The Best Church Service I’ve Been To Was Under a Tree in Africa

Sunday Morning on the Slopes of Mount Moroto

I hadn’t realized that it was Sunday, as when you are out of your routine the days take on an insignificance. I had just returned from Moroto town where I was bandaged up and managed to miss the entire riding portion of the Tour of Karamoja festivities. No worries, though, I was more motivated to seek out new lines and zones to create trails, the reason that I was there in the first place.

One of the workers of the event (and a new friend of mine) joined me on the scout for new trails. We scored and found a zone with so many connecting flat rocks that it would make any level of rider froth at the possibilities. Indeed, I couldn’t wait to break ground. But that was premature; we still needed to plan out the routes, and I needed to train the guys who would take the reins after I left.

As we looked out on this new zone with so many different possibilities, I heard a pleasant sound coming from the bottom of the hill. It was singing: Joyous singing, one that you couldn’t fake the emotion. Realizing that it was Sunday, I then put it together that the singers were enjoying a Church service. But as I looked down, I couldn’t see any building they were at. Instead, the congregation singing collected themselves underneath the shade of two large acacia trees.

The Acacia Altar




Now maybe this is a common thing in Africa but back home in the west, people would look down on such a thing. And what a strange reality that is. But it’s almost as if the more impressive of a building the church is held in, the more status it perceivably holds. At least that’s sort of what I unconsciously put together over the years.

I had to go down and see it for myself. When I got there, people nervously looked at me. I asked if I could take some photos. Initially some members of the congregation said no, but then the priest speaking said that it was OK. I tried to stay on the sidelines and be as unobtrusive as possible, but I believe the footage speaks for itself:

I don’t consider myself a religious man, but I suppose I fall into that neo-hippie realm of thought that self-proclaims a “spiritual” lifestyle. But in doing that I can recognize the spirit no matter which form it takes. On this day I found it in the tree itself. Connecting the Earth and Sky it stood there as shelter from the intense midday sun; and also a representation of life itself, as well as the passage of time. I wasn’t even on anything but it felt almost psychedelic. And maybe that’s what people refer to when they say they “felt the presence of the Holy Spirit”. It was something, and something good.

Addressing the Congregation

Being the only Muzungu for miles around, they immediately took notice of me. I tried to just hide to the corner. But the opportunity came up to speak; or maybe I created it when I asked. But I simply stood up in front of the dozen or so people and said (through a translator from English to Karamajong): “I want to thank you for hosting my friends and me on your land. It’s truly a powerful place. And I feel at home here, after all, this is where we all came from.” To that, I received a round of applause. I continued on, “I may not hear the language with my ears, but my heart feels what is being spoken.” With that, I sat back down and the service continued on.

It really was an impactful experience, and restored my faith in, well… faith. I got sick of churches in the west and the almost morose worship services. And it seemed like the bigger and fancier the church, the more plastic and fake it felt.

Maybe if we took a page from these people’s books, we could feel a closer connection to the spirit. Because these people weren’t praying for a new car or a promotion at work; they were praying for food on the table and healthy children. It puts things a bit more in perspective when you look at it that way.