Sunday, April 5, 2009

Big Sunday

Spent the majority of my day in the township of Naocha at the local Africa Evangelical Church. I was asked to preach at their Big Sunday. I don’t know the history of Big Sunday, but have been to a lot of them. It is practiced throughout the country by many denominations. Big Sunday is a way of raising money – usually for a specific purpose. Today they were raising money for the electricity to be reconnected to the church and for some work to be done on the Pastor’s house.

Big Sunday takes place after the normal Sunday program and can take on many forms. Sometimes it is as simple as a set of special offerings. Sometimes it is as elaborate as a mock wedding where people celebrate by throwing money at a pretend couple – usually two small children from the Sunday school. It may consist of various singing groups being involved in activities to raise money. Food is almost always involved – the women of the church prepare food at home and it is then sold by the plate after the service. It may include a raffle for items ranging from bubble gum and balloons to cell phones. Today it was a mixture.

Money was collected to begin the program. Tickets for a raffle began to sell. Today the items included plastic bowls, an iron, a set of glasses and pitcher, a carafe and two cell phones. The cell phones, the iron and the pitcher and glasses were the items of excitement.

The youth choir was called to the front to sing. They had to pay some money to begin. As they sang, the audience could approach the MC with money and suggest all kinds of things. One can pay to change the song, to add members of the audience to the choir, to make people sit down, just about anything that you can think. I was quickly required to join the youth choir. Caleb soon joined me. I was about to pay to sit down when someone added more money and I had to stay. I was saved a couple of minutes later when someone came in and paid for everyone to stop and go eat.

Lunch was paid for by the plate. About a dollar would buy you some rice and a choice of beef or egg. For extra money you could buy cokes or French fries or some special meat that was being grilled outside.

After lunch everyone came back in and singing continued with the women’s group and youth choir again. Then there were some competitions. Which geographical area of members could give the most money? Caleb and Benjamin entered a competition to consume a bun and coke the fastest, but didn’t even come close. Then came the raffle draw and the end of the program. We left Naocha around three o’clock.

In all, the church raised 52,000 Kwacha or about $370 dollars. This was a real success considering that an average week’s offering might be about a fifth of that.
Random Cultural Remark – Technology and culture often go through a period of adjustment as new technology is integrated into a culture. The unwritten cultural rules (tacit culture) and etiquette of cell phone usage are still being worked through in Malawi. Since I was to be preaching today, I was standing at the front with the Pastor as he was leading a hymn. His phone obviously began to ring (left mine in the car) and he promptly left the pulpit to take the call. I was left standing at the front alone. For those of you who know me well – you know I enjoy singing, but I am probably the last person in the church that you want leading the music. Luckily, much to my relief, he returned before the hymn finished.

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