I can hear and smell it as much as see it; there is the crackle of sparks from a fire, the pleasant aroma of wood being burned. The African sky is silhouetted by acacia trees, a billion stars light the night.
African Christians, perhaps a hundred strong, are singing in their native Shona language: “Garai nesu, garai nesu, neku singaperi.” This is the chorus, sung slowly, stately, a primal plea: “Stay with us, stay with us,” they cry out to God, “stay with us forever.”
Oppression and poverty have beaten these people down, blow upon blow. Many began life praying in futility to their ancestors; now they pray to the Great God of all who live and breathe: Stay with us, garai nesu, garai nesu.
They sing the chorus slowly, with feeling. Their eyes close in exertion. Formidable altos warm the song; children’s voices lighten it; basses lay the foundation. The song is as full and rich as coffee, grown on red African hills. These people’s future is as flimsy as a thatch roof. Unpredictable rainy seasons, mystifying illnesses that inflict their children, the AIDS virus that fells their strong and virile, reminds them that they need God to stay near: Garai nesu, garai nesu.
The man or woman who does not need God does not exist. Even comfortable American Christians need God to stay nearby, they just don’t always remember this. When a loved one dies, when a betrayal stings, then we, too, are reminded that we need the warmth of God’s nearness.
Forgive us, Lord, when we forget the most important factor of our existence. We need you near us. Garai nesu, garai nesu.
“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth … that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26,27, ESV).