Tuesday, May 20, 2008

African Love Feast

The following story told by Chalmer Faw (missionary in Nigeria 1939-1945, 1965-1976) is recounted by Kermit Eby in his 1958 book For Brethren Only.

The Brethren had been in Africa for some years. Converts were won. A church was established. And, as was the custom in the homeland, a love feast was held. The food was somewhat different, and gourds were substituted for bowls at the feet-washing. But the order and the spirit were the same.

The tribe among which the Brethren worked were known as the Buras. They enjoyed the love feast above all other religious experiences. They prepared for the occasion prayerfully, and the air was electric with anticipation before the hour arrived.

Soon the news of the love feast traveled far and wide, until it reached Girgilling, a town located eight miles southeast of Garkida, Brethren headquarters. The tribe at Girgilling was called Whona, and their language was unknown to any white man.

The chief of the Whona came to Garkida and asked that the love feast be celebrated in his village. The Brethren hesitated more than a little. But the chief of the Whona would not be put off. All will be taken care of, he insisted. Just come!

Still doubting, the Brethren accepted the invitation. On the date set, they trekked to the village of Girgilling. When they arrived, everything was in readiness. Mats were spread under a large palm tree. Plates were filled with food, and water was poured into gourd containers. And as the Brethren, black and white, sat down to the meal, the chief, his wives, children, and tribesmen, yes, even his goats and dogs, were gathered to watch.

During the entire service, held in a strange dialect, there was the most reverential silence. To this reverence, the mixed congregation responded. Never, says Brother Faw, did they feel God's presence so near!

After the singing of the closing hymn, the congregation, as is the custom, went out into the night.

Awed by such a welcome and such a response, Chalmer Faw approached the chief of the Whona, and inquired of him through an interpreter as to why he was so anxious to have a love feast in his village. The answer was simply and directly given.

"Many times," stated the Whona chief, "I have seen the white man take our land, impress our men, and violate our women. This is the first time I have ever seen a white man wash a black man's feet!"