This morning as we sat in the beautiful cathedral here in Yirol, a parish within the diocese we work for in Sudan, i had a feeling of deja vu.
As many of you know, Heather and i are Mennonite and both come from similar worship traditions. During our one year of going to Catholic masses, it has been difficult for me to feel that i’m "at church". The masses are beautiful, the singing is vibrant and unique, but any feeling of familiarity eluded each service.
No, there was no four-part harmony or coffee break in the church basement to feel at home. In fact, it wasn’t even something that i necessarily would’ve connected with my Mennonitism. It was a bilingual service.
In Rumbek, where we live and where we most regularly attend mass, there are two English services and one Dinka. We opt for the middle English service (not Middle English) since it’s time-sensitive on both ends: it can’t start early and it can’t go late because of the other two services. Anyway, my point is that, other than the choir’s songs, there is very little Dinka spoken in the service. But today, the mass was celebrated by a Kenyan priest (whose Dinka is very good, and he did some of the liturgy in Dinka himself) and a translator.
Now why was this familiar to me? Well, after volunteering a number of times at Jubilee Partners (where we taught English to refugees and often worshiped with them, necessitating translation and multiple languages) and living in Korea for two years (where we taught English at Connexus and worshiped with the Mennonite church in Seoul, where we were the ones who usually needed the translation) i realized i had become used to the rhythm of a worship service in at least two languages. That was what was familiar.
I’m not sure what deeper meaning this has, or if it has a deeper meaning at all. Maybe worshiping in more than one language gives a greater sense of God being more than us, bigger than language. Maybe it just gives me time to process what’s been said while the translation’s happening. Or maybe i just like zoning out for a few moments, and with the bilingual thing i don’t have to feel guilty for not listening. I don’t know; maybe it’s all of them.
I know that it means that, for all the frustrations that navigating across language and cultural barriers can bring, i will likely be seeking out those opportunities for the rest of my life, wherever i am.