Chapel in Kenya: far from home, close to God

February 10, 2014 | 11 a.m.

News | Anna Gorman for The Clarion

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Daystar has chapel twice weekly in their amphitheater. Despite cultural differences, Daystar and Bethel worship similarly, honoring the same God. | Photo for The Clarion by Sarah Boadwine

As we made our way into Daystar’s outdoor amphitheater for chapel one Tuesday morning, we expected the rich traditions of African prayer, worship and community fellowship. Being across the globe, on the other hand, didn’t diminish some of our own traditions. As many Daystar students came dancing and flocking in with new and old friends, Bethel students stuck together and sat in the back rows, anticipating what came next and wondering where to fit in.

By our second week of travel, we were well accustomed to ‘Kenyan time.’ Chapel wasn’t a prompt 10:15 a.m. start like at Bethel, but an 8:30 a.m. start for an 8-10 a.m. time slot. Judy Cheptoo, a third-year Daystar student serving on the student-led worship team similar to Vespers, shared her insight on the length of worship.

“Even before Kenyans left their pagan ways and worshiped the Lord, we were people who acknowledged a higher being,” Cheptoo said. “Each part of our lives requires worship. This is exemplified to people on the outside who notice worship being 30-40 minutes in comparison to 10 minutes.”

We found that Bethel chapels are usually organized and structured, with an official call to worship and less hospitality than the atmosphere of our African brothers and sisters. Sitting in Benson Great Hall, students and faculty welcome guests and speakers by clapping, but at Daystar, people are welcomed by sharing names and rising from their seats, just as we were acknowledged by the campus chaplain upon our arrival. After 10 minutes of worship during a Bethel chapel service, Pastor Laurel prays with power and authority. Daystar chapel time transitioned from a time of kingdom worshiping with hugs, laughing and celebrating the New Year to corporate and individual prayer.

Students and faculty at Daystar University pray to Jehovah, using the Old Testament name of God to speak of His continual faithfulness. David Chicaswe, a drum player and a leader on the campus worship team shared that playing music, praying and preaching to the student body focuses solely on Jesus.

“It’s about leading the people to the person of Jesus Christ,” Chicaswe said. “This can sometimes be done spiritually when I play drums, but the word of God preached is a necessity to keep our eyes focused on Him.”

Students and faculty at Daystar enjoy the two-hour chapel time on Tuesdays and Thursdays. After prayer and announcements, we heard a sermon from Daystar’s chaplain on Philippians 3:12-16. Application of scripture, as Chicaswe stated, is standard for chapel talks.

As the chaplain preached, his authenticity and vulnerability stood out. Referring to the apostle Paul in Philippians, the chaplain emphasized that “our salvation is secure but redemption is a process.” As Christians in Minnesota or on the Athi River campus in Kenya, we are subject to the truth that “sanctification doesn’t happen overnight.” A common theme among students in general is that we need to perform. Learning from our mistakes and recovering from our brokenness allows for second chances.

Challenged by the sermon and finding the similarities between college life in Kenya and Minnesota, the chaplain asked if we were willing to get out of the boat and walk on the water with Jesus. For some of us, this may have been worshiping “as a Kenyan” totally surrendering to God. For others, getting out of the boat was returning for Thursday chapel and worshiping, despite language barriers or praying vocally as a community for South Sudan.

Despite our obvious differences, chapel represents the body of Christ, united together to worship, be challenged and celebrate Christ’s victory. Cheptoo embraced the fact that we all fall short of the glory of God but that our insufficiencies are covered by the blood of Jesus.

“It’s not about this system or that system of chapel structure, but about getting out of the boat, walking on the water even when we can’t see the safety of the net and meditating on the word day and night,” Cheptoo said.

With each of our own rich traditions there is Christ at the center. His beauty radiates, as it does in the Kenyan voices of praise, in Benson Great Hall and in heaven, where the diverse body sings, laughs, dances and communes.

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