At the Pentecostal services, they often talk about THIS life, as opposed to life after death. “Jesus heals”, “God is good to me”, “God always provides” – it is these kinds of phrases I hear over and over again. These aren’t rich Australian Christians who have everything they want and need, and whose main religious concern is the kind of afterlife to expect. These are Christians who rely on God everyday; when many pray the words, “Give us today our daily bread” they are literally asking God for their next meal.
I was sceptical at first. When one of the women, Sista Beverly (I have changed her name for the purposes of this post) got up to give her testimony (amidst cheers and hoots and cries of ‘Amen Sista!’), she told how sometimes there is no food for her children, but God makes it ok. I wondered exactly how her faith helped her – did it just make her feel better about her poverty?
But I had forgotten my own childhood experiences, when Mum and Dad had their own struggling business during the 90s recession. It was nothing like the poverty Sista Beverly was experiencing, but my parents found it pretty hard to make ends meet, with me and my five brothers and sisters. They sent us to a private school, but I think it was pretty hard going.
However, I remember understanding that God always provided. Not in some airy-fairy feel good way, but literally, at times, provided food and clothing. It usually came through the Christians we knew, who would hand over $100 in an envelope or drop off some groceries. And my parents would do it for other people too – they were always giving away money or baking cakes for people or whatever.
God doesn’t work in a vacuum – God operates within a community of people who love and support each other. Is that what God is? The love that people show for each other? Or is God separate from that? I remember growing up and people just sensing when someone was in need, and responding to that feeling. I think that kind of intuition is God too – it’s God’s spirit connecting us all together.
Today I sat with Sista Beverly in the church building while she made a beautiful flower arrangement for tomorrow morning’s service. Afterwards she went out to pull up some cassava from the land next to the church, which she planted a while ago. Some of the church members use that land for growing food. I tagged along and as she dug we chatted, and I found out that her husband had left her with four children and no means to support them. She doesn’t have any family to help her. So she relies on God to provide every meal. Sometimes someone brings her some rice or some root vegetables. I think people from the church help a lot (I wonder if the people who speak her language – her wantoks – help her more? I need to ask). Even that church land is God’s way of providing – never in a vacuum, but always through people sharing and showing love.
I had never tasted cassava before so she gave me three to take home and cook up. I gave her a cucumber I’d bought from the market that day and a loaf of bread. I think that’s how God works. Just by talking and sharing what we have.
I like it here. Life goes slow and I have time to talk and sit and read and think and write. We’re going to a wedding in Malaita next weekend – very exciting for me!