As we made our way up the winding, bumpy dirt road, bordered on both sides by crowded merchants stalls and gated and barred up shops selling...well, everything and anything, we were suddenly advised from the front to put our cameras away and to keep our eyes averted so as not to draw attention to ourselves. That´s when we began to notice out of the corner of our eyes that the looks weren´t so friendly, that we were escorted ahead and behind by undercover police officers, and that there was a palpable tension in the front of the van. We were told that it would be easy for our van to be taken and for us to also be taken somewhere else and robbed.
But when we entered the sanctuary they call Mount Zion at the top of this poorest of poor, drug centred community, we could see that things were different.
Stoneridge, several years ago, got this place inside their hearts and donated money to build much of this beautiful structure, the largest church in square feet in the city, and it houses a school and lunch program for so many children I couldn´t count. They hugged and kissed us and one little girl just went from arms to arms until she´d explored every inch of our faces with her spectacular chocolatey chip eyes, patted our hair, kissed us, squeezed us and smiled and smiled. We danced up to the front of the assembly and clapped and jumped and did actions with the children, and cried as we were told stories about this place and the children there.
After, while our group was gathered on the stage for a moment before we got to go see the children in their classrooms, Pastor Les tearfully told us that Stoneridge also gives alot of money weekly to the lunch program, because for many, this is the only meal they get all day. We had no idea.
Thank you, Stoneridge.
We disrupted classes by peeking in the doors and windows, and the teachers there encouraged the children to practice their English greetings...we touched as many little hands as we could before the teachers called them all back to order, so we played a little kick ball in a circle...and it was all good until the ball rolled into the muck, at which point I put my hands up in surrender and walked off the field, followed quickly by all my sisters and brothers...
We´ve been singing all week. In the van, around the pool, on the building sites, in the pigpens. but the Joyful Noise we heard in that school, Mount Zion, that place of the Lord that stands like a castle on a hill? Why, my friends, THAT was the sweetest sound, the highest praise we´ve heard.
Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary. Praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts. Praise him according to his excellent greatness. Praise him with the sound of the trumpet. Praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance. Praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him on the loud symbols, Praise him on the high sounding symbols. Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord. Psalm 150