January marked a year since we arrived in Lesotho. And as we’ve revisited our memories from the past year, one event, in particular, stands out: Leeto la Thapelo. Leeto la Thapelo, which literally means “Journey of Prayer,” is the biggest event of the year for the Lesotho Evangelical Church in Southern Africa (LECSA), our partner organization.
Beginning in 2012, it has been held every year in Morija, Lesotho, the historic headquarters of the church. This past year, the event was Saturday, 26 October – Sunday, 27 October. Transported by tour buses, church vans, and family vehicles, literally thousands of LECSA members gathered for a marathon weekend of prayer and worship. People anticipate the weekend throughout the year, looking forward to the chance to be together, to see old friends, and to rejoice in the larger church. The gathering promotes church unity and celebrates reformation.
Even though the event was overnight, there were no beds or sleeping accommodations provided on-site. Giant tents were set up around the perimeter of a large field to provide shade during the day and were filled with chairs enthusiastically claimed by participants. Limited bathing facilities and toilets were available. Despite these conditions, the gathering had a festive air as people prepared accordingly, bringing food, blankets, and a change of clothes.
On Saturday morning before worship, the gathering began with a recognition of the pilgrims who participated in LECSA’s 5th Annual Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. The Pilgrimage was originally organized in response to the World Council of Churches’ call for Christian communities to advocate for Justice and Peace in the face of violence, political instability, and oppression. That particular five-day journey has now become a beloved event for LECSA members. It takes place the week before Leeto la Thapelo. The pilgrims prayerfully walk from Modderpoort, South Africa to Morija, Lesotho, following the route that was taken by the first missionaries who were welcomed to Lesotho by King Moshoeshoe I in 1833. I (Danielle) had the opportunity to join the pilgrims for 3 of the 5 days. The journey was both physically challenging and spiritually meaningful, filled with praying, singing, and dancing.
Worship began at 9:00am on Saturday. The longest segment of the service, and arguably one of the most highly anticipated for church members, was the offering, which lasted over five hours. Each presbytery dressed in unique colors to set them off visually from other regions. They took turns dancing and singing as they collected their gifts, competing against other groups to see who could give the most. All twelve LECSA presbyteries were represented at the gathering, including the presbytery located in South Africa.
Probably the most moving part of the weekend for us was a portion of the service where clergy were available to pray one-on-one with anyone in need of prayers for healing. When the time came, people emerged from the tents in all directions and made their way to the center of the gathering where they were met by clergy. Some pastors walked towards parishioners to meet them halfway. It was beautiful to witness the compassion, care, and faith of those who made themselves vulnerable on that field either through petitioning for prayers or by offering them up on behalf of others.
As night fell on Saturday, another service of worship began, culminating in communion taken by all. Following communion, clergy stayed on the field to pray one-on-one with anyone who wanted to, an exercise that lasted almost until dawn. Worship on Sunday morning began at 9:00am and concluded around 1:00pm.
We’ve discovered over the past year that all night vigils are an important practice in Basotho culture. So it made sense to us that the most expansive church gathering of the year would include activities that spanned through the night. By Sunday afternoon at the close of worship, everyone was exhausted, but content, knowing that they’d shared in a special expression of fellowship. It was quite a memorable experience for us and one that required significant endurance! Ultimately, it was moving to be a part of a gathering so large, where people exuberantly celebrated their faith in God, the church, and each other. It was a reminder of the larger community of which we are a part, not only within LECSA or within Lesotho, but globally.
We praise God for all of the opportunities that we’ve had to learn and serve this past year, for new ways in which we’ve experienced the Divine, for the joy of congregational singing, communal gift-giving, and faithfulness that are embodied by our Basotho neighbors. And we sincerely look forward to the blessings of partnership, community, and faith as we begin the new year.
Danielle Murry-Knowles and Mark Knowles
Danielle Murry-Knowles and Mark Knowles serve with the Lesotho Evangelical Church. Their appointments are made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.