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Camp Meeting

April 10, 2012

Yesu wauka! Nichendi wauka!!

Christ is risen! Indeed, he is risen!!

This was our first chance to celebrate Easter in Zambia. One of the biggest Easter traditions for churches here is the “camp meeting.”

Most Zambians, particularly in rural agricultural Eastern province, live in small villages. Since the group of Christians that meets in any given village is too small to support a full-time pastor, congregations tend to band together into “parishes” of three or more villages, who can combine their resources and call a pastor.

The pastor visits all the villages in his parish as often as he can (usually once a month; Lutheran parishes in Zambia have up to 8 different congregations!) to celebrate Lord’s Supper and visit the sick. Lay members lead services on the Sundays and do other church work when the pastor is serving a different congregation.

Pastor Njobvu teaching a Bible Class

However, for Easter, things are different. Zambians still want to observe the traditional Holy Week schedule of special services: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday. They want to celebrate those festivals on the “correct” day – and the pastor can’t be in 8 places at once!

The answer is the camp meeting. For a camp meeting, the parish chooses one congregation (often the most centrally-located one) to host a four-day camp out. Members from all the churches walk – sometimes 20 km or more – to the camp meeting. They bring their reed mats, plates and cups, and their best outfit. They either bring some food to cook, or else money to help buy.

The host congregation brings the big cooking pots, provides a place to lay the sleeping mats, and digs a few temporary pit toilets. They have a drum for water which is filled by hand from a nearby well. Everyone enjoys the chance to meet with their friends and neighbors from the other congregations. The choirs from the different churches sing, almost literally day and night. There is football for the kids. Everyone eats well and enjoys sharing the chores.

In addition to the worship schedule and plenty of time for fellowship, pastors use the camp meeting as a time to do Bible Studies on various topics. The camp meeting this year had discussions on marriage, Christian giving, traditional vs. Biblical funeral customs, Church leadership, and the proper use of God’s gift of alcoholic beverages.

Even though he “wimped out” and slept in a tent instead of on a reed mat, Chris still had a great time at the Nyika parish camp meeting this year. He enjoyed meeting so many fellow Lutherans and experiencing a slice of life in their shoes. He was treated to excellent food and music, and got a lot of language practice.

One of the highlights of the camp meeting was hearing all of the women singing and marching at dawn on Easter Sunday. They were re-creating the journey of the three women “very early in the morning” to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body. They marched about 4 km, from one end of the village area and back, singing songs of praise that the tomb was empty!

"On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb" (Luke 24:1).

Another memorable conversation occurred as Chris was relaxing in the shade on Saturday afternoon. A man passing by saw the gathering and stopped to see what was going on. When he saw the mzungu, he thought he would try practicing his English. One thing led to another, and soon Chris and this man were talking about the Bible and salvation.

Before he left, the man asked why some churches taught that it was a sin to donate blood. Not sure if this was referring to the medical procedure or a traditional witchcraft practice, Chris instead got to encourage the man not to look at his sins (or the sins of another church body), but instead to his Savior – who donated all of his own precious lifeblood on the cross so that we could be his brothers and sisters forever.

Yes, we missed our favorite English Easter hymns. We missed the traditional RELC Easter pancake breakfast. We missed hearing the Easter gospel proclaimed in our own mother tongue. We missed our family and friends.

But what we had was just as good: a visual reminder of the unity-in-diversity of Christ’s Church, as our brothers and sisters in the faith gathered around Word and Sacrament to celebrate the great Event that makes us all a family in Christ – and wholeheartedly welcomed three azungu to celebrate with them.

A blessed Easter from the Plugers.

Pictures from the Camp Meeting can be found at:

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