Sunday morning (9:00-11:00am) at Daraja Academy is reserved for “Spiritual Time.”
The school’s diverse student body reflects Kenya’s major religious affiliations–Christianity’s Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations and Islam.
While Daraja is decidedly non-denominational, this dedicated time has students organizing and attending, if they choose, one of several religious services. The two main services held on Sundays are Protestant and Catholic. As the Muslim students pray at their mosque on other days during the week, they use the time to simply talk.
By 8:45am, students are converting their small weekday classrooms to improvised houses of worship. Desks are moved outside, and extra chairs are carried in. The program for the two hour service is written on the chalkboard by that week’s assigned service leader, with the hymns and the preacher for the sermon having been decided and practiced the week prior.
As if these girls didn’t have enough to do.
I experienced Spiritual Time my first morning at Daraja, participating in the Protestant service. It was a highlight of the week. But in my quest to partake in as many different Daraja experiences as possible during my month stay, I planned to attend the Catholic service this week.
“No, we want you to come to the Protestant service again.”
Purity, a Form 1 (freshman) said this to me as we cleaned our dinner plates on Saturday night. Purity is a girl I have to hug each time I see her, so charmed am I by her positive energy and warm smile.
Warm smile won out over diversification of experiences, and so the next morning I passed by the Catholic classroom and again took a seat with the Protestant group.
As each girl enters the room, she sits and buries her head in her hands in private prayer. But that is where quiet contemplation ends. With the opening hymn, the singing, clapping and dancing starts. It continues throughout the dedicated prayers, and reaches a crescendo during the pre-sermon hymn. With each verse, the drum beat and the decibel level of voices grows. Some girls come up to the front of the classroom, needing more room to dance as they belt out melodies mostly in Swahili.
It is loud. It is joyful. It is what pure, unashamed faith looks like.
I wanted to believe in something as deeply as these girls.
The dancing girls in the front of the room took their seats, and Purity walked towards the front, bible in hand, and turned to face the parishoners. “My name is Purity, and I will be delivering today’s sermon.”
In her convincing me to join the Protestant service, Purity hadn’t mentioned that she would be delivering the sermon. As she stood before us, her warm smile was replaced with an air of seriousness. She had an important job to do.
“The topic of today’s sermon is patience and persistence.”
Purity initially played her role like a teacher. She asked her fellow worshippers if someone could define patience, and someone else persistence. She asked a third student to lead one of her short readings from the bible, and read additional verses herself.
And woven around the bible readings, she delivered a sermon–not reading from a script, not even from memory, but seemingly from her soul. She analyzed the bible’s stories beautifully, and connected them to life at Daraja. She quantified patience, advising that patience can mean more than days or weeks– it can be 10 or 15 years. She reminded us that it is not only important to be patient and persistent in managing ourselves and loved ones, but also in seeking to understand our enemies.
The last part of Spiritual Time includes testimonials, where girls come up individually and make a statement, typically by leading their fellow worshippers in song. But first, I was given the opportunity as a visitor to make a testimonial.
I shared my appreciation with the entire congregation for fueling my tank with joy for the upcoming week.
“And thank you, Purity, for inspiring me and reminding me the importance of being both patient and persistent.”