Earlier this week it was announced that the Africa University Choir will be singing in Indianapolis this summer when the United Methodists in Indiana have their annual meeting. I am excited by this announcement and a little bit frightened. You see, the last time I heard the Africa University Choir sing it changed my life.
Fifteen years ago this summer I was attending annual conference (what United Methodist call their annual judicatory meeting) where Bishop Woodie White invited the Africa University Choir to sing. I remember the energy of the choir and the visual beauty of their native attire. At the end of their singing Bishop White announced that he would be leading a short term work mission to Africa University the following summer and invited people to be a part of that team. Although they would be doing hands on work with several projects on the campus, the ultimate goal would be to learn about the university, return to the Indiana area to spread this information, and to raise money to build two new dorms on the campus, a much needed addition.
I have had times in my life when I have had what I call “moments of divine clarity” – times when I feel certain of God’s presence and direction. During and after the singing of the Africa U. Choir I felt such a moment as I have rarely, if ever, felt again. I felt certain that God was leading me to travel with Bishop White and be a part of this project. I went home and told Michelle the good news (?) and soon she was on board as well. Even though it was an expensive trip and we had no visible extra means to make it happen we were sure that God would provide. Thanks to a very loving and generous congregation a year later we were in Africa having an experience that opened our eyes to the needs of the world and also opened our eyes to what could be done when people responded to those needs with energy, creativity and financial resources. I have often been proud of The United Methodist Church (despite all its flaws) but never more than when I stepped on the Africa U. campus for the first time.
But here’s what I didn’t count on. I saw that trip as a kind of once-in-a-lifetime type of experience on which I could reflect with a warm feeling in the comfort of my home and church study for years to come. I didn’t know that it would be the first step on a life-long journey to share in and share about the missional work of the church. It was the first step on a path that has led to Mayan villages in the Yucatan, to the Peruvian high desert, to Native American communities in South Dakota, and places I haven’t even imaged yet.
In his epic set of novels, The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien has one of his characters muse that “Few can foresee whither their road will lead them, till they come to its end.” I know my life journey has led me to places I never imagined and I suspect it will continue to do that if I keep open to the possibilities of it. I have not been very good about guessing when those dangerous moments of invitation will happen nor do I know a happy way to guard myself against them. And I doubt that I really want to.
This summer I will go to hear the Africa University Choir sing, 15 years after our first encounter that changed my life. I invite you to do the same. I am sure that it will be a wonderful experience. But remember this warning: If you come with an open mind and heart you may be surprised at where it leads you!