Mzungu (m•zoo•ngoo), n. (pl. wazungu)
1) From Swahili, originally "aimless wanderer," latter applied to all persons of European descent. More commonly: white person.
2) One who can sing without moving.
As I traveled the pockmarked pavement that led east from Bujumbura, I heard "Mzungu, Mzungu!" shouted over and over again as children would stop and point, looking for the nearest adult to tell of their find. Sometimes the adults would say it as well, but usually they just stared.
I suppose that's a natural reaction to the "out-of-the-ordinary." Visit any small town in the MIdwest or South and (trust me) you will be stared at as well. People in those little towns know everybody that belongs and they want to know what the outsider is up to. I'm guessing it's the same here in Burundi.
I certainly wasn't inconspicuous. Our taxi was a van carrying Flory and the choir from his church. They had their drums and shakers with them and were singing and playing with all their might. I was of course, sitting shotgun (left side of a right-hand drive vehicle) so every passing car and every pedestrian got a clear view. But I have to admit, listening to the choir, feeling the thump of the drums in my chest cavity while being terrified by the insane driver is an experience I'll long treasure.
Here is an audio clip I made the other night as the choir was rehearsing. It will open in a new window, but let it play as you read the rest of this post. It will set the mood.
The church where the meeting was held is only two years old. It's a thatched hut with a tarp propped up against one side to handle the overflow. The only other churches in town are Roman Catholic and Seventh-Day Adventist. The congregation is largely first-generation Christian, that is, they didn't grow up in a believing home.
Knowing that there were many visitor's who came to see the two-headed monke…er…mzungu, I preached on Romans 10:13: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. I presented the plan of salvation as clearly as I knew how. And God who is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness, moved in the hearts of 12 people who came forward to make a public confession of faith. There were one or two children, several teenagers and many young adults. I cannot describe my gratitude to God for his using me in this way.
You learn a lot about yourself on a trip like this. One of the aspects of my character I learned the last time I was in Africa is that I'm about the stiffest white guy your every likely to meet. The African's joked that a Mzungu was someone who could sing without moving.
Watching them sing is a joy! They put the whole person into their praise. I have yet to see someone native to Africa sing without moving or swaying. Most of the time they dance and clap. In fact, the church today had a dirt floor and most of the people were barefoot. As they danced, a cloud of dust began rising from the parched earth. Soon is was so thick that it filled the room with a smokey reddish haze. I tried to take a picture, but you couldn't see anything because of the dust.
After I heard this definition of a white person, I went home to my church and watched as we sang our hymns. Please understand that I'm not questioning the conviction with which people sing. But their right, we don't move! The congregation might as well have been statues! It was actually quite funny because I was one of the statues!
Since that time, I've endeavored to move something…anything…when I sing praises to God. It is true that we are to worship God "acceptably with reverence and awe" (Heb 12:28), but it is also true that we God's people are commanded to "praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp."
I haven't quite figured out how to reconcile those two statements, nor what it would look like in actual practice. But you should know that I'm working on it.