by Maria L. Evans
“Siyahamba ekukhanyeni kwenkos’,”–Opening line in the Zulu hymn, “Siyahamba” (“We are marching in the light of God)
Easter in my home parish brought me a wonderful flashback. We sang “Siyahamba” (in English) for our communion hymn, and even though I never heard the Moru of Lui singing it when I was in South Sudan last winter, I could practically see and hear what I imagined Easter to be in Lui. I could feel the drums in the beat of my heart, and hear the clapping. I later emailed one of my Lui friends and told him, “I even made the yi-yi sounds because it felt so much like Lui.”
His reply to me touched me deeply. “Thank you for being African.”
We are nine hours apart from Lui to Missouri, so I pondered his words over my morning coffee. What I came to understand is that the unspoken price of mission in a far away land is that for any of us who do it, we never quite see the world the same, because we come home with hidden cargo in our heart. Yes, there is a piece of me that will always “be African” now.
Some of “being African” shows up in the things I do as a manner of course. I regularly cruise online feeds from the Sudan Tribune and All Africa News. I ponder what the news means to “the folks back home” (and yeah, I have called them “the folks back home.”)
Some of “being African” is seeing the parts that are “not African” in a more defined light. What we take for granted as “the way things ought to be” are so often rooted in our American culture of rugged individualism, survival of the fittest, and “(s)he who has the most toys wins.” Being African means that leaving the tap running now makes me uncomfortable, or recognizing that my “get ‘er done” attitude to things, although not always wrong in some circumstances, can actually prevent those more reserved from wanting to participate sometimes. Hearing everyone in the circle speak got more important, although I still sometimes struggle mightily with that. It’s knowing in my heart I am not yet African enough in those places.
For Episcopalians, “being African” also means feeling the pain of the ecclesiastical gap between us and entities like the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, and our opposing stances on some very basic issues, while at the same time being in touch with the most basic aspect of being Anglican–to try to, above all else, remain at the Eucharistic table together. I keep reminding myself, “How can I expect the average East African Christian to see eye to eye with me on same sex marriage, when we can’t even see eye to eye that I think having pets in the house and on my bed is ok?” These are countries that are still trying to figure out how to abolish the bride price, while at the same time trying to figure out how to have enough food to eat. Many are war-torn and still deeply laden with PTSD. I suspect very little will be “fixed by my satisfaction” in my lifetime. Being African means to love and trust in a milieu of greater incongruities than I am used to having surround me. It means acting in love and abiding in patience.
I’m willing to bet that “Siyahamba” has been the most universally translated African song in the last 30 years. We have something really awful–the struggle for civil rights in South Africa–to thank for its universal nature. Yet at the same time, every time I sing it, the image of Bishop Desmond Tutu comes to the forefront of my mind. This awful thing gave the world a beautiful song and an amazing saint on earth. It’s a reminder that we need more verses to “Siyahamba”–verses like, “We are listening in the light of God,” “We are being still in the light of God,” and “we are sharing in the light of God.” “Being African” means these things are not incongruous with singing, dancing, and praying in the light of God.
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid