These are hot, dry days in Zambia, made beautiful by the bright red, purple, magenta and yellow flowering trees--jacaranda, flame trees, and what look to me like magnolias. Rains were supposed to start the last week of October, but we are still waiting. Our water is brownish-orangish colored when it comes out of the tap lately, and we go for longer periods without water. The rains will be welcome, whenever they come.
MEF (Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation), where I am based, is facing severe challenges these days. Ongoing financial struggles, together with changes in leadership, have created a sense of uncertainty and worry. Classes and projects are going forward, but there are questions about the future of this well-respected institution. The chaplain and his student committee decided to sponsor a "day of fasting and prayer" for MEF. It took place yesterday.
Such events are traditional in the African Christian community. My congregation (Mindolo United Church of Zambia) holds all-night prayer vigils quarterly. I haven't attended yet, but I heard the praise singing wafting through my windows as I went to bed on the occasion of the last one, two weeks ago. They particularly pray for healing of members and for the work of the church.
Our MEF day of fasting and prayer started at 6 am and ended at 6 pm. Some of us were there for the full 12 hours (myself included), while others came for half-day segments. Some who could not come fasted and prayed around the edges of their workday or other obligations.
In the chapel, we sang. We prayed. We had Bible study. We prayed. We danced. We prayed. We joined in guided meditation. We prayed. We listened to reflections and testimonies. We prayed. People stood, knelt, or sat according to their preference and the type of prayer.
Our prayers took different forms. Some times of prayer were silent. Some were communal. We offered intercessory prayer for each population at MEF--the governing board, acting director, incoming interim acting director, administrators, support staff, volunteers, lecturers, students, retrenched workers, funding partners and donors. We prayed using Psalms (Ps. 86, for example). We did a body prayer of confession and forgiveness. We had a time of praying aloud. We did a walking prayer, touring the campus and praying in classrooms, the administration building, dormitories, the dining hall, and recreation areas. We prayed individually and in small groups. We illustrated our prayers by creating words and images with art supplies. Between times of prayer we rocked the chapel with our song and dance. Everything in Africa seems to have an element of joy, no matter how serious the event.
A day of prayer and fasting is hard work. We were tired at the end of the day, tired but energized and encouraged. There was a sense of unity of purpose and mutual support.
Perhaps I'll participate in the next all-night prayer vigil at my congregation!