Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Have you seen Him?

Have you seen Him? Easter morning we started looking at 4:00 a.m. along with hundreds of other Christians in Atakpamé who started celebrating early.

Easter day starts early for Christians in Togo. Up at 3:30 a.m., dressed in white from head to toe as we were instructed (like the angels at the empty tomb), we paraded through the streets of town with a loud brass band and drums “searching for Jesus”. During 2 hours of walking and dancing, perhaps 8 kilometers, we covered most of the town, including the cemetery, and celebrated that He was nowhere to be found. All this was to symbolize “He is risen indeed!” Alleluia! You will see from the photo that it was a joyful bunch.

Holy Week is by far the most important religious week of the year for Togolese Christians and the central activity of the week consists of processions through the community. Palm Sunday is marked by a parade with palm leaves that leads to the church. We went to the neighborhood Catholic service at 6 a.m. where the congregation met in the street just around the corner from our house for a brief service and then paraded to the church, about 1 kilometer away, with palm leaves in hand singing acapella. (See photo) This is one of 3 Catholic churches in town and the sanctuary was packed with 500+ folks for worship. Maundy Thursday worship is centered around foot washing, but we didn’t learn about that until afterwards, so we will wait until next year for that experience.

On Good Friday we again joined the local Catholic congregation. Worship started outdoors across town from the church, beginning at high noon, a time not insignificant in this heat. We processed with hundreds of Togolese, stopping to kneel in the street at 14 different Stations of the Cross situated around town, leading towards the church. (See photo) After 2+ hours of processing, praying and kneeling, the service at the church (so we understand) lasted another 3 hours. Needless to say the Togolese relate to the suffering of Christ.

We celebrated Easter morning with 3 other Peace Corps volunteers who joined us at our home for breakfast after the “search” and before the 9:00 a.m. worship service. It, too, was a very joyful service. There was lots of singing and dancing in the aisles as they collected the offerings by having the entire congregation circulate up to the alter to place their offering in the plate – twice – to brass band music and singing and dancing. The women were all dressed to the hilt in their new pagnes (the colorful fabric here) and elaborate hairdos.

We were fortunate to be invited into the home of a Togolese family for a traditional Easter meal of salad and pate (a starchy corn meal paste similar to a dumpling) with two different kinds of sauces. See photo — Wayne looks happy, eh? We think the experience of visiting a home and sharing a meal is worth a separate email in the future.

We are really enjoying learning and experiencing first hand the African traditions, but we also miss the traditions we have in our personal history, centered around our church, family and friends at this time of year. We colored hard boiled eggs (to the delight of our Togolese friends), taught some children how to do an Easter egg hunt, shared our treasured M & M’s…but it’s just not quite the same. We miss our family and friends! Hope you all had a wonderful Easter celebration.