A wide spot in my imagination.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Hippopotamus Walks into a Pastor's Office

A real-life story from inside the pastor's office and inside my mind....

So there I was sitting in my office, checking email, planning ahead, and honestly getting ready for a little vacation next week.
The doorbell rings. It's the church insurance agent wanting to take a few pictures for their file and to drop off our renewal estimate. Turns out we have about a $1.5 million worth of stuff that her company will insure if we pay them about $7000 a year. Fair enough, I think.
We talk about our church's sexual abuse prevention policy, she gives me a CD about crime-proofing our sanctuary, we talk about payment dates and about possibly increasing our workers' compensation coverage. The typical "business" of the church.
I thank the insurance agent, she leaves me a card to email her some follow-up information, and as I walk her out of the office, in walk two more persons: Samuel and Ntombikayise Mkhonta. Samuel Mkhonta is the Bishop of the Kukhany'okusha Zion Church (KZC) in Swaziland. Ntombikayise is an active worker in the life of that church as well. They are visiting the States for awhile.
We talk.
The bishop tells me about some of their church "business."
The KZC is working to feed orphans in Swaziland, a country where 30% of the children are parent-less due to a staggering death rate caused by HIV/AIDS. The church set out to feed approximately 300 kids one simple meal a day. They find themselves feeding almost 600 children a day, until they run out of money, the bishop says.
The KZC is also trying to support elderly people who have few resources and little help. The church gives the elderly corn meal that they hope will last for three months. It rarely does.
To offset the soaring unemployment rate, the church is using volunteers to make the soup that is fed to the orphans. The pay these food preparers receive is a month's worth of detergent.
Bishop Mkhonta is funny man, dedicated, passionate, clear-eyed. He tells me a story about being attacked by a hippo while baptizing church members in a river. I think back to my earlier conversation about workers' compensation insurance.
The bishop tells me about ten year-old orphans who are the heads of their households. The households really have no houses, just mud and stick make-shifts that wash away when the rains come. I glance, self-consciously at the 12 pages of legal jargon sitting on my desk describing our "multi peril property protection." Seems to me a ten year-old trying to feed younger siblings in a mud shack is "multi peril."
I give the Mkhontas a quick tour of our $1.5 million worth of sheetrock and shingles and pews and carpet. Bishop Mkhonta is most interested in our baptismal pool. Seems he would like something similar for his church in Swaziland. Not only to stay away from hippos (see above), but also because the last time he baptized people in a flooded, polluted river, he contracted some kind of disease. My run-through of our insurance policy had reminded me that our church has no flood insurance. Probably wouldn't cover infectious, baptismally-contracted diseases anyway.

The bishop and his wife left.

I sat down to glance back through the insurance forms. But the words all ran together. Other words started rattling around in my head: juxtaposition, geography, blessing, fairness, justice, injustice, unfairness, ministry, contrast, calling. Those words swirled around and around each other until one word emerged: wrong.
That word was tattooed on the side of a giant hippopotamus splashing through the muddy waters of my troubled mind.