian or what have you. The Baha’i religion teaches that Africans are the “light of the world,” simply because they are in touch with the spiritual realm. Indeed, the way an African Christian prays is very much different from the way an American prays. One doesn’t need to be an expert to notice. The violent shaking, the clenched fists, the stomping of the feet, these behavioral spiritual rituals are the norm and you will see it when you walk into a church full of African Christians. In Kenya, I knew I wanted to see how religion is practiced.
I stayed at the Mavuno Church for 3 hours as an observant participant, as it is referred to in anthropology. It was a moving experience- to be surrounded by young people who were clearly so passionate about an unseen divinity. To see a woman intently focused on the sermon as a tear slides down her perfect skin. To see grown men on their knees, arms raised in surrender. To hear Africanized renditions of traditional hymns. To feel the force of hundreds of pairs of hands clapping in unison. This is what African Christianity is all about.
Wafahamu siri za moyo, wangu Yesu
(You understand the secrets of my heart, Lord)
Umeiweza roho yangu
(You have capured my spirit, Lord you have overwhelmed me)