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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Day of the groovy savedee

You see them dressed hip; going to the beach and for parties and making the cinema hall a part of their lives. Then you discover that they are saved. The days when people looked at born-again Christians as dull and drab seem long gone.

Nowadays born-again Christians –balokole or savedees –as they are usually called, talk the talk and walk the walk and are determined to have as much fun as anyone else. One can even expect a belly dance but with a Christian touch.

It is fanfare punctuated with serious moral and spiritual issues and a hunger to fish the strayed. To make this more appealing, mainline born-again churches have designed a menu of fun-filled activities for their congregation.

Kampala Pentecostal Church [KPC] plot 87 on Kampala road is not just a church. It has a youth ministry of workers, cell sections, music, dance and drama teams that find it easy to merry-make. And they do not just pray. There are fun days, retreats, lifestyle picnics, travels and praise evenings.

"It's positive and inspiring. There's free entertainment that instills a sense of belonging," Ombui Jared, a Kenyan says.

Ms. Dorcus Amboko, a staunch born-again says, "Before I got saved, I thought pleasure was synonymous with movie theatres, dance clubs, indulging in orgies, listening to secular music and such things God abhors but I always left empty. In church I've found strength and overwhelming joy."

If you doubt that born-again Christians can entertain themselves, then you should visit Prime Time at Makerere University's swimming pool on Saturday. Led by outspoken pastor Martin Ssempa, students both believers and unbelievers were having a lot of fun as the freely and spontaneously praised God, danced, sung and played games when I attended.

First, they broke into Jose Chameleon's Bwosaba. They waved their hands in mid-air, danced and sung along. It's so vibrant and attracts many students. Local gospel singers and dancers have found this a Harlem to show off what they got.

"Jesus is my cornerstone, yeah ye yeeah," some of them chorused as dancers in black overall trucks, with bandanas tied around their heads like kick-boxers, unfolded MJ kind-of-strokes. Such times inspire even those who are not saved to join the flock.

Thomas Tayebwa, a third year student at Makerere University says that balokole are fluid and have such fun and though he is a staunch catholic, he prefers to join them for the fun of it.

"Even those in the pews are funny. The church is riddled with actors, musicians, comedians, performers and dancers getting jiggy with it. You find a bunch of spice girls in choirs shaking what their mommas gave them. I love it," he put is.

Nevertheless, there is more than having pleasure. At Full Gospel Church, Makerere, Nakulabye zone, social and personal issues of church members are dealt with. The church organizes conferences on relationships. They also have movie nights for the married and the single that are meant to keep the spiritual life burning in an entertaining way. This also provides ground for socialization, a place to overcome loneliness and depression. One junior pastor who preferred anonymity said what is enjoyed is for the glorification of God.

"Ours is not just pleasure and fun but thanks as we extol Him with music and song. Vain ways of pleasure seeking like smoking, gambling and reading obscene publications can only lead to hell. Come to the church, have joy and fantasy as a born-again, spirit-filled follower of Jesus Christ," he advises.

Such love has captivated even asylum seekers. Many people attend in thousands to get involved in church activities. There is a feel and fill of diverse ethnic make-up. Consequently, different, perhaps competing churches now package venerable, life-inspiring fun to retain their sheep. For example Full Gospel Church has a campus fellowship whose catch phrase is "You gotta know what you are missing!"

Pastors also teach life skills. People in the working class attend lessons on Christianity and integrity, surviving in a secular world, or the law of sowing and reaping. It's instructive with connotations of deep logic and fun coupled with praise and worship.

"I came that they may have life and have it in abundance," the good book says and believers are truly having fun.

Pastors encourage believers to take advantage of free entertainment on Christian radios to be uplifted more. Upbeat stations like Power FM and Kampala FM play gospel jams, soul worship hits and Christian rap.

But not all is met with acceptance. Some savedees say there is more fashion than passion in the church. This perturbs Renee, a Mass Communication student at Makerere.

"Preachers don't preach hellfire and brimstone no more. There is ease in Zion…they rumble 'God will give you a car'…the list is endless. Even the non believer knows inequity has never swaggered like it swaggers today. Entertainment in church must be stabbed before we are thrown in a lake of fire," he warns.

But Wobusobozi Ivan who prays at Rubaga Miracle Centre says, "It’s not how a born-again Christian dresses or still it's not church activities like drama and music that one is judged. David used to praise God semi-naked. To me, Christians are free to have as much fun in ways they deem right as long as they don’t compromise."

Nicola Hancock, a pastor at Christian Life Church-Bwaise, also General Manager Top TV and Kampala FM thinks that as long as savedees follow the law, it's fine. Hancock believes entertainment crosses borders and speaks to many.

"Jesus reached out to prostitutes. Like Him, we don't want to drop to the standards of the world but we have to reach the world," she says.

She insists the church can't afford to isolate the developing world and has a responsibility not to be rigid but to steer the young people to serve God with God's message.

Nicola thinks that when the church fails to reach the youth of today in a way that is relevant, they will look for what appeals to them in the world that often leads to heartache, devastation and immoral behaviour.

"We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and then offer unconditional love to a needy world. As a Christian, ask yourself before going over the edge to have fun: is it a motive to bring attention to yourself or God? Then go on and enjoy life but stay relevant with Godliness," she concludes.

This is my first feature story. I was so excited when the editor liked it. Was published in Daily Monitor, Saturday, May 22, 2004, page 9.