Rocks and Fortresses
As I unfolded my campstool under a shady tree, I noticed the huge boulder across the way. The Psalms contain many references to God as a rock, such as the words of Psalm 18.
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.”
I unfolded my campstool under a shady tree, I noticed the huge boulder across the way. The Psalms contain many references to God as a rock, such as the words of Psalm 18 above. The setting was the closing worship service for the Masitise Presbytery, held at scenic Sebapala. Sebapala is one of the five parishes in our presbytery and each parish consists of a number of congregations. The joint worship service is done annually at the conclusion of the presbytery meeting which is held over several days.
The president of the Lesotho Evangelical Church, Rev. Tseliso Masemene preached the sermon and based his message on John 8:31-41. Just as some of the Jews of Jesus’ days believed in their righteousness simply by being descendants of Abraham, so do some people of today think they are Christians and assured of salvation merely by being a member of a church or having been baptized. As the LEC is the oldest church in Lesotho, some people take special pride in being part of it. However, Rev. Masemene warned us that LEC membership was not to be equated with salvation. He emphasized Jesus’ words: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.”
Black and white, the denominational colors, dominated the apparel from the uniforms of the Mother’s Union women’s group to those of one of the LEC high schools which provided special music at several points during the nearly 6-hour long celebration. Such long services for special occasions are not unusual in Lesotho. People may travel long distances on foot or at considerable expense by public transportation in order to attend and they expect to spend the majority of the day there.
As usual, the longest part of the day was receiving and counting the offering. This is done by calling forward various groups of the church, as well as the individual parishes. You don’t just put your offering in a plate. The offering is something that you “do”, marching (very slowly) en masse in your group, singing and leaving your gift on the table. Ten minutes or more per group; about two hours in all for the offering!
Besides giving to the church, the presbytery presented Rev. Masemene with a sheep which was hidden, until the last moment, in the midst of a marching group of women. Many of us watching were not aware of the sheep! I checked the photo at right and eventually found a sheep’s foot amidst the tangle of human feet!
One of my favorite Sesotho words is “qhobosheane” which means “stronghold” or “fortress”. It was the surname of one of my students many years ago. I looked it up in my dictionary then and its meaning has stayed with me. As the letter “q” requires a clicking sound in Sesotho, saying “qhobosheane” is rather fun, once you get the hang of it.
David, in his days of seeking refuge from King Saul, is mentioned as being “in the stronghold”. Lesotho is full of mountain strongholds; such fortresses were a refuge for the Basotho people under King Moshoeshoe I in the 1800’s so the concept of God being a fortress is easily understood in Lesotho. On a recent Sunday morning our evangelist, Ms. Molemahang, spoke to the students about “qhobosheane”. Upon hearing the word, my ears immediately perked up and I understood much of what she said as she encouraged us to make God and Jesus our refuge and not to put our trust in the material things of this world. As the words of Martin Luther’s familiar hymn tell us, “A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing.” Amen!
Yours in Christ,
Mark Behle is a missionary with the Lesotho Evangelical Church. He is a Mathematics teacher at Masitise High School, Lesotho.