OK, let me just throw it out there. I am a Baptist. We like the Holy Spirit, but we are not so big on the Pentecostal doctrines related to the Holy Spirit. So, how did a Baptist youth minister-turned-professor end up preaching on the Holy Spirit in an Assembly of God Church on Pentecost Sunday?
If you are not familiar with the story, Pentecost was a Jewish holiday and also just happened to be the day that God chose to send His Holy Spirit to dwell in believers and empower them for ministry. Christians believe that the presence of God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, actually dwells inside of us and gives us comfort, correction, and courage to be the people He calls us to be and to accomplish the mission He has give us. Pentecostal-types tend to focus on the Spirit doing a lot of healing and giving people the gift of tongues, something Baptists are a bit quieter about.
But here in Senegal, Pentecost is a national holiday. Yes, they are a Muslim nation. And while their approach to Islam leans a bit to the mystical side--they belong to the lesser known Suffi sect--as far as I know, they have never embraced the distinctly Christian idea of a God who indwells. So, how did this Muslim nation declare Pentecost Sunday a holiday, complete with a Monday off work? They were a French territory for many years. I guess Pentecost Day must have been a big deal to French Catholics once. Now it is to Senegalese. I asked someone if they would understand what the holiday celebrated. "No, they would just tell you it is a Catholic holiday" but they get a day off, so I guess it's all good. The irony is not lost on me that they are celebrating Pentecost as they are celebrating Ramadan.
So, the churches around here make a big deal about Pentecost. Most of the evangelical churches in the city were gathering on Monday to worship together and show unity.
One of the Assembly of God pastors decided it would be good for me to come preach at his church on Pentecost Sunday. I suppose what I should have said was, "Um, I'm not the right guy to preach at your church on Pentecost." Instead, what I said was, "I would be honored." What is wrong with me? He is a sweet-hearted pastor and is doing his best to lead a small congregation of 20 or so believers to follow Christ in a rather difficult place. Guess it can't hurt me to be a part if he wants me to.
So, I started preparing my sermon. I preached about Abraham in Abidjan last week. Normally, I would have headed to the same place. But, Pentecost! I really needed to make an attempt to say something spiritual about the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the Disciples that He would send the "Counselor," the "Spirit of Truth" so they wouldn't be left as orphans when he ascended to be with the Father. You are not alone! Works.
I used what was left of my personal prayer journal to write out my thoughts and observations from Jesus' teachings. Worked until late on Saturday night. Then, I prayed for a miracle--like God giving me malaria. I decided a good illustration of feeling alone could be a time when you were in--say, a foreign country, where you don't speak the language and don't really know anyone, and something happens like--say, your passport gets canceled and you get drug into the police station in the airport and held for some reason you cannot figure out. Something like that. Fortunately, I have recently had such an experience, so that's where I started.
The service was every bit as boisterous as I've come to expect from African churches. Lots of loud, clamoring prayer. Lots of singing and dancing around the room. Then, it was my turn to preach. About half the congregation spoke English, about half French. I would say the English part, and the pastor would say it in French. This arrangement worked better for me than any other I can think of. I had just gotten going when the power went out. We were completely in the dark without even a window. The pastor turned his phone on "torch" and I just kept teaching them--you are not alone.
Afterwards, the pastor and I took lots of pictures together. He promised to send them to me so I'll pass them along when I get them. I guess it went well. He hardly even noticed that I avoided the showy aspects of the Holy Spirit. Or maybe in Africa, everything is showy, and it is enough to celebrate that you are not alone.