Call me a bad Christian, but after nearly 2 years in Guinea, I have finally gone to church for the first time. I probably should have gone for Christmas last year, when I was in a Christian region, but drinking palm wine with the locals was more appealing than a 6 hour service in a language I didn’t understand.
Guinea is a majority Muslim country, the actual statistic escapes me, but I imagine it’s around 80%. Christians are sprinkled all over the country, but most live in the Forest region to the south. Even in Kankan, almost all the Christians are Forestière (their families come from the Forest Region).
There are two churches in Kankan: catholic and protestant, which are the two sects of Christianity found in Guinea. We chose to go to the protestant one because that is where one of our old guards goes. We arrived at 9:30 and the service had already started, but luckily you can never be late in Guinea. An usher with an orange-blue-red bandana around his neck like a boy scout seated us. We were a group of four and arriving later, there weren’t many seats left, so it was a tight fit.
The service followed a similar program as in America. There was singing, readings from the gospel, the Lord’s prayer, the exchange of the Peace. Everything was said in French, and then repeated in Malinké. The music was accompanied by a keyboard, djembe drum, and a koran (a gourd surrounded by a net of beads that has a maraca-like sound). It wasn’t southern gospel church intensity, but there were some raised hands, exclamations of “Hallelujah” and “Amen”, and the music had more rhythm than your average Anglican hymn.
About thirty minutes after we arrived, we realized the church was divided into men and women and my male site mate was sitting on the wrong side. No one said anything, so I guess it wasn’t a big deal and the gender separation was done more out of habit than enforced by the church. Was kind of awkward for a second though. What surprised me the most was the absence of crying babies. Outside the church, there are crying babies everywhere, so the calming of them during the service is a true act of god.
The sermon was about serving god in different ways, based on that reading about individuals being different parts of the body (hands, feet, head) that together make up the metaphorical body of Christ. It wasn’t horribly long, which was a pleasant surprise considering most Guinean’s penchant for grandstanding. During the sermon, the Boy Scout ushers patrolled the pews, waking up any dozing followers.
Next came communion, which was prefaced by a scolding by the reverend about who is allowed to take communion. Among the excluded: the unbaptized, sinners, casual churchgoers, those who covet, people with any doubts about their faith. Then he called the congregation to take communion, but after that reprimanding no one stood. Gradually, they started to line up to take their bread and wine. We Americans refrained since based on the recently listed qualifications of a good Christian, we didn’t’ seem to fit the bill. Plus that bright pink “wine” looked too much like kool-aid, and, as a rule, I don’t drink kool-aid in an organized fashion.
The service ended at noon and everyone milled about outside, chatting with friends. It was interesting to see how community ties were formed around the church, compared to the mosques that tend to be more of a place to pray than a community center. The whole experience was surprisingly similar to church in America. However we all agreed that the biggest thing missing was a nearby restaurant for after-church brunch.