On a sunny Sunday morning, I treaded through sparse Harare CBD to Coppa Cabana in pursuit of the nearest commuter omnibus that could drop me off at Kingdom Hall.
Yes, I had done what most people considered unusual, considered ill-advised.
But, let me explain…
I hade met some lovely, warm ladies earlier in the week on my way to work in the most central place in the city, Harare Gardens.
They handed me a piece of literature and asked me if I knew that Jehovah was my Lord and my Saviour.
I was in a hurry and I did what most do when they meet a Jehovah’s Witness. I brushed them off with a polite smile and told them, Thank you. Literature in hand, I walked forward and had a second thought. I retraced my steps, toward them and inquired,
“What time does your service begin on Sundays?”
“Oh, at 8 o’clock”, one answered.
“Where do you fellowship?”I asked.
It was then when they explained the whereabouts of Kingdom Hall, weirdly located but fairly accessible.
One short kombi ride later, I dropped off at the corner and made my way against the hot morning sun towards Kingdom Hall. I was late by a great 30minutes. I hoped that I was not going to miss the better part of the meeting.
A lady stood by the corner with more literature in hand. Little did I know that she would be one of only two people I would speak to at Kingdom Hall that morning.
“Sorry I’m late”, I murmured, “it’s okay,” she said as I walked in.
Kingdom Hall maintains the same outlook around the world. I remember seeing one in Windhoek, Namibia and wondering, “what on earth is in that brown flat building?”
As I walked in, a gentleman in a fitted suit welcome me and said, “You don’t mind seating in the front, do you?”
And I said, “I guess I don’t,”.
Then he directed me upwards.
Everyone was seated, looking towards a very plain stage.
Everything about that room was simple. The benches reminded of churches of old. And when I say churches of old I mean back in the days of slavery, which is what those benches reminded of. For no clear reason, because I wasn’t alive during the time of slavery but it just reminded me of old Christians, old-time religion.
All focused on the reverend, Watchtower copies on laps, as paperbacks, as well as an assortment of tablets and iPads. In a warm monotone, the reverend walked us through the paragraphs.
He paused from his momentary and encouraged us to stand and sing a hymn that I had never sung but probably heard on videos or movies such as Little House on the Prairie.
It was a hymn indeed.
Everyone sang with full composure and dignity. There was no emotional worship. There was no excitement in this house. It seemed as though everyone in that room was certain of their destination. The end days were upon us and all were ready to welcome the second coming of the Lord. They had heard the gospel, they were at peace, ready to go whenever it was time.
I found that unsettling. I was not ready to go when it was time to go. I still felt like we ought to have some sort of fire for the Lord. Some form of jubilee, some excitement, some PRAISE!
We read through the passages of the Watchtowers which in the past I still consider to be quite well-written and educational if you agree with the doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The teaching was based on looking to Jehovah.
We spent an hour going paragraph by paragraph as the congregants contributed, commented and answered questions relating to the Watch Tower.
A little girl of nine years old articulated herself so passionately in response to the plight of Moses and how he was denied entry into the promised land because of his failure to look to Jehovah.
I enjoyed that.
After an hour, my eyes became too heavy, my focus blurred. I was not used to sitting in such a studious manner in the house of the Lord.
It was just in time for the man of the house as he wrapped up the service, I thanked the Lord. In another hour I would have been unable to carry on.
We stood once more and sang a hymn I knew nothing of.
Everyone maintained their facial composure singing almost robotically.
As we finished, a gentleman came on the stage and prayed for the end of the service. A very noble prayer, an enjoyable prayer, a thoughtful prayer based on the teaching that we had that morning.
When that was done, I sat there confused, unsettled, as to whether I ought to leave or watch the interactions.
I decided to stay for a moment.
Yes, as soon as the prayer was over, it was as if the whole congregation took a new form. They animatedly greeted each other.
“How unusual”, I thought to myself.
Noone chatted with me. Noone noticed that I was a guest. Noone noticed that I was simply a traveller passing on.
It was as though I was merely a fly on the wall, a fly on that bland and plain wall that oddly reminded me of caramel ice cream. A fly in that very old religion space with fitted mahogany benches, a flat clear stage and surround sound that you couldn’t see.
I walked out to the gravel of the car park. I walked out to the main road. I kept walking.