Heart of worship
I thought I had an open mind about how to worship God in cross-cultural contexts until I went to a church event for youth in North Africa. Walking into the evening worship session, I grabbed a seat near the back next to my teammates, two photographers, both guys, who had travelled with me to the event.
I didn’t pay attention to the way the teens had seated themselves until one of the photographers leaned over and whispered, “We’re sitting on the girls’ side.” Suddenly, I realized he was right: all the boys were sitting on the left side of the room, the girls on the right.
Not wanting to offend the teens we’d come to serve as a media team, my two friends moved to the other side of the room. I stayed on the right side, still smiling but slightly annoyed.
The teenagers immediately relaxed into worship, completely nonplussed by the invisible gender line dividing the chapel. I spent the next few songs praying, quickly recognizing that more than cultural issues, there were heart problems I needed to address in my own life.
It seems as though life on the field is often this—a constant refining of the soul, an attitude adjustment aimed at fine-tuning my heart to reflect and worship Jesus.
Repenting, I asked God to clean my heart, making space for the Creator of all cultures and their nuances. Even though my background may allow interactions between boys and girls in most situations, it doesn’t mean worship always has to be mixed.
Talking to the camp director later in the week, I learnt that camp leadership didn’t necessarily encourage separate sides during worship; the teenagers had simply chosen their own seats. And during subsequent meetings, I did sit next to my male photographer friends.
Throughout the week, I also enjoyed hilarious moments among the teenage girls, trying to decipher their Arabic accents, figuring out the best way to eat breakfast beans and learning local dances outside late at night.
Maybe I needed to be set apart that first evening, though, so that I could perceive my prejudices and learn to tune my heart, again, to worship the God who is bigger—much bigger—than my comfort zone.