When the Church Bells Ring… 05/12/13 SIZE=3>Sundays are very important days in Samoa. It is a day of rest and church. You are not allowed to go swimming, play, or do chores on Sundays. The only things you are allowed to do are go to church, make food, and rest. And if you don’t go to church you are shunned by the whole village, so we go to church, and then we go to more church.
We are woken on Sunday mornings to the bells of the various churches announcing to their congregations that church will be beginning shortly. When we first arrived in Samoa we were really unclear about when the church services actually started, because Samoans have a very unique since of time. We found ourselves waiting in front of church buildings for sometimes more than an hour because someone had told us the service began at 9 and it really didn’t begin until 10. But now we know that the first bell is a 30 minute warning for the start of church. This is the time we put on our white church clothes. We also have learned to differentiate between the bells from the different churches.
There are 5 churches in our village: there is a Mormon church, a Congregationalist Christian Church, a Methodist Church, a Seventh Day Adventist Church, and an Assembly of God Church. In the beginning, when we were living with the host family, we attended church with the host family at the Mormon Church in the mornings and we visited the other various churches in the village in the afternoon. Recently, we have been attending the Methodist Church in our village in the mornings, because Josh’s language tutor is the minister of that church. We have also tried to attend the church in the village where I work in the afternoon.
Unfortunately living in two villages, when it comes to church, is a lot like trying to split up holidays between two families after you are married. Everyone wants you to spend time with them on special days, and you have to alternate to make it fair. Today was Mother’s Day, which we learned is one of the biggest holidays in Samoa, even bigger than Easter. We had an invitation to attend the Methodist church in our village. The church in my village invited us. Josh’s principal invited us to his church, and my principal invited us to her church. In addition we ran into the minister of the Congregationalist church while we were doing some shopping in town. He kindly offered us a ride back to the village in the bed of his pickup, which is a much better option than a crowded bus any day, and he also invited us to church. We decided since we had gone to my village’s morning service for Easter, we would attend church at the Methodist church in our village in the morning. And since I am really working on building a relationship with my principal, we accepted her offer to attend church with her in the afternoon. We were extremely honored by each of the invitations, because it felt good that people wanted us to be a part of their special day. We wished there was a way to accept every invitation, but unfortunately we couldn’t.
Walking to church this morning we were greeted by several smiling faces in their best white clothing. The women at the church warmly greeted us and the wished me a happy Mother’s Day. I told them, “I know I am not a real mother but all of the children in this village are my children.” This is something I say quiet often when I get asked why I don’t have any children. I didn’t think anything of it. After the traditional church service the mothers and children put on a special performance. The mothers gave very heartfelt and emotional speeches. One woman shared with the congregation my comment about the village children being my children, and then she added “ yes she is very right.” The children did choreographed songs and dances. Josh had been asked by the pastor to video tape the service, which we gladly did. The children performing were Josh’s students and it meant so much to them that Josh was in the audience watching them. At the end of the service they called all the mothers to the front of the church. The next thing I knew I was being lead to the very front and center of the stage by the pastor’s wife. She said I had to go up there since I was the mother to all the village children. The children adorned their mothers with necklaces made of candies and cookies. I was given 5 necklaces, and kissed and hugged by so many women and children. It was a really nice moment for us, because since we have been living on our own we are finding it challenging to build relationships in the village, and feel like we really belong. In some ways though, I was a little embarrassed, because I felt the mothers should be getting the real acknowledgement, and I am not really a mother after all. But overall it was a wonderful experience. Josh’s students crowded around him after the service and beamed as they asked Josh to take pictures of them. Josh acknowledged each of them by name and congratulated them on their wonderful performances.