Full Surrender

'Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.'  (Romans 12:1 NIV)

There were three options for church membership when we arrived at Chikankata Hospital in Zambia in 1968: the English medium services at the school, or in the local vernacular, ciTonga, at the nearby village or the one at the leprosarium. We chose the latter. It took a little more concentration, and the occasional help of a translator to grasp the full meaning of what was being said, or for the congregation to understand what we meant when we contributed. But it was good for us in many ways, not least that it improved our communication skills. We loved going.

By local custom the hundred-or-more congregation was generally separated by gender, seated on uncomfortably low, backless benches. Leprosy segregation in church had long since gone. Staff mingled with patients. I usually took my place with the drummers up front, mostly using our fingers and hands on a variety of locally made wooden drums with taut cowhide to produce a range of pitch and rhythm. The choir sat opposite us. Their contribution was always appreciated as they moved forward singing one of their own compositions in traditional African style as they did.

The scriptures would be read; there would be an expository message. I remember none of those.

In keeping with the non-liturgical denominational traditions of congregational participation there would be opportunities to speak with short testimony in thanksgiving for what God had done in our lives. We were also free to contribute ex temporé prayers. One that remains in my memory is hearing the newly arrived Salvation Army chaplain appointed to the leprosarium, pray earnestly that God would help him to get to know the people (and especially their names).

But the highlight of every worship service was the offering. The leader would announce this, the choir would start singing, the congregation would come forward. Clawed hands or two fingerless palms holding a coin would drop the offering into the hand-woven baskets on the table at the front of the church.

A translated version of an old gospel song with its haunting melody was part of the ritual:
All to Jesus I surrender, all to him a freely give ...
I surrender all,
All to thee my blessed saviour,
I surrender all.

I often wondered quite what was in the minds of the givers as they came forward. Was it mere ritual, or was there something much deeper -- gratitude, hope, confession, a search for cleansing, an act of solidarity, a moment of commitment, or just simply love for God?

We all came bringing our offering. They came with so little; we had much more. But we all came in the spirit of offering more than money. Paul had urged the Romans to present their bodies. They came with bodies damaged, yet they came. We came alongside them with our bodies, to offer what we had, and who we were.

That must have pleased God.