Our visit to Lesotho in May was profoundly wonderful. It was a chance to introduce our beloved Basotho friends and colleagues to our 11-month-old son Samuel, hand off our work, and say goodbye as our term as Mission Co-workers ends this July. The shape that our term took was different than we had initially imagined – we moved to Lesotho in January 2019 with the intent of living there for three years. Instead, we were there for 15 months, returned to the US at the onset of the pandemic, and continued working remotely with our partners for the rest of our term, during which time our son Samuel was born. After being gone from Lesotho for two years, it felt as though pieces of my heart were being stitched back together on our visit.
While we were there, LECSA celebrated the ongoing success of its digital service, a Sunday afternoon service via Zoom, initiated in response to Lesotho’s first pandemic lockdown in April 2020. Pastors and lay-people from all over Lesotho as well as South Africa, from each of LECSA’s 13 presbyteries, have been involved in the service from week to week on a rotating basis, with its main support team based in Maseru, Lesotho’s capital. LECSA found the digital service to be such a success that it was adopted by the Synod as an official church service and will continue to be offered indefinitely, even as pandemic restrictions have lessened. While many of LECSA’s members, especially those in the rural, mountainous regions of the county, do not have the resources necessary to access the service, it has been a great way for those in the city and those living in different parts of the world to stay connected during the pandemic. The digital service has been particularly meaningful for me. It allowed us to hear Sesotho and sing LECSA hymns as well as see familiar faces and feel a part of the church community throughout the pandemic. I am personally very grateful for LECSA’s commitment to this ministry.
While the LECSA digital service allows for connection despite geographic distance and has been a cherished gift for many, nothing can take the place of in-person worship. During our visit, one of our greatest joys was getting to worship with our Basotho partners and friends. And while this was a familiar experience in many aspects, it was exciting and different to do it for the first time with Samuel in a variety of settings, such as our neighborhood prayer circle group and Sunday morning worship at Maseru LECSA.
Our beloved prayer circle, Thapelong, had resumed meeting following time off during the pandemic. Thapelong is like a mini worship service and includes a sermon, hymn singing, an offering, and prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer. It usually lasts about an hour, with time for announcements at the end. When we’re not in attendance, the meeting is conducted entirely in Sesotho. However, when we’re there, it’s usually in a mix of Sesotho and English for our benefit. The tradition is that different group members take turns hosting the weekly meeting in their homes. We arrived at Thapelong as the sun was setting and were welcomed by bright smiles and the warmth of a gas space heater. (In May, in Lesotho, afternoons are warm and pleasant, but evenings are chilly.) About 14 people were there that night and were delighted to meet Samuel – or Abuti Thato, his Sesotho name. My heart felt full seeing him and our beloved Thapelong members in the same space where we could connect with God and each other after so much time apart. All hands were on deck to stop Thato from grabbing the heater during his exploratory crawling. Bibles, hymnals, house keys, and glasses cases were offered up as distractions to keep him occupied. Four-part harmonies filled the room. We found that Sammy loved the singing! Serendipitously, the last Thapelong we attended during our visit was at the house where we went to our very first meeting in 2019. Things seemed to come full circle as we said goodbye to group members outside the house, under crisp stars and a bright moon.
In contrast to the intimacy of Thapelong, we also worshipped at our “home” church, Maseru LECSA, all three Sundays during our visit. It’s a large congregation with three services on Sunday mornings. Worship lasts about 1.5 hours and follows a strict liturgy. Sometimes up to 10-12 hymns are sung. Needless to say, Sammy was enthralled with the singing, the sound circulating in the high-ceilinged, historical building. Unsurprisingly, he got restless during the spoken parts of the service, and he and I would occasionally step outside to get some fresh air and let out some squeals. As a new mom, I learned that young children and their parents are welcome to sit at the back of the church. Parents can still observe the service from this space, but kids have a place to play in the entry area. Children, toddlers, and babies are welcome in the service even if they make noise, as long as they aren’t crying inconsolably. It is not an uncommon sight to see toddlers wandering up and down the aisles during the sermon, sitting on various parishioners’ laps along the way. There is a distinct sense of community where children are concerned, especially on a Sunday morning – a sense that everyone in the community of Christ has a stake in taking care of the church’s children. And I got to have a special sense of that personally, being there with Sammy. It was a unique spiritual experience for me, being a new mom and feeling connected in a new way not only to the church but to our Basotho friends.
Over the course of our three years with Global Ministries and working with our Basotho partners, we have experienced grace upon grace, mercy upon mercy. The loving relationships that have formed with our partners are such a gift. At the beginning of my service, I couldn’t have imagined how my heart would swell as our son was held by our Basotho colleagues and friends. Having the opportunity to worship together – whether in person or via zoom – has been a great blessing and one of the spiritual highlights of our time as Mission Co-workers. Connecting with our partners and with God in those various settings reminds us of the diversity of God’s awesome creation, the wide expanse of the Body of Christ, and the transformative power of being present to one another across time and space.
Mark Knowles and Danielle Murry-Knowles serve with the Lesotho Evangelical Church. Their appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.