“So, how did you do it?” asked the Senior Pastor (SP).
“I listened,” responded the Associate (AP).
* * * * *
The outdoor assemblage wore inspiration on their sleeves like a newly emblazoned uniform badge. Their spirit shouted, “Look at us!” as would a tee shirt’s colorful design.
Celebrating their one year anniversary, the congregation exhibited no mood for stopping. The stand-in emcee received the karaoke microphone from the most recent performer. He introduced the next performer and handed the mic to her. She began to sing, “Oh, Holy Night!” But the throng would not let her solo it. They joined in, as soon as she warbled the first word.
Noon time approached faster than a speeding Toyo. It didn’t slow down. Too much fun! Too much velocity!
A year ago, the AP inaugurated his first scheduled worship service. Outdoors. In a park. A soccer field. Just like today. He put out the word to his regular congregation. The one to whom he preached every day. The one whose membership consisted of a different audience mix every time he addressed it.
For years, the AP preached to the public, generally riding the dala dala, or claiming the street corner where transport riders waited the next lift. A gifted speaker. An inspiring artist whose paint well plumbed Scriptural depth. Whose paint brush stroked the canvas reflecting the spirit that worked through him.
His voice bellowed, his eyes sparkled, and his enthusiasm spread like an out-of-control virus. He infected people with his passion. He confounded himself with his inability to figure out how to start. A brilliant mind, a blind eye, and an ear that couldn’t hear over the sound of his own voice.
“OK, so you listened. Who did you listen to? What did you hear?”
“A messenger from God,” he replied.
“Do you mean, an angel? A prophet? Did you have a dream? A vision?”
“No. Just a guy. He told me to ‘Shut up!”
“Who told you to ‘Shut up!?”
“Just a guy.”
“A messenger from God?”
“Just a regular guy. Assured me that he did not come from God. He did not bring me that kind of message. But, he did.”
“So, what did he tell you? What did he say?”
“He told me to “Shut up!” I talked to him for about three hours, into the wee hours of the night, way past midnight. I told him about how I wanted to start my own congregation. I told him that I needed a church building. I needed a way to launch my first church service with a quorum of followers. Then he squared up his chair in front of me, looked me in the eyes, and shouted at me to, “Shut up!”
“He gave me no choice. I started to explain. He raised his voice, imposed fear through his eyes. Stopped me before I could say another word. Then he told me what to do. I kid you not. It was a message from God.”
“What did he tell you?”
“He told me to stop and listen.”
“And, did you?”
He said I had talent, a calling. He said I had a brain. I needed to use it. He said that I had an imagination, already verbalized through the rant that he stopped. And when he finished talking, God spoke to me even more loudly through the silence that followed. I heard Him in that still, small voice.
He said, “Use the talents that I gave you, Nasson! Make disciples!”
* * * * *
The Sunday morning began on time. Eight o’clock. Precisely. A cadre of gospel singers took turns taking the stage. The stage comprised a temporary fold-out that looked like a hard wood floor. But it’s firmness would only support the stage presence of the performers for whom it was designed.
A year ago, Nasson put out the word. For weeks prior, he told his congregation where and when his regular Sunday service would start. It did.
Not an ordinary service. Not in a church building. Not a script traditional to most other churches. No pews. No choir. No song books or Bibles. Just a meeting of believers and wanna-bee’s.
Prior to that first meeting, he started his engine. The one sitting back of his eyes. The one that often left his vocals to simply repeat the message of salvation from memory. He began to think. He imagined.
Instead of a regular church service, instead of filling a regular church structure, and instead of following a regular church script, he imagined something different. His only instructions were, “Use your talents” and “Make disciples”. Nothing else.
So his engine of imagination began to work. “What do people need?” he asked himself. “What do they want? What will they be drawn to? How can I become a more effective messenger of God?”
Now, a year later, the same script followed the first.
* * * * *
Dar held a lot of gospel singer wanna-bee’s. They all needed an audience. They all needed exposure. They also needed a fan base. What better opportunity might there be than to give them a platform? Give them recognition. Give them a shot at stardom. Leverage their gospel enthusiasm into an effective message. One that would be heard.
As the congregation wandered into the park, some from invitation, some from curiosity, the performers traded gigs. Some performed as entertainers. Some invited the gathering to join them in song. They all sang gospel, and they all bellowed inspiration.
At 9:30, Nasson took the stage. He told a parable. The lesson came straight from the Book, the arrangement came from his imagination and preparation.
As God told him to think, He also told him to disciple. Part of discipleship involved living like Jesus. He asked himself, “How did Jesus preach?” The answer hit him like a ton of bricks.
Obviously, Jesus told parables. Blossomed from the theological underpinnings of the Word as it ended with Zachariah. Jesus carried the Father’s message; but He personalized it. His theology rooted itself in relationships. With the Father. With one’s neighbor. With personal responsibility for living righteously. He told parables!
Nasson’s message at Sunday services consisted of telling parables. He told the parables that Jesus told. He also told his own, sprung from the inspiration contained in the Book, personalized from the culture in which his congregation lived. He made them relevant.
He also sprinkled in clues. One had to listen closely in order to pick them up. But, each parable contained just enough hints as to launch his congregants into thinking and into treasure hunting.
* * * * *
Today, at the conclusion of his parable, Nasson called Joseph to the stage. “So Joseph, would you explain to the congregation how you found Moses?”
“Moses” took the form of a small statue akin to a trophy that an athlete might receive upon winning a competition. A year old now, it wore its age like its life absorbed the experience of its rotating weekly caretakers. Perhaps twelve inches tall, made from carved acacia wood, it served as the object of a weekly search, carried on by Nasson’s congregants. The finder would return Moses to the service, upon which he or she would be awarded the Ribbon of Compassion (the Ribbon). The blue hue of the Ribbon signified a first place finish, a champion, a disciple.
Nasson also awarded the finder the right to a free carriage ride around the sanctuary, at the conclusion of the service. The park itself, of course, made up the sanctuary. The carriage consisted of canvass spread across two poles that various men of the assemblage shouldered. Two holes cut strategically, allowed for a pair of appendages to hang down. Nasson broadcast a biographical sketch of the winner’s life, and “glorified” him in front of the remaining congregants.
Nasson also awarded the finder with a weekly cash amount pulled from the prior week’s collection plates. The finder would subsequently award it to one of the congregation’s favorite charities of compassion.
Joseph reminded the congregation of Nasson’s Parable of the Lost Mzungu. Upon discovering the wanderer, the Good Disciple bought him a twelve ounce beverage from a specific vendor, before putting him on a dala dala and instructing the conductor as to where to have him disembark.
Joseph explained to the assemblage that he visited that specific vendor stand identified in the parable. He then asked if he could buy a twelve ounce beverage for a lost Mzungu. As he looked up, the vendor’s eyes carried Joseph’s eyes to an inconspicuous place on the wall. Joseph read the words clearly written on an envelope tacked to the wall. It read, “Lost Mzungu”. After asking the vendor about that envelope, the vendor took a piece of paper from it (a second clue) and handed it to Joseph.
Joseph then traveled to the point of specific disembarkment mentioned in the parable. He asked several vendors who would accept the returned beverage bottle in exchange for a bite. Finally, a woman, sitting beside the road, roasting maize over a small fire, looked up and said, “I’ll do it.” Joseph handed her the bottle, and the woman handed Joseph an ear of roasted maize. The woman said, “I understand that, when Moses looked skyward and raised his hands similarly, the Red Sea parted. As Joseph did the same, looking in the same direction as the woman, he spotted Moses sitting silently, between the parting of two red Coca Cola signs.
Landing Moses became a source of pride and accomplishment. It also landed its weekly winner a spot on the Wall of Compassion Fame. Joseph’s name would be posted next.
* * * * *
As the time for karaoke came to a scheduled close, right around noon, Nasson took the mic. As he did every week, Nasson read a poem selected from those submitted beforehand. He acknowledged the author and referenced the parallel to that found in the Bible. In celebration of the season of joy, Mary’s song, newly interpreted, now read,
“I give glory to God
My heart sings fully in joy.
He stooped low to me
King’s birth, but first a boy.
Generations all will bow,
Will honor a lowly virgin.
He has chosen me,
To usher man’s new horizon
Holy is His Name.
Great is His Loving purpose.
Mercy rains love and grace.
To children of ‘yon compose.
Mighty is His Strength,
His goodness humbles foes.
Scattered go the proud,
Self-righteous to wolves He throws.
Crushes heads of state,
Their falls plumb depths, remorse.
Sick new life He gives,
The hungry feast last course.
The rich to poor estate.
Honor to poor in spirit,
For glory no ends abate.
Chosen family redeemed,
As promised to Abraham.
Not to be forsaken,
The world, adopted lambs.”
He closed with a prayer. He nodded to his volunteer videographer, who later would post the celebration to You Tube. He thanked them for coming, and invited them back next week with a friend. “Merry Christmas!” he added. Smiled. Raised a hand. Offered a benediction, a blessing.
* * * * *
“These are His disciples,” he continued. He turned to his SP, “These are His lost sheep, who are now the sheep of His pasture.”
The SP smiled. “I need to take a lesson. Thank you, Nasson. As you are in His service, I am in your debt. I will listen.
“In the quiet, I will listen.”