Zara’s (almost) Pentecostal Bat Mitzvah

We were told that the United Church of Zambia was THE church to venture into on Sunday mornings, if we wanted to experience an African prayer service. Lots of singing. Mostly in English. Short.

“Do NOT go to the Pentecostal church across the street,” we were told. They speak in tongues, pull the devil out and do a whole lot of shaking. For hours. And hours.

I was generally inclined to follow the advise of our hosts at the Home for AIDS Orphans, Paula and her husband Dan. But my girls slept and slept this morning. And ate breakfast slowly. So we didn’t leave the camp gates until 11am. And as we passed the “supposed to go to church” everyone was leaving. We had heard the singing from afar, but we missed it close up.

Follow-Through on a CrazyTraveler Mission

So you know what that meant. When a CrazyTraveler has a mission – like hearing African church music – we go where the mission takes us: the local Pentecostal church across the street that we were warned about.

When we arrived, they were mid-sermon. I say “they” because there were two preachers, one preaching in English. The other in Lozi, the local language. And they were preaching at the exact same time, so we couldn’t really make sense of either language. It was wild to watch, but difficult to listen to.

Finding Zara’s Torah Portion in the Lozi Bible

What was cool was exploring the Bible in the local Lozi language. Out of a combination of boredom and curiousity, I even looked up Zara’s Torah (Exodus 33:12-19) and Haftorah (Ezekiel 38:18-39:16) portions, in Lozi.

We had a paper copy of her Torah portion with us (she had assumed she would be bored visiting the church I was dragging her too, so brought some study material.) When we were sufficiently bored with the difficult to comprehend (and seemingly never ending) sermon, we sat in the yard out front – and were quickly surrounded by local kids.

Reading Torah Aloud in the Church Yard to an Adoring Fan Club of Curious Kids

Zara, to her credit, sat down and began practicing her Torah portion. I explained to one of the older kids that that was a part of the Old Testament Bible – in Hebrew, as it appeared in its original form when given at Mt. Sinai. Well, the boy we told just happened to be the preachers son. And his brothers and sisters were in that same group of curious kids surrounding us. They thought that was cool. They were intrigued…

So an English language bible was procured. And we did a line by line English-Hebrew reading of Exodus 33: 12-19. Zara chanted her Torah portion. The preachers son read it in English. And we had the Lozi version too!

The chance to read Torah to the full church congregation, “as soon as the sermon is over”

Zara was then invited (admittedly, with my prodding) to read the Hebrew language passage to the church congregation. “At an upcoming break…when the sermon was over,” the preacher’s son said. Cool! Zara is not particularly excited about it, but I can’t imagine a cooler way to practice in front of an audience and do some real cross-cultural sharing. And of course, #BestPhotoOppEver. We’re game!

Now note, the sermon had been going on when we first went into the church. Then we sat outside reading and making friends. Then we played games. Did cartwheels. Took videos. At least 60-90 minutes had passed. No break in the sermon.

Then we were summoned by our friend Ashreal, the preachers son. “Soon” he said. So we took seats inside. Then:

There was a lot more preaching.

“Soon,” we were told.

Finally, there was singing. Fun. Good energy.

“Soon,” we were told.

Then, there was some sort of healing circle where the preacher “put hands” on people, some of whom fainted.

“Soon,” we were told.

Then there was a lot of hand waving and (we think) pushing out the devil. Good people watching. Interesting body jerking.

“Soon,” we were told.

Then, more singing and we think more healing circles.

“Soon” versus bladder biology

But then, Mom needed to pee. Like, badly. Like in the real “soon” kinda way, not in the African Pentecostal church “soon” kinda way.

But we had a challenge: the print out of Zara’s Torah portion was up on the stage with the preachers son, who was going to introduce her, “soon.” And he was busy playing the piano accompaniment to all the healing.

But I really needed to pee. And Vivi & Zara, although surrounded by an adoring fan club of kids, really wanted to go home and eat lunch.

So through a relay of hand signals and a kid we selected as a messenger, we got our hands back on the Torah portion print out. And made our way out of church like Pied Pipers, followed by kids hugging and kissing us (and wanting more time to see all the photos / videos I had taken of them).

But we said goodbye at the road, and walked home. And found our toilet seat + toilet paper bathroom at camp. And found the lunch that had been set out for us. (Tuna & beans lunch, as fate would have it – a true taste of home in the Schneiderman household. Almost worth missing the Pentecostal bat mitzvah rehearsal for…right Bubbe & Sharon??!!)

So we never were able to have the Pentecostal rehearsal for Zara’s bat mitzvah. And were plenty bummed about that. But we had wandered over there at 11am. We left at 2pm. And later, when we left camp again at 3:30 to venture into town, we STILL heard music coming from the church!

So I think we made the right call. My photos of Zara reading Torah in the church yard and translating it for Lozi & English speaking Zambian kids in the village of Mwandi will have to suffice!!

In their own words:

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